Hide Your Corporate Underpants - Using Personas in UX Design

Tamara Adlin is a customer experience expert and President of Adlin, Inc. Tamara is formerly a Senior Usability Specialist for Amazon.com and is currently a blogger, author, trainer and speaker specializing in using personas in user experience design. Make sure to check out Tamara's website, blog and interviews with user experience luminaries at UX Pioneers.

What Are Personas?

Wikipedia defines personas as:

Personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product.

Tamara’s Cheat Sheet to Personas

  • Personas are an organizational pattern language. Just as software developers are use design patterns to unify communication while constructing software, personas bring consistency and specificity to who really is "the user". When done right personas drive out false assumptions and give people throughout an organization a way to clearly define the people for whom they designing their product or service.
  • Personas help prioritize work. Some features may be more popular to develop than others, but when you are asking if "Mary Jo" would really use that feature teams can begin to recognize whether or not that latest feature is necessary to meet business objectives.
  • Personas de-personalize and de-politicize topics. Instead of telling Data Head Dan that reporting isn’t important right now, you can say that "Mary Jo" first needs to be able to use the system before you can spend time crafting administrative reports.
  • Personas provide a way to transcend "department speak". Developers communicate different from management and marketing – well we all know about marketing! Using personas allows everyone in the organization to communicate about aspects of the product or service with specificity and clarity.
  • Personas require you to know where you are going. Before you can bring your personas to life you must first know what the organization’s goals are. Personas exist to serve the aspirations of the company - if you don’t know what the objectives are then personas are useless.
  • Personas need to be relevant to everyone. Once created if the personas don’t make sense to entire groups of people then they are ignored. Stop this problem before it happens my making sure everyone involved can answer, "How will using this persona make my life easier?"
  • Personas are not an exact science. Even if you don’t execute flawlessly against your persona chances are you will have solved many people’s problems just in trying.
  • Build personas based on goals not categorization. Rather than create persona identity based on a category (small business vs. enterprise) craft personas based on the goals people have. Goal-based development will transcend awkwardly designed categories.
  • Start small. Resist the temptation to make your first attempt at using personas a widely publicized event. You only get one shot at a first impression and it may take some time to learn to use them right.
  • Personas tend not to die, but rather evolve. Just as rarely to businesses remove offerings, personas will grow with the organization based on the stated goals.


Tamara’s work is peppered with colorful metaphors that help drive her points home. Here are a few we discuss in our interview:

  • Corporate underpants - when your org chart shows up in the primary navigation of your website
  • Let them pee - give people what they really want and then you'll find they are probably amenable to listen to whatever you want to present
  • Barnacle-based design - piecemeal additions to a good product or website eventually creating large and less-valuable version of what's intended

Software Developers and Their Illicit Brethren

Tamara notes that there are only two industries that call their customers "users". Read Nerd Nirvana’s post on Software Developers vs. Drug Dealers.

Books Mentioned in the Show

The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design
The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design

How to Win Friends and Influence People
How to Win Friends and Influence People

Featured Music

Bed and bumper music in the show is provided by:

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