Tips + Tricks

Meet Joe Smith: One of Your Target Personas

By Mary Mahling
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Now that you have your persona stories defined, the last step is to present them in a format that is easy to understand. Luckily there are many resources available online that can help you.

There are online persona generators as well as downloadable templates available.

The persona document itself is formatted like a visual version of a resume. One page represents one persona, and is laid out to give the reader of a quick glance of that persona’s likes, dislikes, wants, and motivations. You should include information that is only relevant to how your solution will help them; avoid information that reads like a dating profile!

To support your story, you will need some graphic elements in addition to your story in order to complete your personas, including:

Photos: Finding the right photos is very important. You need a photograph of a person to represent each of your personas. Putting a face to your name and your story helps your audience better understand your users. That said, an image of a person in some sort of action setting, like hiking or teaching in front of a class, work better than a simple headshot as those actions give your personas more life.

Your photos should never be employees of your company – or anyone they would recognize, such as a celebrity (I made this particular mistake the hard way recently!). Your personas are supposed to represent people you do not personally know. Flickr is a great resource for photos, but you first want to double-check the license on the original images to make sure they allow editing and commercial use. Fortunately someone has put together a collection of useful Flickr photos that can help.

Names: The usual format for persona names is first name, last initial. If you need help there are fake name generators online – if you’ve used any kind of generator for lorem ipsum text, they work the same way. I like because you can customize your names to demographics such as your persona’s age as well as select how gender neutral you want your names to be.

Charts and graphs: You will want to use a couple of graphs to support your story, but how do you create a graph that represents and compares fictional characters?

Keep in mind that each persona is going to live in a separate document, so any chart or graph you use will need to be understandable on its own as well as comparable to your other personas. This means, for example, that if your graph needs a scale, your scale also needs to be consistent throughout each of your personas. This also means that many types of standard charts, such as column and bar graphs, will make your data difficult to compare as they live on separate pages. Pie charts or anything else that visualizes percentages would be better choices in this scenario. Flow charts that show a typical user’s journey with your product would be another great visual for a persona.

Another type of visual that can come in handy to compare approximations of data is Harvey Balls. You may know what Harvey Balls are if you are familiar with Consumer Reports’ rating system.

There are two types of Harvey Balls: the Consumer Reports style as well as the original, also known as the Booz Allen style, which look like small pie charts.

consumer reports

Consumer Reports style, original (top); a black & white variation (bottom): The Consumer Reports style could work for comparing good vs. bad type of preferences.  If you do this, you will probably want to change the original colors (top row), as in Consumer Reports’ case red means GOOD, black means BAD, which can affect comprehension.

booz allen

Booz Allen style: The Booz Allen style works well when comparing things involving time and frequency: things that are never done vs. things that are done daily, for example. Keep in mind that these symbols are the same that are used to show moon phases.

Persona documents are design documents, so just like a dashboard, the right visuals are important support for the story you are telling. By now you know your personas better than anyone else, so you want to make sure that other people can understand them too.

Personas can be great tools to present examples of users to anyone who needs to know. Having a user’s story and a visual representation can do wonders in getting understanding between everyone who is working on your product, from designers to developers to stakeholders.

Getting the elements that you will need for your personas will take some time and research to gather: there are no shortcuts to interviewing potential users, and it takes time to find them and figure out what to ask them. One you’re done interviewing, it also takes time to go through the data you gather and assemble the chapters of the story you need to tell. Once you have your personas in hand, you will find that owning research on your users before you start designing is incredibly valuable and it makes your product design process much smoother. Any process that results in a product that is easier to use helps everyone.

More online persona building resources:

Read the other posts in this series below:


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Originally published October 22, 2015; updated on August 9th, 2017

About the Author

Mary Mahling is a User Experience Designer for Logi Analytics, where she is responsible for user research and designing new products. She previously was on the User Experience team that was behind the award-winning responsive website for She has a Bachelors in Humanities from Harvard University Extension.