Creating Proto-Personas

Written by: on April 20, 2016

As a designer who builds interfaces every day, it’s easy to build a design based on your own experiences rather than your user’s experience. In an industry that is ever changing, taking the time to include your users throughout the design process is essential to creating a good user experience.

Personas help designers take a step back from their work and remind themselves who the end users are. In short, personas are fictional characters that represent users. Throughout a project, personas should be referred back to every step of the way, and especially at every roadblock. The hardest part about building a useful persona is getting the ball rolling, which is why proto-personas are the perfect tool to break the ice on a new project and help build a strong start with your team.

Getting Started

To begin the process, designers, developers, product owners and managers should organize a proto-persona workshop. Getting everyone in the same space to develop these characters helps your team build toward a common goal, and sets everyone on the same page from the get-go. Bring whiteboards, blank paper and sticky-notes to make sure all ideas get written down. More often than not, concepts for the project come to fruition when discussing personas because you begin to see the design problem from new angles.

Have everyone map out the four quadrants of a proto-persona:

  1. Name and illustration
  2. Demographics
  3. Behaviors
  4. Needs and goals

PersonaChart (1)


Once everyone has had a chance to dish out a couple personas, regroup and post up everyone’s work. At this point, the group can begin to make correlations between the characters, and pick out key demographics, behaviors and needs and goals. This allows the team to begin refining their characters into cohesive personas that represent their interpretations of the target audience.

Rank Your Personas

Not all personas are created equal. At this point in the workshop, the group should discuss how each character sizes up to one another. In other words, which users will have more impact on your project goals. If the project goal is to increase the amount of live content streaming on a sports application, the team should consider factors like:

  • Which character finds value in live content and which does not?
  • What kind of environment is each character in when live content is streaming?
  • Who cares the most about watching the game in action?
  • What kind of sport does each character follow?

Asking these questions will build your personas further in what their behaviors, needs and goals are specific to the content and experience of your application. At the end of this exercise, your team should end up with one primary persona and one or two secondary personas. Having too many will split the focus of the project and can create conflict when using them to make decisions about edge cases. After all, the goal of creating personas is to narrow the target audience and build an experience that is functional for them, not every person with a mobile device.

Personas should be a living, breathing artifact of your design and development process. Throughout each step in a project, involve them in the conversation to make sure their needs are addressed as if they were real users. This reinforces a habit with the team to take a step back, remove yourself from the design and focus on making the best experience for your users.


Aside from being a great tool for keeping the project on track, personas give designers validation when discussing their work. As a creative, getting your ideas across with the right message is key, and having deliverables like personas reinforces your design recommendations. When designers are able to use these tools, it breathes life into the design, showing the research and strategy behind every button and interaction, allowing the work behind the UI to show through. In a professional environment that is fast-paced and deadline conscious, proto-personas are a relatively quick and budget friendly way to gain a bit of leverage when discussing user needs with team members and stakeholders.

It’s important to remember that this tool is only as useful as you let it be. Proto-personas can be a great stepping stool, but as new project information is gained with analytics, testing and requirements, the personas that your team creates need to be refined and updated. Like almost every other design deliverable, personas are living documents that should be polished throughout a project.

Meghan Dever

Meghan Dever

Meghan is a UX/UI designer at POSSIBLE Mobile. She has been creating new mobile experiences at POSSIBLE Mobile since 2013, and has worked on several major brands that have been featured on the iOS App Store and Google Play Store.

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