Stop Giving Your Personas Stupid Names

Are you a design researcher, interaction designer, product owner, or other product-maker-type person? Have you used personas to represent your customers on at least one product you’ve been involved with?

Then you may have run across personas with names like: Harry Hobbyist, Denise Designer, “Jay Vah the Java Developer”. You may even have created some of these personas yourself.

Stop that immediately.

Personas are stand-ins for real people. No real person has a name like “Harry Hobbyist”. You’re not describing a real person, you’re describing a role.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with describing roles. For some products, particularly those concerned with managing complex multi-person workflows, a role description might be an easier way to represent people who play a part in the product experience but who aren’t core users. In these cases, the depth and nuance of a proper persona may just get in the way.

But the whole point of personas is to go beyond roles – to recognize that a person is more than a job title. Real people have goals and aspirations independent of your product’s purposes, and these are rarely part of their official role description. What’s more, two people with the same role description may exhibit very different behaviors and possess different mental models of their job and of your product. Good personas are created around these goals, behaviors, and mental models – not around roles.

When a design researcher creates a persona with a name like “Harry Hobbyist”, the excuse I usually hear is that its “easier to remember” for the product stakeholders. But if these stakeholders can’t even remember their customer’s name, what are the odds that they will remember that he’s never used a photo editing program before, or that he cares deeply about privacy, or that he needs to finish quickly so he can help his daughter with her homework? Slim to nil. Ask your stakeholders if they’ve ever known someone who willfully couldn’t be bothered to remember their names. They probably thought that person was an asshole who didn’t care about them, and they were probably right.

Personas excel at capturing rich, nuanced details about your customers. Often, you must understand these details to design and build a great product. But not all projects are the same – some can get by with more superficial customer descriptions. Fine. Don’t use personas. Just describe the roles and leave it at that. Adding stupid names and cutesy photos to a role description won’t make you more user-centered. It will only make you look silly.

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One Response to Stop Giving Your Personas Stupid Names

  1. If the personality rings true, then the surface details of the name & image are simply memory cues…though I agree those too should be reasonably realistic at a passing glance. Personas won’t stick if people on your team feel foolish talking about them as real people.

    During the last two years I’ve been working on complex multi-person workflows for groups and for recruiting teams, so I’ve done plenty of persona-making. My goal is usually to have the persona’s first name or last name share a phoneme with the role or motivation they represent just for memory’s sake…and I admit that I’ll go for an audible pun if I can because it does help the team remember them later on. (e.g: “Fiennes” for sourcer-style recruiter that “finds” candidates, or “Wright” for a person that writes new content in groups) I know it’s worked when I’ve seen team members identify real-world examples in terms of the personas.

    I’ve even had a few personas that I’d originally created to capture motivations that ended up a bit detrimental to one system (posting somewhat spammy content in groups) pop up a year later while working on a different project, where those same motivations led them to do something beneficial in another system (helping people find jobs). It’s been fun to make those connections.