A Workshop Exercise on Creating User Personas

I was first introduced to user personas participating in a design sprint by Aspiration in 2005. In that workshop, we were asked to imagine users of Social Source Commons, a website to share lists of software tools you already use, gain knowledge and support, and discover new tools. What stood out for me was the opportunity to imagine a potential user, how they might benefit, and why they would be coming to use the site in the first place. As a result of that sprint, developing user personas has become a critical first step when designing resources.

In running workshops on developing advocacy campaigns, I added the user persona to get participants to think about stakeholder motivations for getting involved, along with the benefits and challenges.

Now I’m finding the User Persona exercise for many different contexts, from ‘Building Data Culture’ to ‘Implementing Strategies.’ Participants often feedback how useful it is to think from the perspective of the person you are trying to engage. Thanks to Mor Rubinstein, who partnered with me on a few of these workshops and inspired this blog post.

What you need for the exercise:

  • Flip chart paper, Markers
  • A template sheet for participants to replicate. Consider using numbers, so that participants don’t have to waste time rewriting everything.
  • An hour
  • Four to Sixteen Participants

The User Persona Template

  • A square in the upper left hand corner for a drawing or photo of the individual.
  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Life Goals
  • Values (how do they want to be seen?)
  • How do they feel about this effort/issue?
  • What are their motivations for getting involved in this effort?
  • What are their barriers to getting involved in this effort?
  • How can this effort support their goals?
  • How can this effort conflict with their goals?
  • Who are their allies? Who might they get information about this effort from that they trust?
  • How do they stay up to date on this effort?

A simple quick persona might only include the following:

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they learning about your resource or effort?
  • Why are they coming to use it, or why would they get involved?
  • How will they use your resource? Or how will they benefit from getting involved?
  • What are the questions they might be coming to answer?


Thanks to Allison Corkery for introducing us to these. Put an x on the line between the two types.

  • FACTS —————————– NARRATIVE

Communications Channels

  • TWITTER ——————————————
  • FACEBOOK —————————————
  • EMAIL ——————————————-
  • MOBILE ——————————————-
  • IN-PERSON ————————————
  • CHAT ————————————–

Additional Questions based on Contexts

From our data and storytelling workshop :

  • How will they hear your story?
  • To who might they retell your story?
  • What do you want them to do as a result of hearing your story?

On building a data culture:

  • What problems are they trying to solve?
  • What are their motivations for using data?
  • How do they apply data in their jobs?
  • What skills are they keen to learn?
  • What can they teach others?

The Exercise

This isn’t an exercise that really works on it’s own. It has to be part of a workshop with a larger goal, and you would do it after you have identified a groupings of people you want to engage – i.e. Students, Elected Officials, etc. The more granular you get in your groupings “senior citizens that read the daily mail” the easier it is to come up with individual user personas.

Ask your participants to base their personas on real people. If they don’t know a real person, then it’s about making an educated guess (and later an opportunity to test assumptions). They should work in pairs or small groups (four people or less). 20 to 30 minutes is a good time frame to generate two to four personas per group.

Once the profiles are generated, either put them on the wall or spread them on the floor. Ask participants to read all the personas. Once they have read them all, start a large group discussion asking:

  • What have people learned from the exercise?
  • What are the main ‘aha’s’ from reading all the personas?
  • What assumptions have we made today that need to be tested in the real world?

Make a list of the assumptions and brainstorm ways to test them.

Where next:

Once the personas are created, you can have your participants analyse them, creating insight statements and develop prototypes.

Examples where user personas have been used in workshops:

Inspiring Examples of User Personas: