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Three Macro User Personas Walk into a Bar & the Art of What Makes Us the Same

Author by Damon Sanchez

Three Macro User Personas Walk into a Bar & the Art of What Makes Us the Same

There is a reason why a lot of classical jokes start out with 3 individuals walking into a bar. It isn’t because the punchline to these jokes are any better than “Why did the Chicken Cross The Road?” or “Knock-Knock… Who’s There…”

It is because by starting the joke out with 3 variations of people it drastically raises the chances that 1 of the cohorts in the joke resembles or has characteristics of someone in the audience.


The mechanics of a good joke are not all that different from the mechanics of a good User Interface in that if you’re trying to capture someone’s attention, the easier you make the information in relation to the user the better comprehension or visualization will be, thus the punchline or UI becomes more effective.

The American Psychoanalyst Henry Stack Sullivan calls this idea Personification, which essentially pulls at the idea that as humans we have certain cognitive skills that allow us to create interpersonal relationships with people or objects that we pin emotions too. So you could imagine if we have a deeper understanding or an emotional tie to a character in a story we have a better chance to become attached.

This is an extremely interesting phenomenon of human behavior and is a driving factor to a lot of the emotional responses in our daily lives. Emotional attachment to objects is fairly easy to witness in our own lives when we can’t find our cell phone… or we lose our keys. In these chaotic moments we quickly start switching into different emotional states and mental modes. ( I seriously turn into Dracula when I can’t find my phone… )

The idea that we create emotional connections to objects and interfaces is really at the heart of heuristic design theory in that by trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the User we can better understand how they learn so we can cultivate more effective UI around them which brings about a positive User Experience.

In my last blog post I talked about User Journeys and how the process of walking through a complex problem from the point of view of a User is incredibly helpful, because it helps define the smaller human particulars of an Experience. The example I gave was of a fictional person named Sally and her User Journey of ordering music online for her driving vacation.

What we didn’t do in the last blog post was distill how we arrived at using Sally as our User Persona. There is a mountain of studies, books and lectures on the subject of defining Micro and Macro User Personas but the main principle of their function is to encompass a range of groups or individuals that embody the primary, secondary and tertiary users. You can imagine the larger the grouping the more Macro the Persona and the closer you get to an individual person the more Micro the Persona becomes. In most cases the definitions of these groups are flushed out through reporting, metrics, data mining, workshops, and a host of other data gather activities which take on various levels of importance based on the size and scope of a project.


Business goals also drive the creation of User Personas in that let’s say despite historical data aKey Performance Indicator of success would be activating a previously unsuccessful or untapped market. In this case the Persona is a projection of a future user based on strategic goals and not as much so on current data. With the intent to create a persona that embodies a group of people and not just one person there is an art and strategy when defining what makes us the same and what things make us different from a User Experience perspective. In most cases we can afford somegeneralization but there are some core categories that are absolutely essential when trying to narrow down persona characteristics.

So What Are Some Core User Persona Categories?

  1. Profile – Basic Name, City, State Zip information
  2. Personality – Is the persona cool and level headed like Yoda… Or are they quick and brash
  3. Reference of Influences – Is the persona influenced by design trends, what type of outside influences drive this persona, or what type of constraints push the persona into action
  4. Archetypes & Quotes – Try to sum up the user with a statement or quote, something you could hear them say
  5. Technology Expertise – How tech savvy is the persona
  6. Devices & Platforms Used – What devices do they use on a daily basis
  7. User Experience Goals – What is the persona trying to accomplish, what tasks do they have
  8. Must Dos – This is something the Experience must have for the user, in order to make them happy
  9. Must Never Dos – This is something that drives the Persona crazy
  10. Brand Relationships – What brands does this persona buy, what brands do they associate with.


Download the Core User Persona Categories

Example of Core Persona Workshop Questions based on the Categories

  1. What Social and demographic characteristics do you know about the User Group?
  2. What are their Needs, Desires and Goals?
  3. What buying or behavioral habits does this group have?
  4. What is does this group or individual do for a living or what is their expertise?
  5. What do you know about the cultural background of this group or individual?
  6. What motivates this group or individual?
  7. What is something that would make this group or individual mad?
  8. What is something that would make this group or individual happy?
  9. What is this group or individual’s ultimate goal for user experience?


Download the Core User Persona Questions

After using the Core Categories and Workshop Questions there should be a pretty solid understanding of the primary, secondary and tertiary Personas. In some cases Personas are documented in a Persona Design for visual reference and passed out to stake holders for consensus.


Download User Persona Template

In the previous Blog Post this is where the fictitious persona of Sally and her journey to buy music online for her vacation came into play. Sally was inserted into a User Journey of buying music online, and together the Persona and User Journey paint a picture of the type of UI and UX needed to successfully meet Sally’s goals and meet the business requirements.

In my next Blog post we’ll be discussing moving from Low Fidelity UI Sketches created with various tools like Microsoft’s OneNote and then building High Fidelity Wire Frames with Axure.