Writing fiction to support design

Personas are a design tool used to help designers of software focus their design for the real goals of real people. They are detailed fictional descriptions of people, their lives, and goals. They describe a person in detail but use scenarios about their lives to help illustrate their needs and goals. These personas are to help design for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

A variety of different people, male and female from different ethnic backgrounds.
Images of some of our personas (actual images from pixabay and istock)

They are based on research into the lives of the real potential users of software – through reading, interviews and observation for example. The key focus is to find out about their unfulfilled needs and so their goals, both practical and personal. Goals are states people would like to be in (or avoid). In designing software the aim is that it helps them make that happen.

Personal goals are about experience and emotions. So someone might like to feel more confident and avoid being embarrassed in public (while using a gadget).

Practical goals are more about things that you need to be able to do. For example, always remembering to take your medicine, always getting to school on time, or meeting friends regularly would be practical goals.

Personal and practical goals can be solved in many ways. The persona description should not describe solutions, other than in showing how existing solutions do not work well enough.

Each persona is intended to represent a whole group of people. In real goal-based design, lots of personas are created and then merged, grouped and narrowed down until a final primary personas is created that should again represent a group of people and their goals. It is then the persona designed for.


Write a persona for a specific design project. Here are a few ideas of topic areas.

  • to help encourage young children to wash their hands
  • to help an older person with some aspect of their life (eg remember to take medication, feel less lonely, …)
  • to help someone with a long term disease like rheumatoid arthritis
  • to help a disabled person who has difficulty getting out and about
  • Some group of your choosing that you think an app might be able to help

Make sure you give your persona a name and a picture. Give them realistic lives. Avoid stereotypes. Describe some simple events in their life that illustrate their needs and goals. Be explicit about what their goals are, but avoid just describing solutions. Describe the problem and where they want to be, rather than a specific way to get there! Coming up with solutions comes later in the design process. At this point you want to keep all your options open!

In rea

 Read the cs4fn article for more on personas including example personas for rheumatoid arthritis

Find out more about goal-directed design and personas from its creator in Alan Cooper’s wonderful book “The inmates are running the Asylum” (the inmates are computer scientists!)