Ad Hoc User Personas

Collage of photos of people from different walks of life
Any personas you use to guide strategy, UX, and content decisions should be created from qualitative research with your audiences or customers.

Ad hoc personas are not based on research, but on what stakeholders (i.e., your leadership, project team) perceive is true of those audiences. We sometimes use ad hoc personas as a tool to understand which audiences are most important, and to identify theories we can explore and/or validate in our research. Ad hoc personas are NOT a substitute for audience research, but are a step toward that research.

Facilitating an Ad Hoc User Persona Workshop

You can run this workshop with your favorite virtual whiteboard tool. If doing it in person you’ll need:

  • Posters or flip chart paper
  • Markers or pens
  • Sticky notes
examples of post-it notes for brainstorming audiences. Don't use generic audiences like "the Public," "Educators," or "Journalists." Get specific, like "Science journalists writing a feature piece on Zika", "Economists studying how people respond in an epidemic", "NPS Staff leading educational programs on biodiversity for school-age children", or "Town council member trying to improve the health of his citizens"

Ad Hoc Persona Steps:

  1. Brainstorm a list of your key audiences. Who are we trying to reach and why might they care about us? Be specific.
  2. Choose the top 3-4 (vote on this if needed).
  3. Identify any details or characteristics within those audiences that might have a significant impact on their behavior. For example, if “teachers” is one of your audiences, you might need to consider experience level or subject area.
  4. Create 3-5 specific but fictional people from those audiences. Break your participants up into small groups to work on each persona.

For each persona:

  • Name your persona (something you’ll remember).
  • Give your persona some personal details.
  • If it’s relevant, describe how much experience this person already has with you or with the type of product/service you offer.
  • Describe a particular scenario that would prompt them to look for what you offer or come to your website/store/school etc.
    • How would they typically look for you (or look for your category)?
    • What information/content is most important to them (maybe top 3-5)?
    • What motivates them?
    • What drives their decision?
    • What fears/concerns might they have?
  • Draw a sketch of your persona with some memorable details that relate to their personality or story.
  • Have each group present their persona to the rest of the participants and discuss.
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