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A toolkit: helping you build a user persona for your brand

Creating a persona is a very useful tool when it comes to developing a brand. Having a person in your minds eye when thinking about your brands visual language can bring a huge amount of clarity. This post takes your through the steps needed to create your user persona, alongside a few freebies that we think you'll find useful.

First things first: What is a user persona in branding?

A persona is a fictional character. An archetypical user who represents a larger group of users. It is a tool designers utilise so as to not feel overwhelmed by needing to design for thousands of people.

Designing a brand is hard. Often when a designer has too many ‘rules’ attached to the creation of a visual identity, the outcomes can lack creativity. We call this the brick wall of brand strategy. Developing a user persona for your brand can make the process that little bit easier.

Note: a user persona for a brand is not to be confused with a brand persona – we’ve written a post about that too!

Are personas actually helpful?

When user personas are done well they can bring clarity to decision making and ensure everyone who is part of the brand can be on the same page as to who they are speaking to. Whilst there are critiques of user personas – they are a huge simplification of entire populations after all – this blog post aims to delve into the benefits from a designers perspective.

Lets take an example. Imagine you have been given the brief to design the brand for a cafe. The audience information you have been given is broad, as the client wants ‘everyone’ to be able to pop in for a drink. A noble goal, but try to create a brand for a 16+ audience who live in an urban area and like coffee. What does the brand look like? I am imagining its fairly generic?

Now, design a brand for Felicity. She is a yummy mummy in North London. She used to be in marketing, but is taking some time out of her career to look after her children. Her husband is away quite a lot for work, but they love their family holidays to the Lakes and sometimes somewhere sunnier. She loves getting together with her girl friends and drinking coffee, spending time at the gym and looking after her two young children. Her children, Theo and Georgia are her world. She likes buying beautiful things, but is conscious about spending and the impact on the planet. Her house is full of house plants, gorgeous wooden toys and the latest (non showy) gadgets. Try designing for Felicity? It becomes much easier to design once you’ve got a persona in your mind’s eye.

What is a user persona example?

A user persona often looks like this:

User personas from a dozen eggs pen portraits

How to build a user persona

Interview your users

First of all, you need to learn as much as you can about either your ideal customer, whether that is a current customer or a prospective one. If you have been around in business for a while, can you identify a number of customers / clients who would be willing to be interviewed? If you are starting out in business, do you have anyone in your minds eye who would be your ideal customer? Often, people are very generous with their time, and are happy to be part of user research. If you have a bit more money to spend, then speaking to a market research company could be a brilliant place to start.

Within the interviews, you are not concentrating on what your user likes or dislikes about your product or service. Whilst that is a very useful conversation, it naturally fits into creating a product persona rather than a brand persona. If you are interested in the nuances of creating a product persona, George Olsen wrote a brilliant toolkit in 2004. Or read anything by Don Norman!

Instead, you are going to try to glean as much information as possible about their outlook on life. We’ve pulled together a list of questions that might be useful for a UK audience:

  • Which newspaper do they read?
  • Which TV channel do they watch most regularly?
  • Where do they do their food shopping?
  • Which class are they?
  • Who do they vote for?
  • Describe their housing situation?
  • Who is their favourite comedian?
  • Favourite social media site?
  • Do they own a mobile phone, if so, which one?
  • What are their hobbies?
  • Favourite celebrity?
  • Favourite sport? Playing or watching?
  • Do they speak any other languages?
  • Most likely pet?
  • Do they go on holiday? If so, where is their next destination?
  • Are they happy with their life choices?
  • Do they own a car? If so, what is the make and model?
  • If they work, what is their job title?
  • What book (if any) are they reading at the moment?
  • Favourite movie of all time?
  • What do they tend to do of a weekend?
  • What was their childhood like?

Speak to your team

Speak to the people in your organisation who work most with your current customers or clients. Ask them to be notice what they notice! Creating personas is largely about stereotypes, observing your users and finding the similarities between them. If you have a customer facing teams – complaints, sales, marketing – asking them to identify the types of customers that are the easiest to sell to, or the most enthusiastic, is a great place to start.

The above will be able to give you a general steer in the right direction for the creation of your persona. Often at this point, you might find yourself naturally grouping the audience into a number of personas. This is fine, but be careful not to have too many – you risk reverting back to the ‘designing for everyone’ scenario.

Quite often, researchers create more than one persona for each product. Most interactive products have multiple audience user segments which is why it seems logical to construct multiple personas. However, with too many personas, the process can get out of hand. The personas can simply blur together … it’s also important to minimize the number of user personas, so it’s possible to focus on design—and this may guarantee better success. While there’s no magic number, as a rule of thumb, three or four personas are enough for most projects.

Patrick Faller, Adobe XD

Solidify your persona with secondary data

The primary data collected is often the most valuable. But if you are just starting out in business, it can be tricker to come across. But, over the years we’ve gathered some great data sources that will strengthen your personas.

Mailchimp persona poster - a receptionist in the centre with words like stationary, busy and self reliant around her

Mailchimp posters by Jason Travis design

At this point, we are looking at how to bulk up the persona – what additional information are we including within the final outcome? Most user personas for branding include:

  • Name
  • Illustration or photograph
  • Demographic data
  • A short bio
  • Personality attributes
  • Existing brands they engage with
  • Preferred social channels

Although, some persona posters, like Mailchimp, keep it simple with an image and ‘stand out’ words. Jason Travis, who designed the Mailchimp posters, has also done his own series on pen portraits that can be found on Flickr.

Whilst we absolutely love the simple approach taken by Mailchimp, and others, we are going to expand upon the list above.

Choose a name

Whilst this definitely doesn’t need to be a data led decision, its always nice to have the option!

baby names from office of national statistics

Screenshot from Office for National Statistics website

The Office for National Statistics has been gathering baby name data for years. You can search by local authority, parents country of birth and even age of mother! The historial dataset is perhaps the most useful for this task – see the dataset from 1904 to 1994.

Choose an illustration or photograph

Similar to choosing a name, using an illustration or photograph for your persona is a really useful way to humanise them. Depending on your preference, we recommend using an ai generate photo ( costs around $19 for a month) or we’ve drawn lots of illustrations that you can use, for free! (Just click on any of the below, and you’ll be able to download them).

© a dozen eggs

Row of ai generated photographs

ai generated photographs from

Demographic data and a short bio

The Acorn user guide is the best we’ve come across. CACI (the parent company) have classified each postcode in the UK into 62 types.  These types have then been aggregated into 18 geo-demographic groups; lavish lifestyle, executive wealth, mature money, city sophisticates, career climbers, countryside communities, successful suburbs, steady neighbourhoods, comfortable seniors, starting out, student life, modest means, striving families, poorer pensioners, young hardship, struggling estates, difficult circumstances and not private household. If you are able to select a ‘user type’ for your personas, you then have access to the information compiled by Acorn.

Let’s take a couple of types as an example.

Asset rich families from Group B, Executive Wealth

What does Acorn say about these types of families?

House from Acorn data sets

“These affluent professional families tend to be older with a high proportion being retired. However some will have children living at home. They typically live in large detached, or occasionally semi-detached, houses valued well above the average for the area, and many have paid off their mortgage. The level of house sales is high given that generally in these areas many families have lived there for a good number of years.

Most will have good incomes from professional or managerial jobs, some as company directors. There are high levels of savings and investments in stocks and shares, unit trusts and National Savings.”

We also then know that they are likely to have a lower BMI than the national average, and purchase new technology quicker than most.

Older people, neat and tidy neighbourhoods from Group H, Steady Neighbourhoods

Row of houses from Acorn data sets

What does Acorn says about these people?

These tend to be settled established neighbourhoods where a higher than usual proportion of residents have lived in their home for many years. Mostly streets of smaller, mostly semi-detached, houses and bungalows, there is likely to be a high proportion of older residents, including a large number of retirees. Many of these people have, or had before their retirement, white-collar, skilled or semi-skilled jobs. Incomes are generally average, or lower, although a few households may be earning more. Perhaps a third will be living off their private pension.

We know that very few people in this group will be on benefits, but the median house price will also be below the UK average.

We thoroughly recommend having a browse through the Acorn user guide:

Acorn user guide

File initially found at

Personality attributes

Often persona posters include some form of personality attributes, whether its from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Enneagram personality system. Personality tests can be useful tools to glean more information about people. Some of the most common personality traits can be distilled into a continuum scale graph, which gives the viewer an immediate sense about the type of person they are dealing with.

Note: Distilling personality attributes are most useful when you’ve spoken to existing users – when its come from direct conversations. Selecting a series of personality traits is much tricker when you are reliant on secondary data. 

Favourite brands and preferred social channels

We recommend delving into YouGov data for this task. YouGov is a market research and data analytics firm – they run a lot of surveys! They combine the knowledge collected from the survey results into a few tools for businesses. YouGov Profiles Lite will be the main one you’ll want to look into.

YouGov profile lite tool for personas

Profiles Lite gives you information about existing brands, their customers and their attitudes. For example, if I search by ‘customers of Waitrose’ who are between 45-54, YouGov will allow me to view what those customers think about other brands, and their attitudes in general.

So, customers of Waitrose also like; Natural History Museum, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Cadbury and Lindt. They are likely to be on Whatsapp and Facebook and their general attitudes are:

  • “If you’re too busy to have a pet, don’t get one”
  • “I always make an effort to recycle”
  • “When it comes to friends, I prefer quality over quantity”
  • “Women can lead just as well as men can”

You can then pay more for information about demographics, politics, finance, buying habits etc.

Whilst the ideal scenario for building a persona involves substantial market research by people who are experts in what they do, we hope that this blog post provides a pragmatic solution for those with a smaller budget.

View brand persona posters

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