top of page
  • Writer's pictureCat Ryan

Yes - Personas can be valuable (incredibly)

There’s been a lot of contention about the value of personas in service design over the years. To be honest, I’ve seen a lot of personas around that are pretty craptacular and as a tool to inform design choices - about as useful as asking a llama what to do.

Personas are archetypes of real humans in the real world and need to extend beyond demographics, a backstory and behavioural information. Personas can be incredibly valuable if they incorporate two key factors - motivation and measurement.



A lot of personas simply outline lifestyle, behaviours, attitudes or pain points. That’s not enough.While all of this might be useful in some contexts, it’s far more useful to understand what those behaviours and attitudes are on behalf of.

That is, the motivation of the human.

I’m not talking about behavioural motivation like “Johnny wants to buy a car”. I’m talking about motivation at a deeply human level - what really drives a person - what makes Jonny want to buy that car? Why is it important to him?

Throughout the research phase, I’m looking at understanding someone’s Enneagram type. Through understanding someone’s Ennea type, we’re able to identify their core motivation, core fears, personality traits and essentially their perspective of the world. This enables us to truly understand how a particular person might behave, feel and think in any situation or context - and design to that. 

Let’s take an experience like buying a car. Then, let's look at how different Ennea types might experience this.

A Type 7 is known for being spontaneous, acquisitive, and scattered on behalf of the core motivation of experiencing it all. A 7 is looking for excitement, something sexy, with lots of options to choose from. The 7 wants something shiny, fun and exciting. Conversely, a Type 6 is known for being responsible, anxious, and suspicious driven by a core motivation of being safe and secure. A 6 needs to feel they are making an informed, safe choice. That the car is reliable and safe.

So when the salesman comes up and starts the spell, the 7 gets excited and immediately starts test driving the sexiest cars in the lot. The 6 however, launches into an interrogation about any suggested vehicle, immediately suspicious of the salesman and his advice.

So you can see that the core motivation of a human determines the way they perceive a situation, which in turn influences their emotional response, thought patterns and behaviour.

In crafting my research and personas, I’m looking for the core motivation. What is the thought or behaviour on behalf of? Once I can identify this, I can predict the thinking, feeling and acting of a particular person in a particular context.

In addition, by using the Enneagram in crafting personas, you’re making sure you’re reflecting real human archetypes with proven patterns of perception, thinking and behaviours. Since using the Enneagram in creating personas, I’ve found that they not only carry a lot more gravity but allow us to predict behaviour based on the Ennea type and core motivation.



One of the most important yet often overlooked things in service design is measuring change. What did the changes we made achieve? How did it benefit the customer? How was satisfaction or engagement affected? What are the real, meaningful impacts on the customer?

What we have started to realise is that even when personas are adopted - even embraced - and used to inform decisions, they are often forgotten and left for dead after a change or solution has been implemented. Nobody comes back and asks the personas what they thought about the change, how they felt and how it impacted their life.

Personas are living artefacts. They should evolve as we learn more about them and only die when they are no longer relevant to the organisation’s business objectives.

What we’ve done with our personas is to incorporate quantitative metrics so that we can measure the level of customer satisfaction or engagement (or whatever matters to the organisation) over time. We do this by conducting a series of surveys with our research participants. The first is done prior to any change implemented to benchmark the current level of engagement. Then as each change, solution or design is executed, we survey them again so that we can literally track the impact of the change on the customer. 

Through this, the persona becomes an integral part of the organisation in terms of benefits realisation at a human level.

Example of engagement metrics for staff personas



Use personas, don’t use personas. What we’ve found is that if you incorporate both motivation and measurement into you archetypes, you’ll find they can provide lasting value to an organisation 

6 views0 comments


bottom of page