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Shape Your Digital Museum Content with User Personas



Download the User Persona Kit


What is a user persona? 

User Personas are fictional representations of your visitors (or segments of visitors) based on shared beliefs, traits, goals, or interests. They give a face and personality to your visitor. User Personas build upon Empathy Maps.


Your fictional persona is an archetype but you should attempt to make them as realistic and specific as possible, as if you’re describing a real living person. Why is this humanization so important, you ask?  First, It’s easier to empathize with a character that feels real, helping you avoid the flaw of designing for everyone (and therefore no one). Second, it helps keep projects focused on specific users and supporting data instead of abstract ideas.


Like Empathy Maps, User Personas should be developed collaboratively. Include a wide-range of voices in the discussion from visitors services to curators to digital and exhibition design teams. Using everyone’s accumulated knowledge and real life experience with visitors will help build consensus and familiarity – your team will get to know the persona as you build them.


How to build a user persona

To get started, identify your main character types or roles. In our Empathy Map exercise, we identified a parent visiting a history museum. Here we are going to take it a step further and develop an archetypal character we’re calling Helen Lam “The Parent”. You will notice many elements of your user persona build upon information you gathered during the Empathy Map process.


Next, flesh out some at-a-glance details:

– Age, gender, family status, occupation, and an image.

– A classic quote

– 3-5 #tags summarizing who she is at-a-glance.


Answer these questions and discuss as a group:

– What is this user’s lifestyle? What defines her professional, leisure/social/family time?

– How does this user encounter, engage and experience your institution in general? Why are they at your museum? What is their purpose or goal for being there?

– What is their intention for engagement while at the museum? Are they a Skimmer, Swimmer, or Diver?

– How do they engage with technology in general? Why do they engage with digital at museums? Would they be more likely to engage on their phones? At home on the computer? In-gallery on a touchscreen? Why?

– What obstacles do they face while at your museum? What frustrates them? What needs do they have that may not be (fully) met?


Pull from this information bullet points for Goals and Frustrations. Rate and comment on Preferred Devices, Engagement, and Motivations. Then, summarize a short Bio paragraph.


A specific User Persona like Helen Lam provides a common perspective and boundaries for developing projects or solutions (instead of considering the problem from their own perspective or one of the many other types of visitors).


Download the User Persona Kit


We walk the walk

At Axiell we actually develop and reference User Personas for our own product development. Here’s an example of a User Persona we created for a project to improve the CultureConnect platform and content management system:

We developed Alex Perry, “Digital Lead” archetype from our Empathy Map of a Digital Lead at an art museum who is considering different systems for creating and managing in-gallery digital and mobile experiences.


Avoid these two common pitfalls


Personas created without group collaboration. If your team is not part of the process, then they won’t feel invested in this User Persona. They will not understand the thinking or supporting data, and therefore may not take the archetype seriously. If the whole team can’t participate then find other ways to loop in stakeholders (e.g. send progress reports; provide opportunity for periodic participation).


Building user personas, but not using them. In general, we have to be reminded of our User Personas during meetings, planning sessions or content development process. Make sure you actively “bring” your User Personas(s) to meetings and ask why your persona would be interested in this experience? Ask why, again and again, with your user in mind.


Get your user persona kit 

Download our User Persona templates and quick reference instructions.


Download the User Persona Kit


Our User Persona templates are print-ready for 8.5” x 11” paper and can be easily customized for your project. We included the version our team developed from our experience working at the intersection of museums and technology.


Need help getting started? 

Want some help getting your User Persona worksheet started? Want a neutral third-party to facilitate a session? Connect with us.

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