Problems create personas

How to re-think persona creation based on blockers rather than habits.

Personas should be created to solve problems

A persona should be created once the problems are discovered, validated and defined. A persona is not a person. It is an entity that is blocked by a problem. First, identify the problem(s), then find out who/what (entity) is being blocked by those problems. The entities will share a common affinity or affinities to one or more problems. This creates a relationship between the entities based on their common affinities to the problem(s). Those affinities will form a taxonomy of entities. Those are your personas.

In other words…

Everything we design for should be to alleviate a blocker for our end user including internal teams

How this relates to personas is that personas should be built around problems. Instead of defining our personas by grouping users ethnographically, we should identify core problems and blockers our users are having and then group users into problem categories. Defining our personas this way means that 2 users that both have completely similar demographics, habits, tasks and workflow, could be part of 2 separate personas due to them each having different problems or blockers in common.

That way, when researching and designing for a solution, we know who the design directly affects and therefore we can accurately identify and empathize with the correct users.

The importance of defining the problems

Problems are one of the most important elements that a designer must identify at the beginning of the UX research phase.

Without defining the problem, we can’t validate a need for a product or service in the market and therefore we would be effectively building a solution in search of a problem.

Problems not only define our personas but also the milestones of our roadmap. Creating a roadmap based on features is a common mistake. Roadmaps should be envisioned around problem milestones. By creating our roadmap around problems, our cross functional teams can work towards designing a solution for each of these problems which in turn meets the needs of our end users and thus our business goals too. The personas are created around those milestone problems. This means that there might be new personas for each problem in the roadmap and an end user may fit into several different personas throughout the roadmap because they could be blocked by more than one of those problems.


  • interview (contextually) your users and create journeys based on their common workflow, goals and tasks
  • identify the common patterns that form in these user journeys such as accessibility challenges, environment conditions, time, season, goals, preferences, restraints..etc (record attributes that relate to the product or service and omit ones that don’t)
  • define the problem(s) that you will be designing for
  • create your personas based on the problems that you define
  • validate or invalidate the need for each solution in the marketplace
  • create a roadmap to focus on designing solutions to these problems based on user centered research, testing, inclusive design and iteration.

Feel free to hit me up to discuss this more as I am always eager to learn more about how other Experience Designers work and think.