Archetypes vs. Personas: Who, What, When, Where, & Most Importantly, Why

When gathering data related to our target audiences, archetypes and personas become a way to humanize those data points in a meaningful way. Archetypes and personas are tools that knit together seemingly faceless data points into something relatable. They serve as a tangible element that generates customer empathy and understanding from business and product stakeholders.

The target audience influences nearly every decision we make for a digital experience. This includes technology selection, look and feel, interaction design patterns and use cases. In order to facilitate these decisions, we aggregate and interpret our user research into representational customer profiles.


Archetypes are steeped in user behavior. They contain details from user interviews around a group’s goals, needs, motivations and pain-points. Archetypes focus on the “who does what” of your audience research. They are useful to provide insight into the behavior patterns and visualize how a customer is using a product or service currently. Customers can also occupy multiple archetypal groups at any given time throughout the customer journey depending on their goals.

  • Archetypes help visualize the customer behavior patterns.
  • Archetypes help to determine the look and behavior of the user experience.
  • Archetypes contribute heavily to determining and prioritizing product features.


Personas focus on the “who” of your audience research. They include demographic details such as age, gender, occupation, education, interests, etc. They are useful to provide insight into the characteristics of a target audience, but often do not include details on behavioral patterns. Typically, only one customer group occupies one persona throughout the customer journey.

  • Personas help visualize the customer segments so the teams can relate to and build for the defined primary groups.
  • Personas are aligned with the main customers for a product.
  • Personas are used to inform decision-making. This assists in ensuring the team doesn’t design a product using the client-as-customer or us-as-customer.

The difference.

Because archetypes contain information on user behavior and motivation, they are more useful for building products than personas. When building a product, you want your development team immersed in what the customer is doing and what they desire to achieve. This assists in designing meaningful features for the users and helps in prioritizing feature sets for releases. Features that solve true and severe pain points should be prioritized over features that don’t. This is important so that a user can see clear value in the product right away.

Personas are useful tools for business decision makers. The demographic information contained in a persona can assist in consumer and market positioning, as well as, pricing strategy and marketing campaign activations.

Archetypes tap into our humanity because they personify research findings. When dozens, or even hundreds, of users are represented by an archetype, imagining what they would do in a particular situation is much easier than pouring over cold, hard, abstract data.

Archetypes empower us to work in a more mindful way, keeping the user at the heart of everything one does. If we truly understand and internalize the user and their needs — and how we could potentially fulfill those needs — then seeing potential solutions in the mind’s eye becomes much easier. And those solutions are much more likely to resonate in the hearts and minds of the audience, resulting in a more compelling, more engaging, and more successful digital experience.

Originally published at on August 6, 2015.

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