Apartment List’s Journey to Creating and Implementing Renter Personas

A guide to understanding your users and drive business.

Apartment List
Published in
5 min readJan 16, 2020



Creating company-wide user personas was a passion project I took up during my second year at Apartment List, in 2018. The design team wanted to create a framework that was accessible to the entire R&D org to develop empathy for all of our users, better understand their differing intents when coming to our site, and identify the different motivations and attitudes of different user groups. Further, I wanted to create a toolkit that allowed Apartment List product, design, and engineering teams to more creatively problem solve, to better guide product planning and decision making, and ultimately more effectively evaluate solutions. This qualitative layer to support our quantitative understanding of our product has become an invaluable tool in these conversations.


📝 I began by meeting with each of the core stakeholders individually to better understand what they hoped to get out of the research before writing up a research proposal to share out with the larger R&D team. The key stakeholders included: a product analyst, a product manager, an engineering manager, director of design, director of marketing, and the COO.

‍🔎 Next, I deeply reviewed all previous research done at Apartment List. This included usability tests, diary studies, and generative research from the past 3 years. I annotated each study, then synthesized our current body of research into 4 main themes: (1) the macro steps of the rental journey (2) the motivations for moving through each step (3) the actions people take during each step (4) what people are feeling at each step.

‍📕 Storyboarding. It was important that this project felt like something the whole company, including teams outside of R&D, could get behind. I wanted to create moments of investment for everyone, so the next step in the process was to do a company-wide activity. I created art-boards for each step of the rental process that I identified during the research-review and added some direct user quotes on post its on each of the boards. I then propped up art-boards in our All Hands Room and invited everyone to add their own experiences onto the art-boards in one of three categories: [feeling], [doing], [thinking]. These additions could either be derived from their own experiences talking with users, clients (leasing agents), friends, or even themselves.

‍📊 Now it was time to get down to the data! I worked closely with an analyst to set up our first renter behavior dashboard. I identified the type of information I wanted to see and how I would like it visualized, while he worked hard to pull the correct data into Chartio.

*It’s worth noting that this was not a linear part of the process. The more data we saw, the more data we identified we needed to see.*

🤓 Interviews. I recruited and interviewed 12 renters via User Testing. The recruiting guide screened for industry bias, identified moving mindset, primary motivation and ideal move date, as well as collected age, income, and section 8 housing candidacy. The interview was semi-structured and the guide consisted of 4 categories: (1) introductions (2) renter history (3) walk-through of their last apartment search (4) walk-through of them registering on Apartmentlist.com

‍🤔 Synthesis. The end is near! I re-read the transcripts of the interviews, pulled core behaviors, and began to cross reference the qualitative with quantitative.


In the end, we identified 3 core personas. The Sprinter, the Life Changer, and the Hobbyist. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, we saw that the key distinguishing characteristic that drove user behavior was their move urgency. Based on why a renter was moving and how quickly they needed to move, we could begin to predict their behaviors both on and off of our platform such as: when in the year each persona was most likely to register, how likely it was for them to successfully move-in to a place on our platform, how long they spent in each stage of our product funnel, which of our value propositions were most meaningful, how they were likely to behave with our ads, and what actions they were likely taking off of our platform.


At the beginning of this journey, I knew I wanted my output to be something accessible to everyone. It was important to me that the insights were actionable in our day to day product development process.

In the end, I delivered (1) a google drive folder that held all of the research, presentations, and notes from my journey (2) a chartio dashboard that was now filterable by persona (3) updated product one pagers, product specs, and design review slides and (4) a list of user traits and behaviors engineers and analysts could use to segment and analyze our users based on personas.


Our personas have created a fundamental shift in the way we handle our product and talk about our users across the company, both internally and externally. It has become a primary tool for the organization that helps us more thoughtfully talk about them, and fully impacts the way we strategize and plan as an R&D organization. It has grounded us in who we serve and how to serve them as we plan ahead for our 2020 Product Vision, providing a human-centric framework for all teams, from Finance to Data Science to Design, to fully embrace.