What is a Persona?

Spoiler alert: it’s not a philosophical question, it’s a legal design one!

The “Persona” is a fundamental element in all legal design cycles and it has been inherited from user-centred design disciplines.

In a nutshell, a persona is a realistic representation of the users for which we are developing a solution to solve the legal design problem.

The characteristics of the persona can be summarised as follows:

  • it is based on research data. The representation has to be realistic, so to capture the real needs, goals and problems of the targeted users. To this end, it is important to perform empirical research (e.g. a survey) to extract relevant information from your sample. In this sense, a persona is not a stereotype: it is not what the legal designers believe a potential user might be or want.
  • it is an abstract model, summarising the main characteristics of a sample of users that share some common patterns (e.g. age, profession, needs). So, the persona is not the profile of a real user: it doesn’t not have to correspond to a specific individual.
  • it is a dynamic and iterative tool. The construction of the persona is not a one-time exercise. All the further steps of the legal design cycle (in-depth interviews, new data and insights) can help better refine the initial statements or create new personas in a constructive loop of feedback integration.

In a legal design cycle, more than one persona can be used, depending on the amount of data collected and the needs of the project. In principle, it is preferable to work with at least 3-4 different personas, in order to have a sufficiently broad overview of the potential people that are experiencing the same problem (and for which we are developing a solution). In fact, unless we are creating a personalised solution (in which case we don’t even need a persona), the latter is going to serve several people with different needs, attitudes, level of experience. So, to have a set of personas as a point of reference during the developing process may help find a solution that “speaks” to the different souls of the potential target.


When do we create and use a persona?

The creation of the persona is usually one the first steps in a legal design project. It is an important tool in the discover phase (see here), where the legal designer is exploring the legal context of the problem, collecting data and understanding the user that is going to be served by the solution. During this phase, a fundamental goal is to empathise with the user: who is she? What are the main issues she is facing in a particular context? Why is she experiencing such obstacles? What are her goals? What are her constraints?

Therefore, the persona is usually created after the user’s research part.

Only a good understanding of the user in this phase can lead to the design of a solution that can solve the problem at stake.

Therefore, the persona can be used in the further steps of the legal design process: it is a point of reference when the legal designer fills the user’s journey map (see here), brainstorms about, ideate and prototype the possibile solutions. The persona can also be utilised for selecting the sample of real users that are going to test the prototype. However, bear in mind that the persona as such cannot be used for the validation and testing phase of the prototype. If we do not want to proceed with assumptions, the test has to be based on another round of empirical research involving real participants (on prototyping and prototype’s testing we will publish a more detailed post later on).


Why use a persona?

Using personas in a legal design project has several advantages:

  • it is cost-efficient. The legal designer can rely on empirical research to build a realistic representation of the potential user. Such a fictional model can save time and costs, and provide a starting basis.
  • it helps stay focused on the object of the challenge. It may appear trivial to say, but since legal design is a human-centred approach, it is important to recall that the “human” has to be always at the centre of the work. Especially with students running a legal design project for the first time, it can happen to deviate from the main task because of enthusiasm and desire to solve all possible problems. The persona helps keep the course steady.
  • it can solve doubts or contrasts among the group working on the legal design project. The latter is usually a work done in interdisciplinary teams. The group may have different opinions on a particular issue or found itself in a stalemate during the developing of the project. Focusing on the persona (what does she need? what does she want? what would she prefer?) can help overcome the above mentioned situations in the group’s dynamic.


How does a persona look like?

There are several ways to design a persona and there are already some good examples emerging from the practice. However, it is important to stress that the persona is a tool that is used in different fields, from design to marketing. So, the characterisation of the persona may vary and, depending on the context, some elements of it can be emphasised over others.

In legal design the goal is not to persuade the user to buy a certain product or subscribe a specific service. The ambition is rather to increase “a person’s capacity to make strategic decisions for herself. Its target is more the brain, and less the heart or the wallet. Legal design aims to build environments, interfaces and tools that support people’s smartness — and to shift the balance between the individual and the bureaucracy” (Margaret Hagan, Law by Design, 2013).

Therefore, also the persona has to reflect this goal.

Building on Margaret Hagan’s Persona Template, in the EITLab course the following model has been elaborated and it is going to be used by our students.


You can download the template here.


Persona Template by Rossana Ducato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://eitlab.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/NAME.pdf.


Posted by rossana

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