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A persona defines an archetypical user of a system, an example of the kind of person who would interact with it. The idea is that if you want to design effective software, then it needs to be designed for a specific person. In other words, personas represent fictitious people which are based on your knowledge of real users.

You’re likely familiar with actors. Unlike actors, personas are not roles which people play. In use case modeling actors represent the roles that users, and even other systems, can take with respect to your system. For example, in a banking application we would have actors such as Customer and Credit Card Processor. Actors are often documented by a sentence or two describing the role. For example the description for Customer might read “A person or organization which does business with the bank.”

Personas are different because they describe an archetypical instance of an actor. In a use case model we would have a Customer actor, yet with personas we would instead describe several different types of customers to help bring the idea to life.

It is quite common to see a page or two of documentation written for each persona. The goal is to bring your users to life by developing personas with real names, personalities, motivations, and often even a photo. In other words, a good persona is highly personalized.

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