August 4th, 2011 | 7 MIN READ

Video Personas - A New Approach

Written by Meghan Deutscher

By Laura Ballay and Meghan Deutscher of the Elastic Path UX consulting team

In recent articles, we introduced user experience personas and their benefits, explained when they are the right tool to use, and talked about the preliminary tasks that need to be taken care of before going forward with a personas project. Here we switch gears and talk about our own experiences creating personas for our Gen Y’s Video Habits Uncovered study.

In this project, we decided to try something new: video personas. Besides being inspired by the film/TV subject of our research, we thought that a video presenting our personas, David and Vanessa, in real life scenarios could increase the effectiveness of our regular persona document by making the personas more believable and easier to digest.

Watch our video personas on YouTube.

Bringing personas to life

The usefulness of personas is largely dependent on if they evoke empathy and build a common understanding of who the user is and what are their goals. This understanding enables a product team to make better assumptions about what a user would do and what’s important to them. If a persona is not believable, either because they are not convincing or are filled with contradictions, the product team will be unable to empathize with them.

As a result, some common guidelines have been established for crafting believable personas (this Forrester report provides a good discussion of persona best practices). For example, it’s recommended that a persona uses photographs of real people, rather than stock photography, which can seem posed and fake. In addition to regular demographic information, the creator is also encouraged to include details like relevant personality quirks and interests to make the persona come to life.

Persona documents often include scenarios to further establish character believability by highlighting their actions in a specific context. We were curious about whether or not a short video of scripted scenarios could enhance this believability by demonstrating dialogue, mannerisms, traits, use of living space, and other character building qualities that cannot be so richly presented in a written narrative.

Making personas easy to digest

The other important element of successful personas is whether or not the entire project team and ideally the entire organization adopt the personas. If they’re going to be the foundation for a project’s focus and used to validate decisions, everyone needs to be on board, right?

One of many ways to encourage adoption is to make personas easier to digest. Main persona documentation should always be designed with this in mind: keeping it short (1-2 pages per persona) and using images, infographics and appropriate text layout and formatting to lighten up the reading. We thought that the video personas would be a good way to entice those people who are unlikely to read or entirely absorb a persona document.

What we learned making video personas

It took us about an additional week to film and produce the video. Overall, we were very satisfied with our video, though it did turn out to be a bit more effort than we expected. Given the right project, we would consider making them again keeping the following in mind:

1.  Deciding to make a video

Gauge the time investment vs. believability and adoption payoff: a video takes longer to produce but if it inspires greater use and acceptance, then it may be worth the effort. Some considerations that may impact your decision:

  • Are you trying to reach out to people unlikely to read a traditional persona document?
  • Will you be presenting your personas to a large audience? (I hope you will). Are there aspects of your personas that are difficult to present on paper?
  • Are there relationships between your personas that you’d like to show? For example, David and Vanessa are a couple and with the video, we were able to depict how they interact with each other and influence one another’s decisions.

2. Planning & prep

Start with a storyboard and script: It only took us a few hours to create a storyboard and script and both proved to be extremely useful as checklists when we planned and made preparations.

Finding actors: Depending on whom you know, this can be an easy or difficult task. You might not be able to find real actors but if you have friends who are either similar to the persona user group OR are imaginative and willing to take direction, it’ll be much easier to have them act out the personas you are creating. We also recommend making sure that the people you choose are not shy wallflowers and are comfortable being filmed. We found our actors by putting a call out to our Facebook friends.

3. Choosing a set and getting props

We found that this required a lot more time that we had anticipated, even though our needs seemed fairly straightforward.  Some things to consider:

  • Props: It took about half a day to collect and prepare a handful of props.
  • Set Design: In our call for actors, we asked for volunteer actors who also had homes suitable to film in, and who possibly have some of the larger props we needed (TV, couch, etc.).  This could become tricky if you’re filming something esoteric.
  • Location Scouting: We wish we could have gone to see the home and floor plan first. We would have then discovered that a western exposure combined with shooting near sunset would be an issue, and that some spaces would be too tight to have a long shot.
  • Visualizing the Shoot: It would have been nice to run through the script and imagine how we would do the shoot and where we would set up the camera before actors were on the scene.

4. Filming

Scheduling & Budgeting: With only about 5 minutes of material and 2 locations, it seemed reasonable to give ourselves 3 hours for filming the video. While we were able to get everything done in that time, we ended up feeling very rushed. It also did not leave much time for multiple takes of scenes if we didn’t feel happy with the first few. Padding the schedule with a couple extra hours could have made the filming much more relaxed and allowed for more experimentation when something wasn’t working.

Still Photos: The benefit of having actors is that they are real people, so you can use images of them throughout your persona documents (they should be the same people anyway, right?). But remember to include time during the video shoot to take these extra still photos. We recommend planning ahead with a list of different settings, actions and/or expressions that you might want to show in your documents. Taking the photos in the beginning is a good way to get your “actors” to relax and get in the spirit of the character too.

Food: We like food and get grumpy without it for long stretches of time. Be warned--bring snacks!

5. Editing

Scheduling & Budgeting: It will probably take longer than you think it will, especially if you're including music, title screens, and screen captures. We recommend creating and collecting all the assets you'll be using ahead of time so that when it comes to editing, you'll already have the parts you need and can focus on putting them together.

Music & Graphics (in titles screens, etc.): Don’t forget the background elements that add personality to personas, including background soundtracks and the graphic design elements for title screens, credits etc. Be sure to match the visual design used in the persona docs.

6. Distributing the video

The whole package: We created the video as a supplement to our main personas but quickly realized that we couldn’t assume people would watch the video after reading the print personas. Next time we’ll consider either delivering personas on a webpage instead of a PDF document so that video can be embedded in context. Another idea we would consider is creating a standalone video persona.

It’s a wrap

What do you think of personas in video format? Does video make the characters more believable? Is it easier to digest?

Interested in getting your personas off the ground? Contact the Elastic Path consulting team at to learn how our user experience strategy services can improve your business results.

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