User Personas

In preparation for a major website redesign, we created personas representing types of users, their goals and motivations, and their online research behaviors


Personas are fictional representations of users that include demographic information and information about the user's goals and motivations for using the Libraries' website. They are composites based on multiple interviews and other data points that describe several strata of the user popluation. In our case, personas were developed based on library/research experience rather than specifically on year of study (Freshman, upperclass, etc) program, etc.

Four primary personas and three secondary personas were created for this project, based on extensive interviews with students, faculty, and research support staff on campus. The primary personas include a first-year undergraduate, a fourth-year undergraduate, a fourth-year PhD student, and an experienced professor of bioanalytical chemistry.

Creating personas for website design is a common practice and is often initiated in the early discovery and analysis phases of a Web design project. Personas guide design teams, helping them stay focused on the end user and their goals. Personas are intended to shift the point of view so that a design can be better seen through the eyes of its users. By making design choices that work well for a few particular (fictional) people who are representative of large groups of individuals, a better website can be designed. 

The personas personalize the users served by the NCSU Libraries. It's much easier to look at a particular website feature and ask "Would this work for Ansari?" (an undergraduate power user), or Jessica (a Freshman just orienting to campus and the Libraries) rather than asking more generally "Would this work for undergraduates?"

How We Did It

To formulate the personas, the Libraries' Web redesign team worked with an outside consulting firm. The firm conducted contextual interviews with a stratified sample of students, faculty, and research support staff. Interviews were conducted where the user usually conducted their research, e.g. faculty offices, residence hall study lounges, the library etc. Based on these interviews, as well as research from other universities, four primary personas were created, representing four common types of users of the Libraries. 

Some key findings included:

  • The library is viewed as the hub of undergraduate life. (There may be a sample bias in this case, because the students who were interviewed were around or in the library.)

  • English 101 is the gateway to the library; what they learn from using the library while taking this class will shape how they see and interact with the library in the future.

  • Many library users -- especially undergraduates -- are interested in "good enough" research; they just need something that will work, not necessarily everything or the best things.

  • Upperclass-folk have a strong sense of ownership of the library; they understand it better, and they feel like it's their space.

  • We have a large international student population.

  • While students are more focused (many knowing exactly what they want to pursue as early as their first year), much of what they do is interdisciplinary. This is just part of how they think about what they study.

  • Experienced researchers like upperclassmen and faculty have identified the licensed resources they use and go directly to them through links in Google searches (e.g. "pubmed ncsu"), bookmarks, and research management tools.



  • Staff profile photo
    Angie Fullington
    Former Web Services Management Librarian