‘Thick’ personas – Using ethnographic Methods for Persona Development as a Tool for Conveying the Social Science View in Technological Design

An Jacobs, Katrien Dreessen, Jo Pierson


Designing and developing successful technological innovations requires interdisciplinary research teams, where engineers and social scientists profoundly interact with each other. In this kind of co-operation it is often the challenge for the latter to present the social science findings in such a way that they are understandable and actionable for engineering. One of the tools to bridge both worlds is the use of ‘personas’. In this paper we want to explain our experience with the development of well functioning personas. We believe that an optimal approach is multi-methodological. Based on the scope of two research projects this paper will first elaborate on the advantages and limitations of using personas in an interdisciplinary environment. Second it will also discuss the ways in which a combination of different (quantitative and qualitative ethnographic) methods of data collection served as input for the construction of efficient personas and the added value of this approach. The different methods make it possible to obtain ‘thick descriptions’ (Geertz, 1973) about the different user practices. To communicate these results without losing the advantages of ‘thick descriptions’, ‘thick’ personas are necessary.


ethnography, methods; thick description, persona, technological innovations, technological design

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15847/obsOBS222008203