Alan Cooper: Biography & Customer Personas

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

In this lesson, you'll learn more about tech pioneer Alan Cooper and the ways he has innovated business, including his creation of customer personas, which are used in product development, distribution, and marketing across many markets.

Who is Alan Cooper?

In his own words from the website of his business co-founded in 1992, Alan Cooper is widely known for his role in humanizing technology through software design. Cooper founded his first business after the introduction of the world's first microcomputers, creating software for the business environment.


In the 1980s, he created a successful project management program, followed by a visual programming language that he later sold to Bill Gates and Microsoft. Cooper's program, combined with Microsoft's QuickBASIC language, became Visual Basic, and earned Cooper recognition as 'the father of Visual Basic.'

Cooper later worked as a consultant and in the field of business intelligence software, where the idea of customer personas was born. Cooper himself said the personas were built from open-ended questions and observations of potential clients who were looking to the company's products for studying large quantities of data. Despite the differences among the potential users, Cooper said he started to see a clear pattern where users 'fell into one of three distinct groups, clearly differentiated by their goals, tasks, and skill levels.' By pretending to be these users and seeing things from their perspective, he was able to create the first personas - Chuck, Cynthia, and Rob.

Cooper was born in Marin County, California, and attended the College of Marin. He is the author of several books, including, About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. The latter is used frequently for its 25-page description of personas.

In 1992, he co-founded Cooper, where he and his team created products ranging from medical devices to business and consumer products. He is still most well-known for his role in humanizing technology through consumer personas.

Cooper's Personas

Personas, developed and popularized by Cooper, are now widely used in various business and marketing capacities. A persona is not a real individual; rather, it is a fictional representation of a buyer or consumer based on data observed or collected from a cross-section of individuals. It can take a consumer base of thousands and drill it down to only a handful, typically assigned a name as Cooper illustrated with the very first personas - Chuck, Cynthia, and Rob. It is easier to develop products and processes for a Chuck, a Cynthia, and a Rob than it is to develop products and market them to an audience of thousands or hundreds of thousands, Cooper theorized.

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