Using Personas in Visual Storytelling

Instructor: Mary Matthiesen-Jones

Mary has worked around the world for over 30 years in international business, advertising, and market research. She has a Master's degree in International Management and has taught University undergraduate and graduate level courses .

Visual storytelling is increasingly important in marketing communications. Learn about the important role of personas in visual storytelling and how to develop personas for visual narratives.

Visual Storytelling and Personas

The marketing strategy of visual storytelling focuses on connecting with customers using the power of imagery as opposed to just words. Stories, in fact, do not always have to have words. Today, with stories viewed by people speaking many languages and from various cultural backgrounds, often visual storytelling is the only effective means of communication. The right visual story and images can transcend language and culture. Personas, those fictional characters intended to represent a specific type of individual, provide the foundation for the visual storytelling arc that involves a setting, conflict, and resolution.

Developing a Persona

The role of a persona in visual storytelling is to support designers in understanding the audience for the narrative. Therefore, persona development depends on the purpose of the design project. For advertising, a persona represents the type of user for a product or service. For a website, personas might be desired visitors. Personas used in designing products like a bicycle can represent someone who uses it.

Research, therefore, is the first step in persona development. Who are the desired users of a product or service? What are the attitudes and beliefs that motivate users? The more you know about the target, the more credible the visual narrative. That authenticity is critical for the narrative to persuade consumers to buy something.

Of course, there are many possible personas for a narrative. The question is which is the best one?

Assume a designer is developing a visual narrative to promote a new vitamin drink tablet that dissolves in water.

The product to sell
The product to sell

Step one is brainstorming, the idea generation technique that starts with a diverse group of people sharing ideas without judgement, helps to develop a robust image of the persona. In the early rounds there are no bad ideas; the goal is to encourage creative thinking and idea generation. Questions in brainstorming focus on things relevant to someone who uses the product. In the case of the vitamin drink tablet, questions might include:

  1. What is the goal of the customer in using the product?
  2. What is important to them in their life?
  3. What types of things would the customer do for fun?
  4. How old are they?
  5. Where would they most likely live?
  6. Do they take vitamins and why or why not?

Out of brainstorming comes a wide array of ideas. Multiple rounds of brainstorming occur to narrow down the ideas to the most promising ones. Creating a visual mind map of the ideas helps to organize the ideas, identify the best ones, and set the stage for persona development for the visual narrative.

Step 1: Brainstorm mapping
Step 1: Brainstorm mapping

Step two is development of the archetype, or universal symbol that makes sense for a persona based on the brainstorming. Brainstorming generates multiple possible archetypes that represent categories of potential users based on their motivation. Possible archetypes for the product could include ''The Fitness Fanatic,'' people who really like to stay in shape and are careful about what they drink. They want healthy beverages.

Step 2: The archetype: fitness fanatic
drinking from bottle

Others could be the ''Healthy Family Eating Mom,'' who wants only healthy beverages in the house, ''The Super Busy Person,'' who does not have time to eat properly but wants convenience, or ''The Health Worrier,'' the person who worries about not getting enough vitamins.

Step 3 is persona creation. Personas get detailed descriptions. These include their appearance and age, how they dress, their possible motivation to buy the product, and even a name. ''The Fitness Fanatic'' now becomes Bob, aged 35, single, goes to the gym daily, takes lots of vitamins, and likes to drink healthy things. He works in a middle management position so has money to spend on the gym and nutrition extras. He already uses special supplements from a health food store and watches what he eats. He uses Facebook and LinkedIn. Actual pictures at this stage help to develop the persona.

Step 3: Bob, a persona image
persona image

The detailed persona profile has two roles. The profile is part of evaluating the possible personas and then in applying the persona in design.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account