Creating Personas that Won’t Sit on Shelves: The Step-by-Step Project

Learn how we helped Herman Miller use a “team sport” research approach to create personas for its Design Within Reach furniture brand.

Project Goal

The UX and product teams at Herman Miller were preparing for an upcoming redesign of the Design Within Reach website. They wanted research-based personas to lay the foundation for their redesign efforts.

The Approach

Persona generation is often about delivering beautifully constructed posters that focus on customer demographics and abstract traits. The people who build the personas are rarely the people who need to use them.

The result: pretty personas that sit on a shelf or a shared drive, and are forgotten within weeks.

The team at Herman Miller embraced a radically different approach. While the creation process felt messy and chaotic at times, the resulting personas had these big advantages:

  • The personas were grounded in research with real customers and their pain points
  • The people creating the personas were the same people who will use the personas
  • Everyone on the workshop team was immersed in the research
  • The persona generation process was collaborative and concrete

Project at a Glance

We broke down the project into the 6 phases shown below. Each phase consisted of multiple steps and lasted a week or less. The total project took 5 weeks, from kickoff to final report delivery.

  • Discovery
  • Recruiting
  • Research
  • Workshop Prep
  • Workshop
  • Report

Phase 1: Discovery


We led a 1-hour kickoff call to discuss goals, recruiting, timeline and logistics.

Research Plan

We drafted a research plan covering methods, recruitment criteria, and interview scripts.


We updated and finalized the plan based on feedback from the Herman Miller team.

Phase 2: Recruiting


We created an invitation and online screener that HM emailed to a list of customers.


We narrowed the pool and conducted phone screens to identify the best candidates.


Participants scheduled sessions through our web-based calendar and received automated emails.

Phase 3: Research


We moderated 10 research sessions. We started each session with a contextual interview.

DWR Experience

We then asked participants to talk through their recent journey on

Full Journey

We also watched as participants discussed other sites they visited. We recorded all sessions.

“The research seemed very thorough and the participants were awesome!”

Raechel Mackenzie

UX Designer, Herman Miller

Phase 4: Workshop Prep


We created a 1-page overview for each of the 10 research sessions we conducted.


We shared the 1-pagers, video recordings, and instructions with workshop participants.


Workshop participants tracked which sessions they observed and captured notes on.

“A new and better way to look at and leverage user personas.”

Caraline Visuri

Visual Designer, Herman Miller

Phase 5: Workshop


2 Marketade researchers led a 1-day on-site workshop with 8 Herman Miller team members.


The team captured, grouped and prioritized the challenges facing our 10 customers.


Breakout teams identified the customers most affected by each top problem.

User Differences

Teams identified the key differences among users facing their focus problem.


They converted those differences into attributes, and created scales for each attribute.

Persona Generation

With alignment on problems and attributes, teams created research-based personas.

“Really enjoyed the workshop structure [and] the qual research was great.”

Kylie Crocker

Visual Designer, Herman Miller

Phase 6: Report


We produced a 12-page summary report of the workshop and the project.

Participant Info

The report included links to all research sessions and other artifacts.

Digitized Personas

We also created a 27-page deck that digitized each persona’s attributes and narratives.


Involving stakeholders in the persona-generation process and building research-based personas provided Herman Miller the foundation they were looking for to begin their redesign efforts.

“I thought the interview set-up, organization, and deliverables were all fantastic!”

Jeremy Abrahams

UX Design Lead, Herman Miller