Can Unhappy Pictures Enhance the Effect of Personas? A User Experiment

There has been little research into whether a persona’s picture should portray a happy or unhappy individual.

We report a user experiment with 235 participants, testing the effects of happy and unhappy image styles on user perceptions, engagement, and personality traits attributed to personas using a mixed-methods analysis.

Results indicate that the participant’s perceptions of the persona’s realism and pain point severity increase with the use of unhappy pictures. In contrast, personas with happy pictures are perceived as more extroverted, agreeable, open, conscientious, and emotionally stable. The participants’ proposed design ideas for the personas scored more lexical empathy scores for happy personas. There were also significant perception changes along with the gender and ethnic lines regarding both empathy and perceptions of pain points.

Implications are the facial expression in the persona profile can affect the perceptions of those employing the
personas. Therefore, persona designers should align facial expressions with the task for which the personas will be employed. Generally, unhappy images emphasize realism and pain point severity, and happy images
invoke positive perceptions.

Salminen, J., Şengün, S., Santos, J. M., Jung, S. G., and Jansen, B. J. (2022) Can Unhappy Pictures Enhance the Effect of Personas? A User Experiment. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. 29(2), Article 14.

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