Step 3: Words for Users

Words we use to describe users (or Customers)

You’ve discussed your goals (if you haven’t, STOP and do so.)


The next step is very simple and very important. It should only take a few minutes. Ask the group for all the words that they currently use to describe or refer to users or customers and write them on a whiteboard or easel sheet. There are no right or wrong answers. The goal is simply to get all of the existing language out and written down.

Start by writing ‘words for users’ at the top of the whiteboard or easel sheet. Don’t create it on a document that you are projecting; you are going to need to project some instruction slides in the next step and participants are also going to need to see the list you are creating now.

Start the list yourself by saying (and writing down) a few obvious words:

Words for users

  • Users
  • Customers

Ask everyone to speak up so you can add words to the list. There are no rules—the descriptive words can be at any level of specificity, or short phrases, etc.  If everyone starts talking at once, repeat one of the words as you write it and ask everyone to hold on to their words; call on once person at a time so that you don’t miss any of the words the participants are sharing.

Some common words for users (if your team is stumped, which they won’t be):

  • Small and Medium Businesses
  • Enterprise
  • Development Managers
  • Sales People
  • End Users
  • Customers
  • Super-customers
  • Admins
  • Super-admins
  • My mom
  • Students

Here’s an example from an actual alignment persona workshop focused on some tools to manage APIs. Note that we spent less than five minutes creating this list.

  • Users
  • Customers
  • Clients
  • Stakeholders
  • C.s
  • Managers
  • Seats
  • Employees
  • Resources
  • Direct Reports
  • FTE
  • Steve
  • Policy Owners
  • Overachievers
  • Coasters
  • Vendor
  • Manager of managers
  • Business
  • Me
  • Management Chain
  • Support
  • Admins
  • Team
  • Team Lead
  • DB Admins
  • HR
  • Finance
  • Legal


Note that these words are all over the map when it comes to specificity. They describe:

  • roles, or job titles ((Managers, FTE)
  • qualities of people (overachievers)
  • departments (HR, Legal)
  • type of customer (Vendor)
  • responsibilities (policy owners)
  • and more.

This is fine, and it’s exactly the point of this step. You want everyone in the room to spit out all of the ways they currently think and talk about users so that they can prepare themselves to start thinking in a new way.

This list will also help with the Step 4: Yellow Stickies.

Why is this step important?

There are several reasons this step is important:

  • Goal discussions are hard. It’s time to let everyone relax with an easy task before diving into more deep thinking.
  • Assumptions and miscommunications hide behind familiar and commonly-used words.
  • Because this is such an easy question to answer, everyone feels willing to shout out words. These words are either being used or they aren’t; there’s nothing particularly politically intimidating about adding to the list, no matter how many senior people are in the room.
  • Seeing you carefully collecting every word, and ensuring that everyone gets a chance to add to the list, proves to participants that you are going to be as unbiased as possible and that you will work hard to include contributions from everyone in the room.
  •    The alignment persona process is, at its heart, a process of bringing assumptions out into the light so that everyone can see and understand them. Participants may not even understand their own assumptions until they articulate them. You’re starting that process now.
  • Listing words for users requires participants to think about all the ways users are referred to, even by people not in the workshop. The experience of seeing all these words listed in one place is powerful because it gives everyone a sense of the scope of the problem. If we’re not clear in the language we use to talk about users, how on earth can create products and experiences real people will love?
  • This list of current words for users is an important part of the ‘before’ picture you hope to change with the alignment personas. You can use this list to illustrate the success of your persona project when it’s done, by proving that these words no longer appear in product documentation (because, we hope, they have been replaced with the names of personas).
  • This list prepares participants and gives them a cheat sheet for, the next step.

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