Case Study

Motivation-based personas

In a nutshell

To help my team empathise with users when they’re not around, I researched user goals, motivations and pain points and brought them in a tangible and sharable format.

March 2017 - May 2017
Sofar Sounds
Just me
Research and analysis, prototyping, validation and refinement, visualisation


Sofar Sounds (short Sofar) offers secret intimate music events in over 300 cities around the world. Why secret? Because the venue is kept secret until one day before the event and users don’t know who is playing until they arrive at the show. Why intimate? Because the concerts are held in small venues and living rooms with little capacity. As part of the tech team I was responsible for the digital user experience on the website and other media.


When my team and I brainstormed and prioritised ideas, we were often lacking a clear understanding of our users and their motivations to use our product. Coming up with personas for every project was too time consuming when done correctly, so I decided to spend some time on creating universal personas that reflect different groups of our user base.


Motivation-based personas

Inspired by the jobs-to-be-done framework, I wanted to overcome the shortcomings of typical personas and focus on the reasons why people come to a Sofar show rather than demographics and characteristics that often make personas become artificial stereotypes.

Qualitative over quantitative data

Initially I looked a lot into quantitative data provided by surveys and our analytics tools, hoping to come up with a classification of our audience based on behavioural patterns. But in fact it was talking to users and reviewing previous interviews that gave me most insight on their goals and motivations.

Lean proto-personas

Having read a lot about lean personas, I decided to treat personas as any other design project: Start with a prototype full of assumptions and then refine and validate it through testing and user feedback. Testing and user feedback in this case consisted of interviewing internal experts and accompanying guests to shows – which I liked to call “buddy research”.

Visualisation depending on use case

Before deciding on a format to present all my findings, I was thinking about the different situations in which personas will be used within the organisation. Each of them require a more or less detailed perspective on the user and happen more or less often in the team’s workflow.


The different use cases and their requirements led to two visualisation formats for each persona:

Visualisation 1: More detail for deep empathy

Visualisation 2: Less detail for team collaboration and decision making

To maximise their use and visibility outside of the tech team’s location, I made sure they can be printed and sticked on the wall by any team in any office.

Note: I used photos of real guests instead of stock images to make the personas appear realistic. For privacy reasons, I blurred out the images here.

Segments as by-product

I used the insights from my quantitative research to kick off work on segments together with the marketing team. These segments mainly focus on purchase behaviour and frequency and will support marketing and strategic planning. By pointing out which persona represents each segment, I made sure we are all on the same page and able to see the difference between both tools.