This is not a typical product design case study, but I’m including it here because I’m proud of the work we did and the impact it had. Most of the content on this page first appeared in a post I wrote for the Farewill blog, 2021.

You can read Farewill’s personas here.


At Farewill, we’d accumulated 2 years of in-depth research, mostly one-to-one interviews. It was a goldmine of experiences and insights, but it was hard to see the big picture without reading every transcript.

So we wanted to step back and boil it all down into personas that would:

  • Capture the essence and meaning from our research
  • Convey the rich experiences and emotions of the participants
  • Be genuinely useful and usable for product teams
  • Help us make better decisions about our products
  • Help anyone at Farewill (not just product teams) empathise with our customers and our mission
  • Cover broader user journeys beyond Farewill’s products, so we can help customers achieve their goals
  • Not introduce bias


This was Farewill’s Personas project. It took around 10-12 weeks, part time – this was a side project, alongside our product work.


I co-led the project with our lead user researcher, Clare Ridd. We involved around a dozen people across Farewill for research analysis.

Analysing hours of primary research

We had the research – now we needed some way of collating and analysing it.

Clare suggested framing insights in terms of life events, like accompanying someone through a terminal diagnosis or arranging a funeral following a bereavement. It’s a framework that spans beyond our products and covers a rich spectrum of experiences (most of our research participants were not Farewill customers, and we wanted to capture the fullness of their journeys).

Laying out research by life events

Using Miro, we laid our life events horizontally. On the vertical axis were our research projects and participants – one row per participant.

We then recruited a dozen volunteers around Farewill to read the original research transcripts, draw out insights and place them on the board. We asked volunteers to:

  • Pick and read a transcript, and take their time to deal with any feelings that came up – many were verbatim accounts of grief and loss, which can be hard to read. I found it emotional, but also very rewarding and inspiring.
  • Go back over the transcript and draw out things that happened to the participant, choices they made and how they felt about it. We wanted to convey the richness of the experiences and emotions.
  • Create a virtual sticky note for each insight, making sure it would make sense in isolation, as we knew we’d move them around the board at a later stage.
  • Place the insight on the board.

Stickies with research insights

Here’s a section of our Miro board from the end of this stage…

A screenshot of our Miro board in progres

Over a few weeks we’d studied and analysed around 20 hours of in-depth interviews from 27 research participants across 7 projects. But we were a long way from something usable.

We saw a few themes emerging, and we began by grouping stickies into ‘opposites’. Things like a supportive family network vs difficulties in family network, and expected death vs not expected death.

Grouping opposites

We took these opposites and mixed-and-matched them into 5 outline personas. This was a painstaking, unscientific task – shuffling things around, beginning to form coherent narratives. Each outline persona could have insights from 10-20 research participants!

Outline personas

From those buckets of insights, our personas began to emerge. We started writing out insights in a narrative, with the source sticky note next to each paragraph. We also began to include data and statistics, to support and draw out insights.


A format that conveys the richness of experiences

It was time to think about a format. We got the rest of the Farewill design team involved. Should we go with a conventional persona format, laid out in A4 landscape? (A bit reductive perhaps.) Something that fits on a poster, to hang in the office? (Not very remote-friendly.)

We looked back at our goals, particularly:

  • Convey rich experiences and emotions of the participants
  • Be genuinely useful and usable for product teams
  • Help anyone at Farewill (not just product teams) empathise with our customers and our mission

Planning for and dealing with death are complex, emotional subjects. We realised if we summarised too much we couldn’t convey the richness of people’s journeys, and we wouldn’t be able to empathise with them.

So we broke with convention and made each persona a narrative, laid out on a webpage. We included real, unedited quotes from participants. Next to each quote is a sticky note, so can track every single insight back to a primary source. Along the way are call-outs which highlight key points and data for extra context.

We wanted readers to have an emotional reaction, and be moved and inspired by the participants’ stories.

Avoiding bias

Persona illustrations by Louis

Conventionally, personas have a photo, gender, age, bio and home town. But those things can trigger our subconscious biases, which can result in products that aren’t designed inclusively. A photo of a suit-wearing middle aged white man from Oxford might make us approach things a certain way, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

We wanted to help our product teams design inclusively so we stripped out certain things that we felt might trigger bias, while retaining a distinct personality for each persona.

As a result, Farewill’s personas:

  • Are gender neutral, with names like Reese, Zia and Neri
  • Have unique and beautiful illustrations that represent aspects of the story – thank you Louis for drawing them! – rather than photos
  • Don’t have a bio or home town

Most of our personas do have an age because it can be relevant to the story. For example, an older person is more likely to have attended a funeral or dealt with the loss of a loved one.

A warning – reading our personas can be tough

Our personas are the genuine experiences of real people. The quotes are words real people have said. Reading them can be upsetting, so our personas come with a trigger warning and signposting for support.

Screenshot of warning


Our personas had to be useful and actionable.

To help them stick, we over-communicated. Each week in All Hands, we arranged for someone at Farewill to talk about the impact and insights they got from reading a persona – these were people from different teams (commercial or operations for example), so we could hear different perspectives.

We spoke to the whole company about how and why we made them. We made sure they’re easy to find and use. We had a #personas Slack channel for questions.

They were immediately useful in our design crits, to help us make design choices. And were used to make broader product choices.

They became part of Farewill’s onboarding process. Everyone who joins Farewill reads the personas. They’re used in ops team training too, to help empathise with customer cohorts.

Reflections – an emotional, rewarding project

I hugely enjoyed working with Clare. We had different approaches and often disagreed, and the end result was so much better for it. It was fun, emotional, incredibly time-consuming and hard work.

Among other things, this project has taught us:

  • Every shred of a persona should be evidence-based, and it’s worth putting in the extra mile to achieve it
  • It’s good to break persona conventions if it makes them more usable and relevant
  • It’s important to minimise bias and maximise inclusivity

Our approach to making personas was quite Farewill specific – the story format, the rich and emotional experiences, and so on. What worked for us might not work for others.

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