Definitions first: Archetypes in the IVR world are profiles of fictional but realistic callers who represent the primary user types that will interact with the system. A note about terminology: this same design tool is often known as a "persona" in GUI/web design, however in IVR design, "persona" refers to the voice of the system. More about IVR personas can be found here.

These descriptions of typical users are presented along with a back story that provides information as to how the user might interact with the IVR system. Archetypes may contain a photo, short biography and descriptions of tasks that the user might typically perform, along with the user's preferred channel for each task, e.g., IVR, web, etc. Biographies may be more or less detailed, but should mention such data as gender, age, education, familiarity with technology, and frequency with which they might use the IVR. Name each caller archetype with at least a first name, if not first and last. Some people create extremely detailed biographies for their archetypes; however, many UI designers believe that there is a point of diminishing returns as far as detailed biographies go. For example, it is useful to know that "Sarah" went to college and studied computer science, but it may not be that important which sorority she pledged.

While some people might argue that this exercise is unnecessary, especially when timelines are short (and you may find yourself in the position of having to convince your customers of its worth), you will find that it is a useful tool throughout the design process. As you are creating sample calls, you can craft specific scenarios in which to find your different archetype callers. This will let you explore how these callers would interact with the system, and helps you to maintain their perspective. Once the sample phase is over, it is common to continue designing with these caller archetypes in mind. As you write prompts, you may find yourself and your customers thinking of particular archetypes and how they would react to a given situation or prompt. To summarize, the following are claimed benefits of persona in User Centred Design (UCD) (Adlin & Pruitt, 2010):

  • They force designers to make implicit assumptions explicit
  • They allow designers to focus on a small set set of specific users (ideally based on careful user and market research)
  • They engender interest and empathy toward users in a way that other representations of user data do not

For a little more information about the user of personas in UCD (including some criticisms of the method), see wikipedia.

For detailed guidance on building and using archetypes, see Adlin & Pruitt (2010).


Adlin, X., & Pruitt, J. (2010). The essential persona lifecycle: Your guide to building and using personas. Waltham, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.