Alan Cooper, in his new column The Origin of Personas, claims to have developed personas as an original idea. While he qualifies his words (“introduced the use of personas as a practical interaction design tool”, ” the history of Cooper personas” (stress mine)), he cites the first published mention of them was 1998’s The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.
I learned them from Tog, who discusses their use in his 1992 book Tog on Interfacecuses on the scenario aspect of personas, but the same technique of selecting a small set of prototypical users is there. He in turn cites Laurie Vertelney‘s 1989 CHI paper on Drama and Personality in User Interface Design which Jakob Nielson summarizes for us.
Update: Laurie found this post and writes in:
It seems like we’d been using scenarios for ages to do design work at Apple and at HP Labs before that. (mid-late 80s) I was personally inspired by some of the work at MITs Architecture Machine Group back in the early 80s. It just seemed obvious to me that in order to invent future user interfaces-you have to envision specific “types” of people engaged with the technology you are creating. I’ve been using this technique literally for decades.
So perhaps there were parallel efforts, or maybe some cross-fertilization took place in the Bay Area interaction design scene. In any case, it seems there are still the unwashed masses fiddling with personas and real persona creation has become the domain of the Jedi masters… Interaction designers at Cooper spend weeks of study and months of practice before we consider them to be capable of creating and using personas at a professional level. Many practicing designers have used the brief 25-page description of personas in Inmates as a "Persona How-to" manual, but a complete "How-to" on personas has yet to be written.