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Why use personas?

When designing software, it can be hard to keep track of the habits, needs, and concerns of the people who may use the product. Personas are a tool from user experience research for bringing these potential users alive to the product’s creation team, in order to craft a better experience for those people. A persona is a fictional, yet realistic, description of a typical or target user of the product, based on user research.

These personas were created from interviews with thirteen potential users of the Psalms Layer by Layer tool, including artists, Bible translation consultants, mother tongue translators, and academics. For each person interviewed, we mapped out factors like their exegetical process, education, concerns, and challenges. We looked for trends to see where their characteristics and concerns overlapped, and found three significant groupings, which became the personas within this document.

Bible translation consultants outnumbered the other groups, which meant that we had less information about people in the other categories. One result of this was that we did not have enough data to create personas for artists or academics at this time. In the future, it may be helpful to conduct more interviews with them, as well as with a wider group of potential users like seminary instructors or pastors.

Suggestions for using personas

First, read them several times to help internalize them. The more the personas inform your content, design, and review decisions, the more likely you are to create a product that will be appropriate and helpful for real intended users. You may need to revisit the profiles occasionally to refresh your memory.

Second, use the personas to bring clarity to specific decisions and dilemmas. If you’re working on your own, think about how, for example, one design option might help or hinder Sarah in her efforts to present exegetical information to a non-English speaking translation team.

Third, incorporate the personas into group discussions and the visualization review process. This might mean adding them to a meeting agenda and asking questions like:

  • "How does this decision affect Sarah?"
  • "(How) does this visualization choice serve Moses in his goal of understanding the cultural conventions in this biblical passage and conveying this in translation?"
  • "Would Rinda be able to easily understand the prose that accompanies this visualization?"


A pragmatic consultant

Full persona: Sarah

Performing Scripture

Role: Bible Translation Consultant in Training

Location: Originally from the US, lives and works in the Himalayas

Organization: SIL

Education: Master of Divinity, M.A. in Applied Linguistics

Experience: 7 years advising local teams in the Himalayas, plus prior experience church planting

English: native speaker

Hebrew: 4 semesters of formal Hebrew; skills have grown as she uses Hebrew for Bible translation


  • help the translation team understand the Biblical text
  • rendering Bible text in attractive ways
  • community use of the translation


Interpretive process

  • uses academic commentaries and translation aids, and especially appreciates diagrams that highlight the most important features of a text
  • has to be efficient about exegetical work to meet deadlines
  • needs both cultural background and linguistic information about the text

Context for product use

  • presents exegetical material to mother tongue translators, either by presenting it or by translating it into the regional language of wider communication
  • Sarah has to explain literary form, poetic devices, how ideas are emphasized, genre, connections to other parts of Scripture
  • “Translators light up when they enact a passage. They benefit from a brief explanation of the connotation or background of key terms and motifs, and then they’re able to bring the passage to life and translate it more effectively.”
  • refers to resources during the translation checking process

Concerns and challenges

  • meeting deadlines
  • lower translators' dependence on translations in languages of wider communication


Mother tongue translator

Full persona: Rinda

Making music with the Psalms

Role: Translator

Location: Thailand

Organization: Thailand Bible Society

Education: secondary education; currently taking a course to earn diploma in Theology and Bible Translation

Experience: 12 years translating (both testaments)

English: basic conversational level; able to read simple English prose

Hebrew: no formal coursework, but has developed intermediate proficiency through translation experience and consultant-led workshops and training


  • a translation that is suitable for public reading and preaching
  • working forwards a Psalms translation that can be sung or easily adapted for music


Interpretive process

  • begins by studying well-known poetry in the language of wider communication and then in her local language
  • compares Hebrew poetic features and those of her language
  • references illustrated resources to learn about biblical backgrounds
  • uses Logos for Hebrew language study

Context for product use

  • works with a small group of other translators
  • studies independently sometimes, and then discusses with others
  • uses resources especially where existing versions disagree or are unclear, and again during revision process

Concerns and challenges

  • few Bible or Bible translation resources in the language of wider communication
  • English resources presuppose high English proficiency
  • sometimes struggles with rendering naturally when the Hebrew grammar differs significantly from the target language


Mother tongue translator turned consultant

Full persona: Moses

Exploring cultural connections

Role: Old Testament Translation Consultant

Location: Cameroon

Organization: Cameroonian Association for Bible Translation and Literacy (CABTAL)

Education: B.A. in Linguistics; B.A. in Hebrew; M.A. in Theology

Experience: 4 years as a translation consultant, plus 12 years prior experience as translator

English: proficient

Hebrew: upper intermediate


  • help people integrate the Scriptures into all of life
  • support translators to create singable translations of the Psalms


Interpretive process

  • compares existing versions
  • uses a range of Hebrew tools and translations aids
  • spends time researching cultural background of the text

Context for product use

  • refers to resources during the translation checking process
  • personal exegetical study for consulting and training translators
  • trains local translation teams to use the most helpful resources

Concerns and challenges

  • keyword consistency (within the Old Testament, and also with New Testament quotes)
  • identification and explanation of cultural differences between the biblical world and his community
  • "If Africans have access to the Psalms in their mother tongue, they will learn to talk to God. They can relate the psalm to a difficulty they are going through, and be confident that God is with them and taking care of them."