Ad Code

How to Empathise with your Learner: Behavioural Archetypes

Successful products begin with putting the user at the heart of the design. The marketing world does this well and places great emphasis on their target audience when designing a product. Luckily the world of learning and development caught onto this concept (and rightly so) and now learning experiences are being designed in a way that is meaningful for the learner.

Our team at Belvista Studios has become more and more aware over the years of the importance of putting the learner at the heart of the design. Creating an amazing piece of learning is not enough anymore. The bar has been raised and it is crucial that learning experiences ‘speak’ to the learner at their level.

If you don’t consider the learner in your learning design you are at risk of:

  • teaching learners something they already know (imagine spending hours of your time learning content you already know - frustrating right?!)
  • assuming the learners know something (when they don’t)
  • addressing the wrong problem (potentially you are teaching learners to be ‘better’ at using a system when potentially it’s the system itself that needs to be improved) 
  • not engaging the learner through ignoring their needs and wants, or
  • using language that doesn’t connect with the learner (e.g. using corporate acronyms for learners who have not been exposed to it).

We could continue this list for a lot longer though we think you get the point. If you don’t seek to understand your end-users, you can’t expect them to engage with what you create.

So, how can you seek to understand your end-users? Well, you need to step into their shoes and empathise with them. A great way to do this is to create user profiles through personas and archetypes.

You may have heard of personas before. At Belvista Studios we love them and have been using them for quite some time in order to gain a deeper understanding of our end-users. When archetypes came across our radar (Thanks David) it was like we had hit the jackpot. We had found an extension of our favourite tool. Not only could we understand ‘who’ our end-user was (thanks to the persona tool), through using archetypes we could now understand who does what, when they do it and why (we will explain this in more detail shortly!) (Ben-Menachem, 2016). 

To help distinguish between personas and archetypes, let’s take a look at both. For the purpose of this blog, we will go much more in-depth into archetypes.


Personas are in essence a characteristic profile of the end-user. They answer the question, “Who are we designing for?” including characteristic details such as:
  • Name
  • Age
  • Level of education
  • Job responsibilities
  • Tools they need to do their job
  • Goals or objectives 
  • Challenges
  • Preferred method of communication
(Hubspot, 2018).


From our research, finding a clear definition of what an archetype is was challenging. We don’t believe it was the information available on the internet letting us down, it was more the intricacy and in depth nature of what archetypes are. Our aim through this blog is to explain what they are as clearly and simply as possible. Once you have an understanding of what archetypes are, you will unlock the doors to best utilise them in your craft.

Archetypes don’t refer to any one person. They refer to a group or type of people that demonstrate similar behaviours and thoughts (Miriyala, 2019). Simply put, an archetype is a set pattern of behaviour (Jeffrey, 2018). You may have come across archetypes in the form of archetype cards. Let’s take a look at one as an example.

Storyteller archetype card (Myss, 2003).

The ‘storyteller’ is an example of an archetype. The storyteller archetype describes the group of people who have the ability to experience and express life through stories and symbols, their downfall is that they make up tales that harm others (Myss, 2003). 

Let’s take a look at another example of archetypes in play. As you can see in the image below (Ben-Menachem, 2016), 6 archetypes have been generated for a particular target audience. The professor, the maverick, the soloist, the collaborator, the realist and the dreamer. The associated behaviours for each archetype are represented by the coloured graph lines and this helps us understand how each would respond in different situations. For example, a ‘collaborator’ archetype would be more inclined to be an ‘active communicator’ over a ‘passive communicator’.

Archetypes graph (Ben-Menachem, 2016). 

The number of archetypes are endless though you will associate different archetypes with your company brand as well as each learning solution that you create, depending on your target audience. When we think about well-known companies we can guess which archetypes they would be associated with. Apple would be ‘the creator’, Nike would be ‘the hero’, Virgin would be 'the rebel’ and Dove would be ‘the innocent’ (Vision One, 2019).

Psychologist Carl Jung identified 12 universal character archetypes that we find useful as a starting point for defining the archetypes of our users. Take a look at the archetypes in the image below. What archetypes would be associated with the company you work for?

The 12 Jungian Archetypes (Neill, 2018).

To take this one step further, think about your learning solutions. Who are you creating these solutions for and what archetypes would they be associated with? For example, if you are designing learning for a charity organisation, from your research of the employees you may reveal that the ‘caregiver’ would be an associated archetype. Taking this archetype into account you could identify the importance of explaining to learners that by engaging in the product or solution that you create, they will be able to better care for and provide services to their clients.

Before we move on, you may be thinking, “How do I know what archetypes are associated with the end-users I am designing for?” Well, research is key to gaining a deep understanding of who they are. If you are interested in learning more about this, check out our blog on ‘How to Conduct Successful User Interviews to Get the Information You Need’ here.

At this point you may also be asking, how do I know when to use personas or archetypes or do I use both?

Well, unlike archetypes, personas are great for creating empathy for end-users when working on initiatives at a micro-level. On the other hand, archetypes work well when you are looking at overarching initiatives at the macro level like product strategy or product interactions (Miriyala, 2019).

Through utilising archetypes in your learning design you will not only understand and build empathy for who your end-user (learner) is, you will also gain insight into their behaviour. You will know what they do, when they do it and why they do it. For example do the learners you are designing for use social media, when do they use it and why do they use it? How are they likely to respond in certain situations? If they are faced with a difficult challenge will they hide away or will they rise to it with passion? Using archetypes you will be able to answer these questions.

So there you have it. Now that you have insight into what behavioural archetypes are, how to use them and why they are useful, have a go at selecting some archetypes for your end-users. Think about how you will obtain the information necessary to generate the archetypes that reflect your end-users. This could be done through observation, interviews or currently stored data. At the end of the day, the important thing is that you design with your users at the heart of your design. Through having a deep understanding of your end-users you are able to design a product that adds value to them.

If you are interested in this topic and would like to discuss it in further detail please don’t hesitate to contact our passionate founder, Kim Tuohy, by emailing or through connecting on LinkedIn.

If you like this blog, you will like our Human-centred Design Playbook for instructional designers and learning and development practitioners. This will be the toolkit for the rest of your career. It enables you to use the principles of Human-centred Design to create effective learning experiences and solve business problems. Learn more here.


Ben-Menachem, D. (2016). Behavioral Archetypes. Retrieved from

Hubspot, Inc. (2018). Make My Persona. Retrieved from

Jeffrey, S. (2018). The Ultimate List of Archetypes. Retrieved from

Miriyala, A. (2019). How to Use Archetypes and Personas for your Product. Retrieved from

Myss, C. (2019). Archetype Cards [Cards].

Neill, C. (2018). Moving People to Action. Retrieved from

Vision One. (2019). Brand Archetypes - Unlock your Potential. Retrieved from

Post a Comment