Transforming the Visitor Center for Tourism in the Smartphone Era: Case study using a persona-based user-experience design approach

Presented by: So-Yeon Yoon and Nam Choon Park

The widespread use of mobile devices in addition to the boom of Internet review sites is rapidly changing the ways people use today’s service environments. Specifically, traditional travel agencies and visitor centers are facing critical challenges as increasing numbers of travelers plan their trips and get tourist information online. Smartphones have accelerated the trend, with instant information available on the go, thus causing a rapid drop in the number of tourists at physical visitor centers (Lyu & Lee, 2014). 

By incorporating a persona-based user-experience design technique (Idoughi et al., 2012) into the space design process, this case study explores an innovative way of redesigning a visitor center, focusing on the changing nature of the user experience in information-service spaces (Hosono et al., 2009). A 10-week design project in an upper-level interior design studio was initiated to help the local visitor center at Stewart Park in Ithaca-Tompkins County, New York. Although the client’s initial request was to redesign the visitor center space, the team started from user research and context analysis by developing personas, because the origin of challenges must be considered when tackling a design problem. 

Personas have been used as an extension of market segmentation and user profiling in marketing and consumer behavior research. Alan Cooper (1999) first introduced personas as a tool to model the user experience; the concept then grew to become a powerful interactive design technique with considerable potential for user-experience design and service-product development. Cooper defined personas as fictitious characters, based on composite archetypes and encapsulating behavioral data gathered from ethnography and empirical analysis of actual users. Instead of considering only “average” users, personas take into account specific classes of users with special and often hidden needs. 

Fifteen students enrolled in the studio course were grouped into four design teams. Each team developed four to five personas to extract relevant behavioral attributes, aptitudes, and preferences of users planning and making trips to Ithaca. Personas were captured to represent visitor categories based on the visitor profile data provided by the client (i.e., Internet survey responses from 102 participants who have visited or plan to visit Ithaca in the near future). Follow-up interviews were conducted to understand hidden needs that did not emerge from the data. 

With the personas, we developed a framework for incorporating personas throughout the service-space design with the following six phases: 1) potential functions and attractions the physical space can offer, 2) programming, 3) design concepts by space, 4) space planning, layouts, and furniture/fixture selections, 5) design development, and 6) synergistic strategy with online and on-site services. The process and outcome of the persona-based user experience design approach effectively portray user-experience information to tackle the multifaceted problem from a systems view. 

This case study will contribute to providing important knowledge bases and design frameworks for interior designers and design decision makers of diverse service spaces with ever-changing user experiences, needs, and expectations not only to survive but also to rebrand their identities by smart design toward successful transformation into the eras of smartphones and magical computing in the future.


  • Lyu, S. O., & Lee, H. (2014). Preferences for tourist information centers in the ubiquitous information environment. Current Issues in Tourism, (ahead-of-print), 1-16.
  • Idoughi, D., Seffah, A., & Kolski, C. (2012). Adding user experience into the interactive service design loop: a persona-based approach. Behaviour & Information Technology, 31(3), 287-303.
  • Hosono, S., Hasegawa, M., Hara, T., Shimomura, Y., & Arai, T. (2009, March). A methodology of persona-centric service design. In Proceedings of the 19th CIRP Design Conference–Competitive Design. Cranfield University Press.
  • Cooper, A. (1999). The inmates are running the asylum:[Why high-tech products drive us crazy and how to restore the sanity] (Vol. 261). Indianapolis: Sams.


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