Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Taking Personas Too Far

Keeping a personna in everyone's mind ...

"I don't have to tell you that at Cooper, we love personas—how could we not?—and we're glad to see continued excitement about them. That said, although personas are essential design tools, we think some people may be losing sight of the fact that they're just tools, and tools with a specific purpose, at that. Lately, we've been seeing a lot of gold-plated hammers—unnecessarily elaborate communication about personas—and some fundamental misunderstandings about the relationships among research, personas, and scenarios.

Be only as elaborate as you need to be

Recently we've been seeing people try new and entertaining ways to communicate about their personas. Over the years, we've seen our clients do everything from printing posters and t-shirts to playing persona trivia. This kind of internal marketing is important, and there's no reason it can't be fun. However, it's easy to overdo it to the point that personas become an end in themselves, rather than a favorite tool among several used to guide product and design decisions. Before expending a lot of effort and money on a novel communication method, ask yourself what that method will accomplish that text, photos, and illustrations won't, and whether the gain is really worth it. Also ask yourself whether that method will obscure the most important aspects of the personas: their behaviors and goals.

For example, I recently heard about a Web design agency building "persona living rooms" that are furnished and decorated according to the personas' tastes and filled with magazines the personas read. It's an interesting idea for helping people who don't participate in the research to get a feel for the personas' environments and attitudes. Understanding the personas' experience goals is particularly important for any situation where brand is a central consideration, such as a corporate Web site. Certainly, the novelty of the rooms will generate some attention and excitement, which is always a good thing.

... In using personas to design for a wide range of client projects and cultures, we've generally found that three types of persona-related communication are most effective.

• Detailed descriptions
• Quick reference tools
• Meetings to introduce the personas

Beyond these methods, it's a matter of finding simple ways to keep the personas in everyone's minds over time."    (Continued via Cooper)    [Usability Resources]


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