Monday, April 23, 2007

Yes, you should be using personas

Why personas should be used ...

"Personas seem to go in and out of fashion. Not long ago, people were advocating hyper-researched personas done in painstaking detail, these days designers seem more inclined to leave them out of the process.

So, are personas actually useful or should we stop wasting time and ditch them?

I first came into contact with personas in an academic context. They seemed like a nice idea but I tended to use them to justify my design rather than to guide design, which seemed kind of back to front.

Since then, I’ve worked in places where personas are more or less embraced as part of the process, and then longer I use them, the more I’ve come to the opinion that personas are incredibly valuable, but not for the reasons that many people think they are.

If I’m working on a UCD project (and thankfully, these days that is pretty much every project I do), then I would much prefer to include persona development in the process than not.

But, having said that - I find personas virtually useless when it comes to design, and I very rarely reference them in making design decisions. For me, personas aren’t about design, but that doesn’t mean they’re not incredibly powerful in other ways.

Personas communicate the user centred process like no other method

Having your clients view user research and testing is incredibly powerful in helping them realise that there is a problem in the way they’ve been approaching things to date (if you’re not encouraging stakeholders to actively participate in observing research and testing you’re missing out on a lot). But to get them to actually understand what user centred design is about - you need personas.

Personas should always be developed collaboratively with key stakeholders - as many as possible. They can often be derived from existing marketing personas or profiles (but, don’t be mistaken that personas that the marketing department gives you are personas you can use without any work). You should try to validate your personas with some kind of user research if at all possible - this can be in the form of some contextual interviews, lab based studies, or by talking to people in the company who interact with user directly on a regular basis (I’ve found people who work in call centres can often provide invaluable insight to what users are really like)."    (Continued via disambiguity)    [Usability Resources]


Anonymous Ivan Chalif said...

I have found personas to be useful, but only as a guide when I (the Product Manager), Engineering or other groups run into issues during development or testing.

I have found that simple personas which describe the background, responsibilities, and technical skills of the user can be very helpful when either evaluating a complex feature or determining whether something fits into the sweetspot of the product (as determined by the persona(s)).

However, as you add more detail to the persona (gender, education, etc), the value of that data relative to its worth in the development process decreases. I don't need to know that my one of my personas prefers classical music to country (unless that is relevent to my product), but it would be helpful to understand that the persona desires to have more advanced capabilities, but lacks any formal technical training.

Know your users (or at least who you think/want your users to be) and identify common characteristics, but you don't need to write their biography.

10:29 PM  

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