Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Crappy Personas vs. Robust Personas

The benefits of well constructed personas ...

"There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the Interwebs about how personas are a useless tool. 37Signals’ Jason Fried recently wrote:

"We don’t use personas. We use ourselves. I believe personas lead to a false sense of understanding at the deepest, most critical levels.

Every product we build is a product we build for ourselves to solve our own problems. We recognize our problems aren’t unique. In fact, our problems are probably a lot like your problems. So we bundle up the solutions to our problems in the form of web-based software and offer them for sale.

We recognize not everyone shares our problems, our point of view, or our opinions, but that verdict’s the same if you use personas. Making decisions based on real opinions trumps making decisions based on imaginary opinions.

I’ve never been a big believer in personas. They’re artificial, abstract, and fictitious. I don’t think you can build a great product for a person that doesn’t exist.

There was a lot of discussion on Jason’s blog, with many sentiments similar to this one from Mimo:

I never heard of Personas before. Now I read it on wikipedia. The idea sounds interesting. But I think at the end of the day it is crap. The product is always shaped by two things. YOUR experience (your present ego and YOUR idea (your future ego)."

So, to add into the fray, here’s my thoughts on using personas:
It takes virtually no skill to build something crappy

No one is going to make you use personas. If you create a design without using personas, I’ll promise you the sun will continue to rise on schedule, without variation. The universe will remain intact.

However, how do you know you’re actually meeting the needs of your users? After all, that is why you were designing in the first place, right?

Some products, like the tools built by 37Signals, don’t need personas. Not because the folks at 37Signals have any special powers, but because they themselves are the personas they want to build for. They build tools they like to use themselves. For them, that will work great.

Not all teams have that luxury. A hospital IT team, building software systems used by critical care nurses in the hospital’s pediatric intensitve care unit, are not building tools they will use themselves. They are building tools used by others whose education, experience, goals, contexts, and tasks are extremely different.

A well-built, robust persona set can help educate the IT design team on what it’s like to be a critical care pediatric ICU nurse and the things they need to deal with. This information will inform their designs. And good personas help inform the design process."    (Continued via UIE Brain Sparks)    [Usability Resources]

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