Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Personas and the Advantage of Designing for Yourself

Clarifying the definition of personas ...

"Since the original publication I’ve received a tremendous amount of feedback concerning the definition of personas (as I anticipated). To that end, I’ve tried to incorporate all those concerns into the piece. I’ve re-ordered some things and clarified where appropriate.

Steve Portigal, whom I’ve met and whom I don’t think is insane, recently said in a presentation that “personas are user-centered bullshit”.

But he didn’t stop there. He then went on to write an article in this months ACM Interactions magazine extolling the evils of personas which is provoking quite a reaction among designers. He says:

‘Personas are misused to maintain a “safe” distance from the people we design for, manifesting contempt over understanding and creating the facade of user-centeredness while merely reinforcing who we want to be designing for and selling to’

Portigal isn’t the only one to argue against personas. Jason Fried said recently that personas “lead to a false sense of understanding at the deepest, most critical levels.”

Each of these pieces has received a mountain of pushback from certain members of the design community, who feel that in many ways personas are the best tools for communicating design research throughout heterogeneous groups made up of designers, marketers, managers, and executives.

Peter Merholz, in describing a recent project, found personas quite valuable:

‘So on the morning of the second day we dove into a discussion of personas — those archetypal users of the product. We had three personas (Casey, Jessica, and Eric), and we talked about (and occasionally argued about) them for quite a while, until we arrived at a shared understanding of who they are, and what they would get out of the product.

This discussion proved enormously valuable — it lead to some coherence around who the product was for, and it helped focus our discussion of desired experiences, and, in turn, functional requirements. We referred to these personas for the remainder of the workshop, and they came in handy for resolving conversations that got stuck in “Well, I think…”‘

Definition, please?

But while all of this arguing is going on, nobody is really defining what personas are. This, of course, is a big part of the problem.

Here is the Wikipedia definition:

“Personas or personae are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are given characteristics and are assumed to be in particular environments based on known users’ requirements so that these elements can be taken into consideration when creating scenarios for conceptualizing a site or product. Alan Cooper (in The Inmates are Running the Asylum) outlined the general characteristics and uses of personas for product design and development.

In the context of software requirements gathering, a user persona is a representation of a real audience group. A persona description includes a user’s context, goals, pain points, and major questions that need answers. Personas are a common tool in Interaction Design (IxD)”

As the Wikipedia definition suggests, personas are often realized as a document that is passed around design teams. A document is created so that everyone is on the same page (otherwise each person would have to remember a tremendous number of details). Personas (persona documents) might be a poster, a word file, or a PDF. Whatever the format, they represent an archetypical person."    (Continued via Bokardo)    [Usability Resources]

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