Persona skeptics

9 Mar 2009 - 8:25am
5 years ago
34 replies
2058 reads
Megan Grocki
2009

A colleague recently mentioned to me that she has sensed that clients
are starting to question the value of personas.

What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?

Also, When is the last time you actually saw a project team-member
outside of IxD/UX go back and refer to persona documentation during
the later stages of a product or site development process?

Comments

9 Mar 2009 - 9:22am
James Page
2008

What we use is real people, not personas.
We jot notes on each person. Collect and cross reference their needs, and
wants.

If there is a question that needs answering all we have to do is ask the
person, on the other hand Personas can't talk. We can come up with
a hypothesis and test against real people.

Everybody in the firm is responsible. I think this method is both faster,
richer, and leads to greater empathy. We very much follow the discipline of
ethnography, to the point of really participating with our target users,
going out with them, reading their blog and twitter feed.

We also mainly use pc's over mac's as that is what our user use.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/3/9 Megan Grocki <mgrocki at madpow.net>

> A colleague recently mentioned to me that she has sensed that clients
> are starting to question the value of personas.
>
> What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
> usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
> sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?
>
> Also, When is the last time you actually saw a project team-member
> outside of IxD/UX go back and refer to persona documentation during
> the later stages of a product or site development process?
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

9 Mar 2009 - 9:29am
Kenny Kutney
2008

Hi Megan -

I worked with a client that used their newly created personas
throughout the site redesign and development cycle. Marketing and
development were constantly referring to them. They found the persona
info very valuable. In fact, the company had posters made of the
persona sheets and hung them on a prominent wall as a reminder of
their customers!

But, that was an exception, not the rule. I can only speculate as to
the reasons why. A good set of personas is an investment (resources,
time, money), and I wonder if companies aren't experiencing the ROI
or just don't perceive that there's much value... looking forward
to other responses.

- kenny

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

9 Mar 2009 - 9:53am
Mark Schraad
2006

Hi Megan...
Talking with folks that I have know and have worked with across the country
there seems to be less and less tolerance for 'ramping up' user research.
Particularly in the online market, they need to react quickly... launch
something and iterate based upon site (and other) metrics. I think it
behoves designers and researchers to be in constant touch with the user
base. That is a very tough thing for the designer for hire or design firm to
accomplish.

Additionally, the sort of economy we have right now positions the 'cost
management' folks as pretty important so any costs that are not absolutely
necessary are being heavily scrutinized. Even 'return on investment' and
'added value' seem to be falling short to the 'how little can we spend'
conversations. So for personas... that means doing personas without the
research... and in my book that is often worse than having no personas at
all.

My guess is that it will be this way for a while.

Mark

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 9:25 AM, Megan Grocki <mgrocki at madpow.net> wrote:

> A colleague recently mentioned to me that she has sensed that clients
> are starting to question the value of personas.
>
> What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
> usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
> sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?
>
> Also, When is the last time you actually saw a project team-member
> outside of IxD/UX go back and refer to persona documentation during
> the later stages of a product or site development process?
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

9 Mar 2009 - 10:11am
James Page
2008

>
> So for personas... that means doing personas without the research... and in
> my book that is often worse than having no personas at all.

We just cut the personas, and the time saved spend it on user research.

User research can be done quite cheaply especially if you
can integrate yourself with the target audience, and distribute the
workload amongst the whole team. Get everybody to go out for a drink, or a
coffee with the audience at least once a week, follow the audiences blogs,
and twitter flows.

Even more important is getting the whole team to use the product, and its
competitors been developed.

It is also very agile if you keep a panel. As you need more details just go
out and ask the participants in the panel.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/3/9 mark schraad <mschraad at gmail.com>

> Hi Megan...
> Talking with folks that I have know and have worked with across the country
> there seems to be less and less tolerance for 'ramping up' user research.
> Particularly in the online market, they need to react quickly... launch
> something and iterate based upon site (and other) metrics. I think it
> behoves designers and researchers to be in constant touch with the user
> base. That is a very tough thing for the designer for hire or design firm
> to
> accomplish.
>
> Additionally, the sort of economy we have right now positions the 'cost
> management' folks as pretty important so any costs that are not absolutely
> necessary are being heavily scrutinized. Even 'return on investment' and
> 'added value' seem to be falling short to the 'how little can we spend'
> conversations. So for personas... that means doing personas without the
> research... and in my book that is often worse than having no personas at
> all.
>
> My guess is that it will be this way for a while.
>
> Mark
>
>
>
> On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 9:25 AM, Megan Grocki <mgrocki at madpow.net> wrote:
>
> > A colleague recently mentioned to me that she has sensed that clients
> > are starting to question the value of personas.
> >
> > What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
> > usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
> > sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?
> >
> > Also, When is the last time you actually saw a project team-member
> > outside of IxD/UX go back and refer to persona documentation during
> > the later stages of a product or site development process?
> >
> > ________________________________________________________________
> > Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> > To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> > Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> > List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> > List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
> >
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

9 Mar 2009 - 10:59am
Dan Saffer
2003

On Mar 9, 2009, at 6:25 AM, Megan Grocki wrote:

> What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
> usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
> sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?

I'm skeptical myself. Which is why I wrote this a few years ago:

<http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000524.php>

The gist of the article:

"Half of the personas out there are entirely made up, with no user
research to back them. In most cases, no one on the design team has
talked directly to users to find out who they are, so designers come
up with an idea of a user type. The resulting personas are like the
designer’s imaginary friends."

"The greatest pitfall with personas is that most of them focus on the
wrong things. Differences between personas are often chosen based on
demographics and preferences, not the things that really matter, like
goals, motivations, and behaviors."

"The differences between personas must be based on these deeper issues
— what people do (actions or projected actions), and why they do them
(goals and motivations) — and not as much on who people are."

Dan

Dan Saffer
Principal, Kicker Studio
http://www.kickerstudio.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

9 Mar 2009 - 11:18am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Mar 9, 2009, at 11:59 AM, Dan Saffer wrote:
> "The greatest pitfall with personas is that most of them focus on
> the wrong things. Differences between personas are often chosen
> based on demographics and preferences, not the things that really
> matter, like goals, motivations, and behaviors."

I'll agree with much of what Dan has cited in his article, but have to
comment that most of these issues are the result of poor craftmanship
and lack of rigor in crafting personas, not in the method themselves.

We still lack good methodology and educational practice when it comes
to creating personas. And no, the Personas Lifecycle book didn't
really help. See more info http://www.slideshare.net/toddwarfel/data-driven-design-research-personas

Personas should be based on behaviors and activities, not
demographics. And they need to be data-driven, not based on
assumptions and pulled out of thin air.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Principal Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

9 Mar 2009 - 11:19am
Joel Eden
2006

It seems like every time this topic comes up, weird logic is used to
conclude that personas have little value, e.g.:

1. Personas done with little to none or poor research (i.e. marketing
demographics and segments) result in bad personas.

2. Many people create personas this way.

Therefore...based on 1 + 2, personas have little value (because most
of them are created this way).

It seems simple to me...just because some people don't do them well
and their personas don't end up helping their organization's design
process, this doesn't really map to personas done well having little
value.

I have personally found lots of value in the process of focusing on
exactly what Dan said below, i.e. the Cooper version (goals,
motivations, and behaviors).

The last time I used personas, it turned out really well; I started
with the three market segments the client thought represented their
customers...I interviewed 24 people in and around the context of use
(8 people for each segment)...and I ended up with 4 personas that
better represented the people and their needs, motivations, behaviors,
etc than the starting 3 segments. The four personas gave a completely
different view than the three segments, and the clients agreed. These
personas then were very valuable for making design decisions. Done
well, they just feel right, as long as they're based on real people in
real contexts.

Joel

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:
> On Mar 9, 2009, at 6:25 AM, Megan Grocki wrote:
>
>> What do you think, has an inherent gap been revealed in the
>> usefulness of personas as we know them? Has anyone else gotten this
>> sense, and if so, can personas be redeemed?
>
> I'm skeptical myself. Which is why I wrote this a few years ago:
>
> <http://www.adaptivepath.com/ideas/essays/archives/000524.php>
>
> The gist of the article:
>
> "Half of the personas out there are entirely made up, with no user research
> to back them. In most cases, no one on the design team has talked directly
> to users to find out who they are, so designers come up with an idea of a
> user type. The resulting personas are like the designer’s imaginary
> friends."
>
> "The greatest pitfall with personas is that most of them focus on the wrong
> things. Differences between personas are often chosen based on demographics
> and preferences, not the things that really matter, like goals, motivations,
> and behaviors."
>
> "The differences between personas must be based on these deeper issues —
> what people do (actions or projected actions), and why they do them (goals
> and motivations) — and not as much on who people are."
>
>
> Dan
>
> Dan Saffer
> Principal, Kicker Studio
> http://www.kickerstudio.com
> http://www.odannyboy.com
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

9 Mar 2009 - 11:20am
Marc Rettig
2004

Hello,
Long-time persona skeptic here. IMHO, understanding the people whose lives
you are going to affect with your decisions is non-negotiable. If you're not
doing that, you can't say you're "designing." But any particular method IS
negotiable and probably expendable or at least flexible. Which leads to my
issue with at least some of the practice related to personas: the method
sometimes seems to substitute for the goal. Personas are sometimes made
without real understanding and empathy making it into the heads and hearts
of the team. As others have pointed out on this thread and others in the
past, one can achieve that goal with or without persona.

I'm grateful to have persona as one item in the Big Bag of Tricks for
communicating insights and facilitating understanding. But as soon as they
become "part of the process," I start to worry that the desire for a
standard, easily-teachable and repeatable approach has suppressed the more
critical need to wisely choose methods to suit the situation.

If clients are questioning the value of persona, I'd say they're asking good
questions. In answer to that questioning, I would want to engage in a
conversation about Who needs to understand What in order to design well,
what stands in the way of the team's unity of vision and intention, and what
methods could be brought to bear on the situation.

Cheers,
Marc

. . .
Marc Rettig
Fit Associates, LLC

9 Mar 2009 - 11:31am
Mark Schraad
2006

This is quite an excellent point. Good marketers segment by desired
attributes... the hacks use demo, socio and psycho graphics. Those later
things are useful in determining how to reach, speak and market to the
segments once they have been identified. Its exactly the same with design
research.

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 11:59 AM, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:

>
>
> "The greatest pitfall with personas is that most of them focus on the wrong
> things. Differences between personas are often chosen based on demographics
> and preferences, not the things that really matter, like goals, motivations,
> and behaviors."
>
>

9 Mar 2009 - 11:42am
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

>
> It seems like every time this topic comes up, weird logic is used to
> conclude that personas have little value, e.g.:
>
> 1. Personas done with little to none or poor research (i.e. marketing
> demographics and segments) result in bad personas.
>
> 2. Many people create personas this way.
>
> Therefore...based on 1 + 2, personas have little value (because most
> of them are created this way).
>

The key word is in your first sentence. *Have*. If most personas focus on
the wrong things and are created without any research to back them up, then
yes, they *have* little value. The conclusion ("Therefore ...") is perfectly
accurate. If, however, the research was done and they focused on the right
things, they *could have* more value.

-r-

9 Mar 2009 - 11:44am
Peter Merholz
2004

I just wrote about field research and personas for HarvardBusiness.org

http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/merholz/2009/03/the-best-way-to-understand-you.html

The heart of my message there is that the best way to understand your
customers is to Go To Them.

The follow on is that not everyone in a company can Go To Them, and we
need means by which field research findings and insights can be
shared. Video highlight reels are very powerful, but, I think,
insufficient.

In my experience, a well-crafted persona, and placing that persona in
some strong scenarios, is the single best tool we have to spread
empathy throughout an organization. It probably shouldn't be the only
tool, but if you have time for just one, and you want to help your
colleagues achieve a visceral understanding of your customers, I don't
know of a better tool than personas.

--peter

9 Mar 2009 - 11:51am
usabilitycounts
2008

>From Dan's article...

"The best personas are really conceptual models, which help you to
digest the user research in a coherent way. They put a name and face
to an observed pattern of behavior."

I'm working with a few startups, and the hardest question for them
to answer other than how they are going to make money is who is their
target audience. Some of the have money, most of them, not a lot, so
they don't have a lot of resources to do proper research. Or their
product doesn't have quite a match in the marketplace, or they are
doing something relatively new.

Even if they are made up, I do think they have some value, because 1)
they represent a person instead of an abstract concept, and 2) you can
attach features to a person, and ask, "would this person really use
this feature in this way? Is this feature that important?" The truth
is they are used more by UX people for clarity than the clients, so
that's why they are looked as unnecessary.

The marketplace eventually determines who the target market is (the
Honda Element comes to mind -- Honda thought it would be hipsters,
and now older demographics buy it in larger numbers), so even well
researched personas can be wrong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

9 Mar 2009 - 12:59pm
Joel Eden
2006

Right. That whole argument (the 1, 2, and therefore...) I put below is
the weird logic that I see people using many times when personas are
being questioned.

A persona and its related process is just a vehicle for user research,
and the communication of its (ongoing) results. Just like Powerpoint
isn't bad, but there are many bad slide presentations.

I don't know why the idea of personas gets a bad rap if the research
that goes into a specific set of personas is bad...the term "user
research" doesn't seem to get a bad rap whenever someone that doesn't
do it well conducts research poorly.

As with most of these UX/design activities we use, the outcome and
usefulness of any given method is only going to be as good as your
commitment to wanting to understand...I think humility and wanting to
make visible what you don't know is key. Others who don't feel this
way probably won't feel the need to conduct good research (for
personas or otherwise)...personas may just be another item on the
checklist of "doing UX."

Joel

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 12:42 PM, Robert Hoekman Jr <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
>> It seems like every time this topic comes up, weird logic is used to
>> conclude that personas have little value, e.g.:
>>
>> 1. Personas done with little to none or poor research (i.e. marketing
>> demographics and segments) result in bad personas.
>>
>> 2. Many people create personas this way.
>>
>> Therefore...based on 1 + 2, personas have little value (because most
>> of them are created this way).
>
> The key word is in your first sentence. Have. If most personas focus on the
> wrong things and are created without any research to back them up, then yes,
> they have little value. The conclusion ("Therefore ...") is perfectly
> accurate. If, however, the research was done and they focused on the right
> things, they could have more value.
> -r-

9 Mar 2009 - 1:16pm
Mitchell Gass
2004

At 09:18 AM 3/9/2009, Todd Zaki Warfel wrote:
>We still lack good methodology and educational practice when it
>comes to creating personas. And no, the Personas Lifecycle book
>didn't really help...Personas should be based on behaviors and
>activities, not demographics. And they need to be data-driven, not
>based on assumptions and pulled out of thin air.

Kim Goodwin's new book Designing for the Digital Age

http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Digital-Age-Human-Centered-Products/dp/0470229101/

has a detailed chapter on what personas are for and how to create them.

Mitchell Gass
uLab | PDA: Learning from Users | Designing with Users
Berkeley, CA 94707 USA
+1 510 525-6864 office
+1 415 637-6552 mobile
+1 510 525-4246 fax
http://www.participatorydesign.com/

9 Mar 2009 - 2:19pm
Chauncey Wilson
2007

Following up on Peter's note, I think that part of the persona
planning process is to develop a "Public Relations" or "Advertising
Plan" for your personas. That should be an explicit part of the
persona process. This could mean that:

1. Personas are displayed in the work area
2. Personas are required in deliverables
3. The persona team is expected to promote the user of personas by
actually referring to them in all meetings.
4. The data behind personas is highlighted occassionally in senior
management messages
5. Methods used to evaluate products used persona-based methods.

There are many ways to publicize personas and I've seen really good
work, based on solid data, that is wasted because there was not a
solid plan to make people aware of the personas and kept them in mind
throughout design and development.

Chauncey

On Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 12:44 PM, Peter Merholz <peterme at peterme.com> wrote:
> I just wrote about field research and personas for HarvardBusiness.org
>
> http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/merholz/2009/03/the-best-way-to-understand-you.html
>
> The heart of my message there is that the best way to understand your
> customers is to Go To Them.
>
> The follow on is that not everyone in a company can Go To Them, and we need
> means by which field research findings and insights can be shared. Video
> highlight reels are very powerful, but, I think, insufficient.
>
> In my experience, a well-crafted persona, and placing that persona in some
> strong scenarios, is the single best tool we have to spread empathy
> throughout an organization. It probably shouldn't be the only tool, but if
> you have time for just one, and you want to help your colleagues achieve a
> visceral understanding of your customers, I don't know of a better tool than
> personas.
>
> --peter
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

9 Mar 2009 - 7:22pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Mar 9, 2009, at 10:22 AM, James Page wrote:

> What we use is real people, not personas.
> We jot notes on each person. Collect and cross reference their
> needs, and
> wants.

That's how you create personas.

> If there is a question that needs answering all we have to do is ask
> the person, on the other hand Personas can't talk. We can come up
> with a hypothesis and test against real people.

That's one of the reasons one of our data inputs for our data-driven
personas approach is someone we know. So, that if a question comes up
our persona profiles cannot answer, we can call the "someone we know"
and ask them directly.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

9 Mar 2009 - 7:23pm
Todd Warfel
2003

How do you communicate your research findings to your clients?

On Mar 9, 2009, at 11:11 AM, James Page wrote:

> We just cut the personas, and the time saved spend it on user
> research.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

9 Mar 2009 - 7:08pm
Joshua Porter
2007

I'm skeptical of personas as well.

A while back I wrote "Personas and the Advantage of Designing for
Yourself":

http://bokardo.com/archives/personas-and-the-advantage-of-designing-for-yourself/

Summary: I think that personas are good for communication within teams
(especially teams with non-designers who need to be convinced that
real people might exist on the other end), but on the whole I agree
with James....if you've got a more direct line to users (which is
increasingly possible), then use real people and not personas.

Josh
http://bokardo.com

9 Mar 2009 - 2:23pm
Mike Rayo
2009

I'm a big fan of personas, and have had huge successes using them to
convince my colleagues on projects things that seem to be common
sense. Like, well, that Nuclear Medicine Technologists aren't the
same as Bankers. And here are the differences in terms of goals,
behaviors, and actions. And I've also been on projects and with
clients where they flop.

If you make the investment to build personas (and I firmly believe
that value of data-driven personas dwarfs the value of creative
writing), then you must use them in all feature discussions. If you
can't, or won't, then don't bother. They'll start gathering
dust.

I also wanted to respond to Patrick Neeman's perspective on the
Honda Element personas with a bit of a twist: my contention is that
the personas were so spot on, and the design was so faithful to them,
that even folks that self-identified themselves as hipsters/outdoorsy
people, or aspired to that, found the Element attractive.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

10 Mar 2009 - 3:06am
Harry Brignull
2004

I was under the impression that persona's based on assumptions were called
assumptive personas, and should be treated as such.

I vaguely recall being told about a research company (the name escapes me)
who have a system that require field researchers to tag their fieldnotes.
These tags get aggregated into categories, and ultimately, personas are
generated that consist of a series of hyperlinked statements. The reader can
click on any statement and "drill in" to get the field notes. In theory this
means you get data-backed personas that are accountable for their claims.

Any opinions on this?

Harry

10 Mar 2009 - 6:31am
James Page
2008

@Peter,
The problem that everybody is trying to solve is as Karl Marx defined it is
alienation. There is a distance between the end user and the designer of a
product. To get a suit made, fifty years ago I would go to a tailor, who
would have direct contact with me, and be able to understand my needs. Now,
a designer in Paris or Milan who has never meet me, designs the suit.

Do persona solve the problem of the designer being alienated from the end
user? Or do we end up describing our audience like Cooper (inventor of
Persona's) in large generalisations. Such as "Programmers focus on What is
Possible to the Exclusion of What is Probable" Statements such as this
increase rather decrease alienation.

I believe that there are many ways for a team to reduce alienation. These
are:-

- Copy Amazon and get everybody (from the CEO down) to work a couple of
days in the call centre.
- Get everybody in the firm to use the companies product. Don't offer
staff discounts, but offer them rebates. So staff have to go through the
same experience as the customer.
- Get everybody to meet, and socialise with customers.

@todd

The issue here is that personas are a generalisation of the user base.
As Christine
Boese a couple of months back on the list said:

Descriptive, rich, qualitative methods are by definition NOT generalizable.
> That would be the whole point. One can inductively triangulate data, amass
> evidence that reinforces emerging categories of data, develop heuristics,
> and even conduct parallel studies and discover points of intersection
> between similar qualitative or ethnographic-type studies.
>

> So replicate to some extent, but generalize, never.

When writers merge real life characters together the work becomes
fiction. How do get around the challenge of theory?

How do you communicate your research findings to your clients?
>
For qualitative data probably very similar to the way you communicate to
clients but the mapping is one to one, not many people summarised as one.

The time saving is because you do not have to create a pseudo person between
the research, and the report. As more information is discovered it is very
easy to add to the knowledge base.

For quantitative data; charts, and other forms of visualisations.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/3/10 Harry <harrybr at gmail.com>

> I was under the impression that persona's based on assumptions were called
> assumptive personas, and should be treated as such.
>
> I vaguely recall being told about a research company (the name escapes me)
> who have a system that require field researchers to tag their fieldnotes.
> These tags get aggregated into categories, and ultimately, personas are
> generated that consist of a series of hyperlinked statements. The reader
> can
> click on any statement and "drill in" to get the field notes. In theory
> this
> means you get data-backed personas that are accountable for their claims.
>
> Any opinions on this?
>
> Harry
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
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>

10 Mar 2009 - 6:45am
Joshua Porter
2007

In theory, personas are summaries of research, they are *not* the
research itself. They are archetypes of the people you've done
research on. They are used to record and display the trends you've
seen in research.

In practice, personas all over the place, as designers create them in
many different ways, sometimes faithfully using them to summarize
research but often not. (this, to me, is a troublesome point of
them...it's not easy to create them well)

This is why persona proponents are always saying "bad personas are
bad, good personas are good...you must just be making bad ones".
When done well, they work for the people who do them. When done
poorly, they don't work as well. Of course.

You can apply this to all methods of summarizing research, from
personas to mental models to task analysis to activity modeling. If
you do it poorly, and if you don't do solid research and faithfully
record it, then your summary isn't going to be very helpful.

What everyone agrees on, as far as I can tell, is that the research
is the crucial part. If you don't know something about what you're
designing, if you aren't familiar with the activity you're
designing for, or the people who do that activity, then you're
fighting an uphill battle.

So focus not on creating personas (as that's not the deliverable
that really matters - the product is)...but instead focus on doing
solid research in the first place. If you need to summarize it,
summarize it in the way that best suits your team, and don't worry
if other people don't like it.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

10 Mar 2009 - 7:54am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Mar 10, 2009, at 7:31 AM, James Page wrote:

> @todd
>
> The issue here is that personas are a generalisation of the user
> base. As Christine Boese a couple of months back on the list said:

Yes, and the problem with that is?

> Descriptive, rich, qualitative methods are by definition NOT
> generalizable. That would be the whole point. One can inductively
> triangulate data, amass evidence that reinforces emerging categories
> of data, develop heuristics, and even conduct parallel studies and
> discover points of intersection between similar qualitative or
> ethnographic-type studies.
>
> So replicate to some extent, but generalize, never.

Bullocks.

We just spent the better part of last week working through 1000+ data
points collected from qualitative research, synthesizing, looking for
patterns and finding 19 themes, each with subgroups/themes. Those
themes showed a definite pattern. From those patterns, or
generalizations, were identifiable across customers of various sizes
and industries.

The individual stories might not be able to be generalized, but there
are definite patterns that can be found and used to communicate what
it's like for your customers and to provide empathy and understanding.

> When writers merge real life characters together the work becomes
> fiction. How do get around the challenge of theory?

Bullocks again. How do doctors identify illnesses? Not every single
case of lung cancer is identical. Are you going to claim that lung
cancer is theoretical?

> How do you communicate your research findings to your clients?
> For qualitative data probably very similar to the way you
> communicate to clients but the mapping is one to one, not many
> people summarised as one.

Can you describe how you communicate the mappings one to one? How
would you communicate findings from 40+ interviews across 17 different
customers from 5 different countries?

> The time saving is because you do not have to create a pseudo person
> between the research, and the report. As more information is
> discovered it is very easy to add to the knowledge base.

The time spent on creating a persona is saved in spades against the
time spent trying to communicate individual stories of 30-100
individuals and the edge case arguments that come from not having the
data.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Principal Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

10 Mar 2009 - 9:02am
Maria De Monte
2008

Hello there, interesting post... I've been questioning myself about
the utility of personas as well, especially when working with
engineers not used to using them in the design phase.
However, I still believe they are, and will remain, useful in each
design phase: there will always be a moment in which you'll say
"suppose x is using this system" where x is one of your personas.
And in these cases, the better the persona profile, the more the
information on its interaction with what you're working on.
I've been teaching and working in marketing for awhile, and the
first step is, and always will be, knowing your customer, that is, in
other words, designing your persona, and the one you mean to target.
There could be mistakes in foreseeing behavior, but I don't think
this should affect the persona design, but probably understand when
the imagined persona needs to become a test user, and how this should
affect our design process.
Web is changing, after all...

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

10 Mar 2009 - 1:42pm
James Page
2008

@todd
>last week working through 1000+ data points collected
So... Just because you have collected all this data, does not prove or show
anything. Many people in the stock market collected 1,000,000's
and 1,000,000's of data points, and their models where wrong, very wrong.

What matters is does your method predicts the behaviour of real people using
the site you are designing. And can the method be tested?

Nobody is arguing that you can't collect themes. What is been argued is that
you can pick and mix themes to create a composite human? That then becomes
fiction.

We can say that most Scandinavians are taller than most American people. We
can say more Americans go to university than Scandinavians. Additionally people
that go university are clever than people that don't. As soon as we mix then
up so that we create our composite persona we end up with the clever short
American, and the dumb tall Scandinavian. Both are fiction.

Some would argue that my example is a bad persona, and they only create good
personas. The question is how do you tell what a bad persona is?

Each theme is interesting but combined they are fiction.

How do doctors identify illnesses?

Not by personas! unless you go to a Witch doctor, but by a set of heuristics
(as defined by Imre Lakatos, not *Nielsen*), and there are many other
methods, and theories. The doctor builds evidence. Some of it
is qualitative , some of it is quantitative. You can create quantitative
findings from qualitative data, but it is very hard to go the other way. The
maths gets very hard (you move from A vs B to multivariate).

I said earlier

> When writers merge real life characters together the work becomes
> fiction. How do get around the challenge of theory?
>
The challenge of personas is that I know of no theory that backs them up.
Find me one!

Can you describe how you communicate the mappings one to one? How would you
> communicate findings from 40+ interviews across 17 different customers from
> 5 different countries
>

We talk about the themes, and give examples using real people. The
same way anthropologists
have been doing it since Malinowski.

When a new theme develops it means that we do not have to alter a persona.

James
http://blog.feralabs.com

2009/3/10 Todd Zaki Warfel <lists at toddwarfel.com>

>
> On Mar 10, 2009, at 7:31 AM, James Page wrote:
>
> @todd
>
> The issue here is that personas are a generalisation of the user base. As Christine
> Boese a couple of months back on the list said:
>
>
> Yes, and the problem with that is?
>
> Descriptive, rich, qualitative methods are by definition NOT generalizable.
>> That would be the whole point. One can inductively triangulate data, amass
>> evidence that reinforces emerging categories of data, develop heuristics,
>> and even conduct parallel studies and discover points of intersection
>> between similar qualitative or ethnographic-type studies.
>>
>
>> So replicate to some extent, but generalize, never.
>
>
> Bullocks.
>
> We just spent the better part of last week working through 1000+ data
> points collected from qualitative research, synthesizing, looking for
> patterns and finding 19 themes, each with subgroups/themes. Those themes
> showed a definite pattern. From those patterns, or generalizations, were
> identifiable across customers of various sizes and industries.
>
> The individual stories might not be able to be generalized, but there are
> definite patterns that can be found and used to communicate what it's like
> for your customers and to provide empathy and understanding.
>
> When writers merge real life characters together the work becomes
> fiction. How do get around the challenge of theory?
>
>
> Bullocks again. How do doctors identify illnesses? Not every single case of
> lung cancer is identical. Are you going to claim that lung cancer is
> theoretical?
>
> How do you communicate your research findings to your clients?
>>
> For qualitative data probably very similar to the way you communicate to
> clients but the mapping is one to one, not many people summarised as one.
>
>
> Can you describe how you communicate the mappings one to one? How would you
> communicate findings from 40+ interviews across 17 different customers from
> 5 different countries?
>
> The time saving is because you do not have to create a pseudo person
> between the research, and the report. As more information is discovered it
> is very easy to add to the knowledge base.
>
>
> The time spent on creating a persona is saved in spades against the time
> spent trying to communicate individual stories of 30-100 individuals and the
> edge case arguments that come from not having the data.
>
>
> Cheers!
>
> Todd Zaki Warfel
> Principal Design Researcher
> Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
> ----------------------------------
> *Contact Info*
> Voice: (215) 825-7423 Email: todd at messagefirst.com
> AIM: twarfel at mac.com
> Blog: http://toddwarfel.com <http://toddwarfel/>
> Twitter: zakiwarfel
> ----------------------------------
> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
> In practice, they are not.
>
>
>
>
>

10 Mar 2009 - 3:03pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Actually, they weren't wrong, they were selfish, which isn't the same
thing.

On Mar 10, 2009, at 2:42 PM, James Page wrote:

> >last week working through 1000+ data points collected
> So... Just because you have collected all this data, does not prove
> or show anything. Many people in the stock market collected
> 1,000,000's and 1,000,000's of data points, and their models where
> wrong, very wrong.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Principal Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

10 Mar 2009 - 9:52pm
ambroselittle
2008

If you don't think personas are valuable, don't use them. If you do, do.

They don't have to be universally valuable, and they will never be seen as
such.

Every professional has their own tools and techniques they swear by. This
is OK. The best pros are the ones who do good work with their tools and
adapt to the needs at hand.

Do what works for you and your team/stakeholders in the context of what
you're working on. This is the only universal best practice.

-ambrose

10 Mar 2009 - 11:26pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Mar 10, 2009, at 2:42 PM, James Page wrote:

> We talk about the themes, and give examples using real people. The
> same way anthropologists have been doing it since Malinowski.

Which is exactly what real personas are, a representation of that real
person and their real story. I can't speak for others, but ours are
based on real people and use real stories from the field. The same as
anthropologists.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
Twitter: zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

11 Mar 2009 - 10:08am
Anonymous

I agree with all of the anti-persona comments out there. Still, I
think there are two key types of personas.

Functional Personas are what we are all discussing here, as personas
based off of research and meant to synthesize the users for driving
design decisions.

Influential Personas are what cause all of the chaos in this post and
the anti-persona camp to exist. These are the 'fake' personas made
from friends, family, and facebook pictures. They are used to get
buy-in from upper management and marketing to put a face to the
product but should never be used by the design team to drive
decisions.

If we can accept this distinction, I see a valid use for both types
of personas but would caution the terminology before we have more
confusion in the internal IxD language.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

11 Mar 2009 - 10:58am
Dave Malouf
2005

It would seem to me that the problem w/ the discussion of "personas"
is that we are talking about "Personas". Personas is AN example of
how to communicate within specific cultural scenarios the analysis of
research. The real point is DOING the research. I could do Models more
like those espoused in Contextual Design instead of Personas and in
some cases they may be more valuable, but what is true in both
methodologies is the emphasis on RESEARCH.

This thread started b/c people were talking about the devaluing of
Personas by clients. Well, yes, I could care less about a model as
well. If you are selling Personas then it seems that that is your
first mistake. Sell research and don't even tell people how you are
going to model it. Maybe the research itself will tell you the
appropriate way to model your analysis.

Design Research is a design problem, which means it requires the
elements of trusting where you are going to go, without knowing the
destination all the time. Sell the value of research-- ALL research
(not just user research). To do that you should have a collection of
different model types across various case study contexts that your
clients (don't choose from) can get a sense of the value as related
to those case studies.

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

13 Mar 2009 - 9:02am
Jared M. Spool
2003

Coming into this conversation a little late (and thankfully so,
because we've covered this ground *so* many times before)...

On Mar 9, 2009, at 3:19 PM, Chauncey Wilson wrote:

> Following up on Peter's note, I think that part of the persona
> planning process is to develop a "Public Relations" or "Advertising
> Plan" for your personas. That should be an explicit part of the
> persona process. This could mean that:
>
> 1. Personas are displayed in the work area
> 2. Personas are required in deliverables
> 3. The persona team is expected to promote the user of personas by
> actually referring to them in all meetings.
> 4. The data behind personas is highlighted occassionally in senior
> management messages
> 5. Methods used to evaluate products used persona-based methods.
>
> There are many ways to publicize personas and I've seen really good
> work, based on solid data, that is wasted because there was not a
> solid plan to make people aware of the personas and kept them in mind
> throughout design and development.

I think this is fixing a symptom of a poorly-constructed process.

Good process wouldn't require much effort in publicizing your personas
because the entire team of design agents (those who influence the
outcome of the design) was involved in the research and persona
creation. They know who the personas refer to. They know how the
personas will impact the design. They know to constantly ask "how is
this design going to help each persona and their scenarios?"

Any time you have a process where influential design agents need to
receive "advertising" about the personas, you've created the game of
telephone. Important details *will* be lost in the communication and
distortions will take place.

In our research, the teams that get each design agent closer to the
actual user research data increases the chances that the resulting
design decisions will better match the users' needs.

When everyone is intimately familiar with the underpinning research,
the burden of the persona drops dramatically. I think that many
skeptics' complaints about persona process comes from heavily-burdened
personas that don't have the backup data of the actual research easily
accessible.

So, if I see a team working hard on their "public relations" or
"advertising plan", I'd want talk to them about making inherent
changes to the process to make those plans irrelevant.

That's my $0.02,

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: jmspool
UIE Web App Summit, 4/19-4/22: http://webappsummit.com

13 Mar 2009 - 1:54pm
Mike Myles
2009

I've found personas to be a very effective tool. That said, I've
seen them done incorrectly and fail more often than not: They are too
verbose, they are not realistic (no grounding in user research), there
are too many of them for a project, they change radically from release
to release, they are driven by marketing desires rather than actual
users, primary personas are not clearly identified for features,
etc.

Personas are a tool for focusing discussions. Good personas provide
consensus across a team on who a product is being built for; they are
concise and memorable. They should be based in research, but I've
found even a minimally validated persona is better than no persona at
all. Personas should evolve over time as more information is learned
and the market changes.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

14 Mar 2009 - 2:07am
Jarod Tang
2007

I'm the hard-core persona lover months ago for some projects. And I
should say persona is a candidate design communication method, which
is not the must for design.and the problem lies "if we use it
properly...", so we can easily comes up with local home-made path to
fake security.
And the problem is not if pesona is ok or not, instead, it's if there
real safe, solide way as the bed for design thinking. That's the less
processed real world life(we can't avoid process in theory, but we
should let it under-control and awareable). For this reason, person
is not very proper. The real world life is, which deserve any kind of
design analisis, which is hard to be achieved by persona.

--jarod

On Fri, 13 Mar 2009 11:54:59, Mike Myles <mmyles2001 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> I've found personas to be a very effective tool. That said, I've
> seen them done incorrectly and fail more often than not: They are too
> verbose, they are not realistic (no grounding in user research), there
> are too many of them for a project, they change radically from release
> to release, they are driven by marketing desires rather than actual
> users, primary personas are not clearly identified for features,
> etc.
>
> Personas are a tool for focusing discussions. Good personas provide
> consensus across a team on who a product is being built for; they are
> concise and memorable. They should be based in research, but I've
> found even a minimally validated persona is better than no persona at
> all. Personas should evolve over time as more information is learned
> and the market changes.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
Sent from my mobile device

http://designforuse.blogspot.com/

14 Mar 2009 - 8:05am
Jeroen van Geel
2008

It's really interesting to see this discussion (even though it has
become a yearly event :). A few weeks ago I asked myself the
question: why shouldn't I kill personas? Which resulted in an
interesting discussion with Steve Baty, Will Evans, Adrian Chan and
Dennis Koks. I translated this in an article I published on Johnny
Holland, which might be interesting for this thread:
http://johnnyholland.org/magazine/2009/03/why-shouldnt-i-kill-personas/

biggest conclusion (and agreeing with Dave Malouf) is: it's not
about the outcome, it's about the proces!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=39645

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