Personas in practice (was: Academic papers...)

14 Jan 2005 - 6:15pm
881 reads
Josh Seiden

> We all agreed that we would take the Persona's way to enter
> in the realm of Design. But there are some obvious reasons
> that the group can't relate with the benefits of Persona. The
> reason why they couldn't see the any direct relation this
> early is -- "we have not found any direct link between user's
> motivation to use the system with the ethnographic data we
> collected". That was one surprising revelation. Any comments,
> or similar experiences?

This is one of the key benefits of personas, but also one of the
riskiest. Personas first benefit is that they shed light on the
usefulness of the system. How well does the system match what the
users are trying to do? (Rather than usability, which asks how
well does the system do it?)

Of course, one of the risks of persona use is that you may
discover that your system does the wrong thing! The truth hurts.


> I, along with my boss (who is also a marketing genius) in the
> act of walking through these Personas, started drawing
> cartoons and caricatures for some of these personas. Pardon
> me for accepting this, but you can imagine it was a moment
> when we were laughing our guts out about these personas. I
> don't know what some of the perfectionists may think, but I
> was wondering why associating personas with a fictional
> character, when a comic character can tell the story so
> interestingly? Is there anything that I should consider?

There is a lot of discussion on this point. One great thing about
personas is that they are evocative, and encourage a playful
attitude about design. These properties help create good design

You often see playful engagement with personas--there's nothing
wrong with this. The key thing is that you have to respect your
personas. You can enjoy them, but if you don't respect them, you
will have a hard time taking a respectful attitude towards
solving their problems.

At Cooper, we used a system where caricatures and drawings
represented "provisional personas"--that is, personas based on
spotty (or no) research. We used real images to accompany
personas based on better data. It was a shorthand way of
represnting our confidence in the material. I've talked with
other designers who only user drawings. They prefer this
technique because they feel that caricatures are more
approachable for their clients.

They key issue is to find a way to model your users in a way that
creates useful simplicity (and thus clarity) without creating
inaccuracy through oversimplification or through inappropriate


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