Can personas be created when you are not sure who your audience will be?

1 Nov 2011 - 9:50am
3 years ago
12 replies
2130 reads
stepheneighmey
2008

Not sure why this didn’t post the first time…

I work for a company in the healthcare vertical. We are designing a SAAS product to be released in the next 6-12 months. Though this product does tie-in ‘somewhat’ with an existing product, we basically have no idea who the audience might be for the product.

Is it possible to create personas to help influence the design of this product when we don’t know who the audience might be?

Thank you.

Comments

1 Nov 2011 - 10:16am
stepheneighmey
2008

 

 

 

1 Nov 2011 - 10:15am
keithwford
2010

Hi Stephen,

I have the luxury of working at a company with lots of accumulated customer data; however, I do believe you can start personas with some vague ideas and then iterate them as the data comes in over time. Just think of them as initial targets to get started, the main idea is to generate empathy. You can find out more about ad-hoc personas through these links:

http://www.adlininc.com/what_i_do/analysis_evaluation/2007/03/create_personas.php
http://www.uie.com/events/virtual_seminars/ad_hoc_personas/
http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/personas_empath.html

Hope this is helpful.

2 Nov 2011 - 2:11pm
penguinstorm
2005

Personas can, and arguably should, be based on who you *expect* the audience to be: if you don't have an expected audience...well then, why build anything at all?

2 Nov 2011 - 2:42pm
wraevn
2010

Step 1: Fire your PM...

If Step 1 isn't possible, then i agree w/ penguinstorm - why are you even bothering to build something when you have no idea who is going to use it? It sounds like a case of a solution in search of a problem.

Personæ are only useful for vetting your ideas. e.g. - "Should I make this a combo-box or a list? What would Jenny want/expect it to be?" If Jenny is completely made up and has no base in an actual user - then there's no reason to have her at all.

I'd recommend getting that cart behind your horse. Figure out what problem you're trying to solve. That will help identify your audience, which will then feed into your personæ.

2 Nov 2011 - 4:52pm
Chris McLay
2005

I think the question should be, "Should you be designing a product when you are not sure who your audience will be?"

Find out who your audience is.

3 Nov 2011 - 3:02am
gavinwye
2010

I'd echo everyone else's comments about not designing something when you don't know who is going to buy or use it.

However, if you are in the situation that you have to design this because of an organisational issue. Personas could help you manage conversations with stakeholders as long as you get them to buy in to the personas initially. Hopefully, getting the stakeholders to agree on personas will help them to realise that they need a market before building something.

I'd also steer clear of calling them persoans, in my view personas are always based on resurch. Call them something like pen portraits.

Working in this way you have a target to aim for in the short term. Once you have shipped you can do the resurch and refine or create new personas if needed.

 

3 Nov 2011 - 11:26am
Jared M. Spool
2003

Gavin,

I too have been anxious about calling them personas, because laymen can't tell the nuance between fully-researched personas and ad-hoc/provisional personas. 

Pen portraits is an interesting name. I wonder if it will take. Nothing else I've heard has resonated well.

Jared

3 Nov 2011 - 9:18am
Jared M. Spool
2003

Hey Stephen,

What you're talking about is known as either provisional personas or ad-hoc personas. (They are basically the same thing, just different origins to the name.)

The main purpose of the personas, whether fully-researched or ad-hoc, is to help inform our design decisions. Informing our design decisions is a fancy way of saying "improving our gut instinct", since most of our design decisions are done by what "feels right" and what "our gut instinct tells us." The better we are at improving our gut instinct, the better the designs we'll produce.

It's perfectly reasonable to build something without having done any research. In fact, many of the most successful products of our time have been built just this way. However, the people how built it had a really well-refined gut instinct.

Back to ad-hoc personas: The real value here is that, while you may not think you have a lot of knowledge about who your audience is, it's likely that, within your organization, you have more than you realize. The purpose of a well-facilitated ad-hoc persona project is to collect up, from as many different places in the business, what you think you do know about your audience.

Gather all the various stakeholders, from sales, support, training, and elsewhere, and bring them together. Facilitate a workshop that collects all the info, including the contradictory beliefs and understandings, and assembles them for everyone to see. (I'm quite fond of how Tamara Adlin does this, which she explains here: The Power of Ad-Hoc Personas - http://www.uie.com/events/virtual_seminars/ad_hoc_personas/ ) 

As each person talks about what they think they know, as them for as much evidence as they have. If they don't have any, but are going off their gut instinct, respect that, as their instinct may actually be pretty good. Give it the benefit of the doubt. However, do make a point of saying that it's just instinct right now. Hone on on where different people's gut instinct are taking them in separate directions.

From there, it's likely you'll get one of two outcomes:

 

  1. The team believes they have a coherent understanding of who the audience is. 
  2. The team realizes they have no clue who the audience is.

 

In either case, you can then argue for research to help validate and investigate what it really means. You can use the differences that emerge to develop a focused (and probably inexpensive) research project. And you can use the common understanding that emerges as a platform for testing the entire organization's collective gut instinct.

Hope this helps,

Jared

Jared M. Spool, User Interface Engineering, t: @jmspool, http://uie.com

 

3 Nov 2011 - 10:06am
GeoffWill
2010

Stephen

I suspect that with a little effort you can articulate who will be using your product. What you don't know is who exactly will be using it.

The people who will use it are the ones who in your mind want the results it can provide. The people who will use it are the ones who will find it where you are locating it or to whom you are providing various navigation routes to the product. These people will be using the products and sites from which they will link to your product.

Most persona research starts with a general approximation to the range of potential users.

What kind of market research has been done? any? Market research should have identified a product need and several potential target audiences.

If your group is just developing a technology, you would want to go back and do the research.

You say you are in a healthcare vertical and that there is a tie in to another product. This gives you some information to start with.

The product should have started with a vision document. If it didn't try to drive the managers to create one. It will sharpen their focus.

Consider, and I hate this, a brainstorming session to identify potential wants and needs people may have for the product and then who those people are.

have fun

geoff

-----Original Message----- From: stepheneighmey Sent: Tuesday, November 01, 2011 1:08 PM To: gwbando@msn.com Subject: [IxDA] Can personas be created when you are not sure who your audience will be?

Not sure why this didn’t post the first time…

I work for a company in the healthcare vertical. We are designing a SAAS product to be released in the next 6-12 months. Though this product does tie-in ‘somewhat’ with an existing product, we basically have no idea who the audience might be for the product.

Is it possible to create personas to help influence the design of this product when we don’t know who the audience might be?

Thank you.

(((Please

3 Nov 2011 - 1:32pm
holger_maassen
2010

I agree with most of the posts, especially the well thought-out and written post of Wraevn and Jared.
I would like to make two points very clear …
… Personas are well known and used since decades
… Personas are powerful tools - but it isn’t a must for each project
The intention of a persona is to help you and the whole design team makes decisions about user guidance, utility, usability, design and appearance – personas can help you at quite a lot of levels of design and phases of your project.
http://ux4dotcom.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-personas-matter.html

13 Nov 2011 - 12:34am
cgielow
2011

I'm a believer in the Cooper/Goodwin methods, so I always tell people that Personas are about "Precision first, Accuracy second."

The Precision of your Persona comes with many benefits, but mainly that design integrity that comes from having everyone on the same page about who you're designing the product for, and why. You can write a fictional Persona, just make sure it's Precise, and doesn't end up becoming what Cooper calls the "elastic user."

The Accuracy is something to strive for over time with research. Personas are by nature incomplete and therefore inaccurate. The more you learn about your users, the more accurate and precise your Personas will become.

26 Nov 2011 - 10:37am
Sascha Brossmann
2008

Actually, IMHO you *can* design something for an unknown audience. If you are lucky (sic!) and have sufficiently bright people with a well developped(!) gut feeling involved, you might even end up with something rather disruptive. Even if the gut feeling about which people might do what with that product/service proves wrong, it might totally unexpectedly serve somebody else extremely well. Quite some innovations have been occuring that way: out of curiosity, play, and serendipity. (You *can* foster serendipity, by the way.)

Unfortunately, this will *not* happen in the majority of cases. :-)

Hence, I would actually start with the mother of all questions: WHY is your company developping this product at all? Diving further into the rationale behind it, you have high chances of either discovering your audience by backtracking (roughly: features/functionality => accomplished goals/tasks, solved problems, … => context => audience) or… massively kicking the responsible's ass. ;-)

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