Personas - Dead or Alive?

27 Mar 2012 - 11:02am
4 years ago
4 replies
2857 reads

Hi all,

I did a search here on IxDA for "Persona" and to my surprise nothing returned.
There has been some artcles around the website for the last bit stating that Personas are dead, or out dated.

What are your thoughts?

1) If you are someone who uses/creates personas what are your thoughts on this?

2) If you are one of those who think this is a dead and out dated method, process or tool, Why?
Better yet, what in your mind replaced it?

3) Are you using personas in the retail products/market research area, or for software/online applications side of things?



27 Mar 2012 - 11:30am

I have mixed feelings about Personas, because a lot of times it seems like they get created and then are not used. I always do user research at the start of a project, because otherwise I can't do my work, but I don't always generate personas from this work--it depends on the audience in terms of who I'm working with and how I anticipate they will use the information, and whether they want them or not. If they are more interested in me just handing over a set of conclusions or a design, then personas are not necessarily critical even though the research that is done to generate them is. For some clients, personas are a "deliverable" that helps them justify/understand the investment they are making in the user research I'm doing up front. 

That said, personas have proven a very helpful way for me to coalesce disparate findings from my user research into a format that is easy to digest and share. It is very unusual for the whole team (much less people outside the inner circle) to read the research report that I produce after conducting user interviews or other research, but it is comparatively easy to get everyone to read/review/discuss personas and then to share them more broadly and use them as a reference as the design project goes forward.


27 Mar 2012 - 11:43am

Hi  Maurice,

you didn't anything - strange - there are a lot of discussions regarding personas,

here are just a few:

and many more:

and I wrote an article about personas, the article might give you a few answers:

27 Mar 2012 - 12:08pm
Angel Anderson

Elizabeth Bacon (who used to work at Cooper, where Personas where practically invented) summed up the debate and ultimately when and why Personas are useful in this presentation:

14 Apr 2012 - 10:36am
Davin Granroth

We use personas for both software/web dev projects and with our marketing team as they produce content like blog posts, articles, e-books, whitepapers, webinars, etc.

Our use of them is a bit hit-and-miss though. For some dev projects we use them well, others not so much. I think that has more to do with the composition of the project teams than the personas. Marketing is using them well, and I've seen their content quality go up in part, I think, because of the empathy and focus that personas bring to the projects.

Crucial to our personas is that they are based on real research. It's surprising how accurate-feeling they can be when you base them on real interviews, observations, discussions with customers. Doing this helps prevent them from being a stereotype and instead being an effective persona.

Cooper mentions two good reasons for personas in About Face. 1. Avoids mirror-imaging and, 2, Diminishes the elastic-user tendency. Both of those are behaviors are very common in teams, and they tend to short-circuit effective design.

So, no, personas aren't dead.

But if you have not done your user research homework, perhaps you should just stick with a more generic audience profile until you can imbue reality into a persona. Otherwise perhaps you'll create a persona that guides the project team based on a too flawed understanding of your users. Debatable I suppose.

A final thought: I wasn't a huge fan of personas until we started using the persona mapping technique as taught by Menlo Innovations. The idea is to take a big sheet of paper (think one of those huge sticky notes that you stick to walls), draw three concentric circles on it to make what looks like a target, and then get a project team together to look through your set of personas and figure out which one should be in the innermost circle (a primary persona), which two should be in the middle ring (two secondary personas), and which three should be in the outermost ring (three tertiary personas). You might place some personas outside the rings but on the paper. This exercise makes the team think about who they are designing for and who they aren't designing for. The team has just decided who to serve and in which priority order. This exercise makes personas far more helpful, in my view.

A final, final thought: Now that the team has just debated and decided on the persona map, you could pull up a whiteboard, write the name of the primary persona in the middle, circle it, and ask the team something like "What process or feature does Persona Name really need from our system?" Then you write those answers down and start a concept map that can be used to seed user stories for the project. This is a good way of getting off on the right foot by putting the primary persona at the center of the design of the service you're creating.

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