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Book: The Persona Lifecycle

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#1 DCrx


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Posted 09 May 2006 - 09:47 AM

The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design came out recently. You can read Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus, Don Norman's contribution if you want to consider before you buy.

The purpose of the Persona, I believe, is to add empathetic focus to the design. Empathetic focus. By focus I mean that the design must be clean and coherent. It is not a collection of features added willy-nilly through the life-span of the product, even if each feature by itself makes sense. Rather it is having a clear image of what the product is meant to be -- and what it is not meant to be -- and rejecting features that do not fit, only accepting ones that do. By empathy, I mean an understanding of and identification with the user population, the better to ensure that they will be able to take advantage of the product, to use it readily and easily -- not with frustration but with pleasure.
-- Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus

Jeffrey Veen terms those personas unbacked by research "The designer's imaginary friends." The article Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful, also by Norman, along with the inevitable HCD harmful? A Clarification.

One insight from my own observation was a fairly complicated CMS package users weren't posting with. My conclusion, based on observation, was the users were afraid of making mistakes which would reflect poorly on themselves. Self-image. Since redesigning the package wasn't an option, I created a tutorial and practice instance of the CMS users could use specifically to make mistakes anonymously.

This insight would not have been developed out of thin air. Rather user research must inform persona development. Yet many companies prefer to skip the research part.

#2 cre8pc


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Posted 09 May 2006 - 10:59 AM

What amazes me is the refusal by Fortune 500 companies, with the resources to afford it, to invest in research and data-backed user personas. They seem to think "imaginary friends" are their end users and that this is okay. What's even funner is to sit decision makers down and ask them to use their own stuff! But, I digress.

I routinely create user personas. I take my user persona through a "task". The user persona is based on ONE set of behavior habits (Methodical), and can change genders, age, home and work environment, etc. I try to create one that is a composite of one target market/user, to illustrate to the value of understanding their end users. I stress as best I can that this one user is not representative of everyone will visit the site, but I've usually fleshed out the most obvious problems for them.

It's said that stereotypes come into play. I would agree its a risk. In my case, I'm more inclined to not reach for stereotypes because its not in my own personal nature to do that anyway. I rely on constant research and study results, and case studies for help in creating habits or injecting practices such as reading left to right.

However, these are basic user personas (I view them as educational devices to impress the value of understanding users and their need). They are available to companies who want affordable audits and overviews, or clues that point to bigger problems that may require further investment to solve.

I disagree with books and articles that come from a high and mighty perspective and throw the baby with the bathwater. Discount usability thrives, as does the more expensive lab testing. Watching a user persona is like acting out a part and the Director says, "Jump out of the fast moving car." There's many ways to do this - just as there's many ways to use web sites.

The best use of user personas comes in software development. It's also where I see them the most unused. They are also great for illustrating ease or non-ease of use of shopping carts and illustrating all the commonly known barriers to sales. When the clients see this "acted out" on paper, they may see the light and consider live user testing to get more refined feedback from their specific target market.

The most ignored user personas are the disabled and special needs site users, and those with sight problems.

#3 Guest_scottiecl_*

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Posted 09 May 2006 - 11:48 AM

User personas are one of the trickiest tools in the usability box.

They are based on an analyst's perception of the end user, and it comes down to whether or not the analyst is any good at acting and thinking like that end user, and if they got the right end user to begin with!

It's hard to say what is a "good one" and what is a "bad one" because it's a whole subjective area. Done correctly, a user persona walkthrough can really demonstrate the issues in a site in a way that the reader can see for themselves what the issues are- it just makes sense.

I don't think you can dismiss the technique because it can be incredibly effective but I will say not everyone can do it properly.

#4 dgeary9


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Posted 09 May 2006 - 09:23 PM

I like personas because they are the fastest tool I often have to get people understanding that there is more than one kind of user on their site. I often develop personas based on the web-based behaviors I see, it's a nice way to translate "user segments" into understandable information.

I don't use them as "discount" user testing - but I have sent clients looking for a typical "Joe Guy" or whoever I described, and watch them on the site - it's often educational enough to magically free up budget for a real user test!

#5 RonZ


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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:39 PM

(D'oh! My first attempt at a reply appears lost...)

Thanks for the links to Don's articles. I agree with him...

I like Veen's "imaginary friends" quote. It reminds me of what I mostly see in persona use: overconfidence in an approach that starts with creating ad-hoc personas. Granted, sometimes you might have no other choice due to time and resource constraints. Mostly what I see is people have no other choice because they don't know of any. Ugh!

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