An advent calendar for UX folk.

15 2013

The Power of Personas

By Brad Colbow & Indi Young


For more insights into Personas:

Following is a transcription of the comic:

I’m Julie, an account manager. I’m responsible for the purchases for my division.

Yo, I’m Mike, I work out in the field, and I need durable tools I can throw in my truck.

Hi I’m John. I’m an engineer, and I suggest what products might work best.

I’m Indi and none of these people are real.

They are called personas* and are used in website design and development. (More about the origin of personas and their originator, Alan Cooper, see links below.)

Personas are created to understand the needs of a group of users.

They describe how people try to accomplish things in their daily lives.

Mike needs durable tools that he can throw in the back of his truck.

Julie needs to keep the company’s budget in mind while buying new tools.

These motivations are in the persona, here is an example:

Mike’s Background: Mike is a field technician for a small manufacturing company. He is always on the road going from appointment to appointment and is usually only in the office once or twice during the day.

Mike’s Goals and motivation: Mike likes to know what the problem is before he gets to the client's site to perform a repair. He aims to fix a problem the right way the first time. Return visits or longer than scheduled visits take away from his personal time and the company’s bottom line.

In order to design for people with reactions and motivations that are different from our own we have to get inside their heads.

Looking at our content from the point of view of multiple users gives us a new perspective.

The deeper you probe the ordinary lives of people, the more likely you will see something from a new angle.

You can better design to their needs and also cater to their interests.

And you can build around things they like and are familiar with.

And throw out what they aren't.

So where did these personas come from? Did we just make them up?

NOPE! We use magic!

OK, so that’s not true. We used research.

We have to get to real people who use our product or service.

We put together questions to ask our participants

What would you like to see on the website?

CEO: A Stock Ticker

Marketing Director: Photos of the brochure

Repairman: Baseball scores

CEO’s Daughter: Ponies!

What is wrong with you!?! That was a terrible question! (Note: In real life Indi has never actually yelled at me, nor would she.)

I’m sorry, I didn’t know.

At this stage you don’t want to ask any leading questions. You want to focus more on behaviors not features.

A better question might be: How do you construct/fix stuff?

CEO: Duct Tape

Marketing Director: I roll up my sleeves and jump in, I have a couple tools.

Repairman: I find the right tool for the job.

CEO’s Daughter: Borrow my dad's duct tape to make a home for my ponies.

These kinds of general questions will help you determine motivation.

Grouping similar behaviors together will start to reveal patterns.

The trends will become the basis from which we will build our personas.

I’m simplifying, but you get the idea.

Personas are a product of a larger process of building something called a Mental Model. 

About the author

Brad Colbow

Brad Colbow

Brad is an award-winning web designer, best known for his comics in .Net magazine and "The Brads", a weekly strip found on his personal website. His work has appeared on the New York Time's website, CNET, Smashing Magazine and elsewhere.

Follow @bradcolbow on Twitter

Indi Young

Indi Young

Indi Young is an independent consultant. She helps teams with person-focused research, design strategy, interaction flow, communications, and information architecture. She has been a trailblazer of experience design since the dot-com boom, using her roots in computer science to help people adopt a neutral, well-considered mindset. In 2001 she founded Adaptive Path, the San Francisco experience design agency. In 2008, her book introducing mental model diagrams was published. She writes articles, conducts workshops and webinars, and speaks about the importance of pushing the boundaries of your perspective. 

Follow @indiyoung on Twitter


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