5.07.2008

Thinking About Personas...

I've read and seen presentations on Personas (Personae?) since the last century.

I never really saw the use. It seemed to me that the typical persona was often used to ignore overall usability issues, and that sometimes the persona were even created backwards from the site owner's goals.

IE

We have a site that sells sports equipment. Let's do some personas...

  • Cal: Cal is a motivated buyer. Cal needs a baseball bat delivered to his godson by the weekend, and he doesn't care what kind it is, or what the price is. Cal owns stock in our company.
  • Babe: Babe is a jogger. She is a size 8 woman who wears a 34b sports bra and needs a new one. She shops on the internet for everything. She is very brand loyal and wants our partner brand. She doesn't care about price or shipping time.
  • Larry: Larry manages our biggest selling store. He is the perfect employee....

In other words, the typical presentation of the persona was that of ideal users who would never question the system, yearn for changes to it, or give up and walk away. Often the personas were created by designers AFTER the initial design was created by asking the question, "so who would use this site, anyway?"

What's the point?

Today I saw a presentation about tying personas into contextual inquiry. This was completely new to me. After the fifth source using made up personas about guesses about typical (and usually perfect) users, I stopped reading about personas. The problem with many designs is that they already design for the perfect user. Personas designed by wishful marketing teams or designed after the initial site is designed just reinforce this.

However, creating personas from contextual inquiry sessions seems like it could be really useful... and not just to programmers. To writers, to designers, to editors, to graphics people... the point of a persona is to allow your design team to connect with your users. To make the users less abstract and more of real people whose needs can be met.

If these in the personas are in turn created by contextual inquiry (user interviews and task shadowing), well, it's a whole other world.

If your team has trouble creating for an abstract goal, "lower literacy users with questions about local government", the specific target of, "Consuela, a naturalized citizen who speaks English as her third language rents a home in your county and has concerns about the recent property tax bill she recieved..." might just help close the gap.

Examples, for the sports store, again. Imagine if these were compilations of the real frustrations and needs and hopes of the real users of the site.

  • Jose is an online shopper. He needs to buy a baseball bat for his nephew. He's trying our online store because he thinks the tellers are rude at his local location. He is shopping on our store because he thinks we have the largest selection. He does not know the name of our competitor, or he probably would be shopping on that site. He hasn't bought much online, but he has shopped on ebay a few times.....
  • Florence is a jogger. She needs a new sports bra. She is shopping online because her local store doesn't have any products that fit her needs. Florence is sometimes plus size, sometimes misses, depending on the sizing. Florence hates underwires, but also doesn't like the way sports bras for her (size D) are often unattractive. Florence wants bright red and pink bras. Florence is only using our store because she has a coupon, if the site frustrates her, she will go buy from our biggest competitor. Florence shops online all the time, and has high customer service expectations...
  • Georgia is a manager of a store in Florida. Georgia is often frustrated with the internal supply channel tools, especially the green-screen system for ordering shoes. Georgia uses a computer often, but the manager's box in the Florida store has not been upgraded in 5 years and the mouse no longer works....

It doesn't, of course, alleviate any of the needs for user requirements or stakeholders or usability testing... but maybe it could help create products that stay closer to the user needs between usability testing sessions....

This is me.. thinking.

1 comment:

Test said...

Phoebe is the kind of customer who, if your site doesn't easily allow her to do what she wants to do, concludes you don't really care about her business, and moves on to greener pastures.

Number of times I've said to my boss "I guess they don't really want to sell X to us" in the last week: 3.