A Designer’s primary job is to represent the user. We do this through studying them, building empathy, and documenting what we find. The best way to communicate who these users are is through Personas.
Personas communicate research findings. They are research-based, though do not describe any one research participant in particular. They model the behaviors, frustrations, needs, and most of all goals that the researcher observed. Rather than created, they are discovered.
Personas provide a stable design target for the team. Without this target, teams drift since they have nothing particular in mind, leading to
- Design for self
- Design for “mom”
- Design for product
- Design for demographics
- An unwarranted stretchy design targets that magically shifts to whatever the product team desires.
Ultimately these models prove too unrealistic to assist in representing the user while a product is built and maintained. Without dependable design targets, designers are not able to judge whether or not a design solution is any good.
Five Strengths of Personas
Alan Cooper et. al. describe five strengths of personas.
- They determine what a product should do and how it should behave
- Facilitate communication with stakeholders and other product team members
- Build consensus and commitment to the design
- Measure the design’s effectiveness
- Contribute to other product-related efforts such as marketing and sales plans.
About Face Cooper, Alan et. al. 2014. 4th Edition. Page 64.
Personas provide the greatest value in the Goal-Directed Design (GDD) framework. This way of building product assumes little prior knowledge by the design team and zeros in on the goals that drive human behavior. Personas, as carriers of this important information, lay at the very center of GDD methodology.
Goal-Directed Design has 6 main stages
Personas fall in the Modeling stage. Prior to writing personas, research with stakeholders and users alike should be completed by the pair design team. During the Research phase, it is helpful to write up single-case analyses for each interview or observation session you do with a user. During this process, the design team will begin to notice similarities between users to the point where the team can map various characteristics to a number of continuums. A good starting point for teams to consider include looking at goals, needs, frustrations, behaviors, and beliefs of each individual. For more information on this process, see chapter 10 of Kim Goodwin’s Designing for the Digital Age.
Patterns begin to emerge as the Design pair works through the synthesis of the interview and observation data. These groupings are the seeds of the persona set. Here, the Designers begin to question and then explain from the data why that may be happening. They write out descriptions of each group and identify the goals each group desires. This is essentially the persona. Adding a narrative around each helps bring the persona to life, yet should leave aside frivolous details irrelevant to the product. Remember, the role of a persona is to guide the creation of a product—write towards that end.
Personas are powerful design tools that, when built on research with an eye towards goals, typically stand the test of time and are able to guide product development for years. They are the embodiment of the research the team conducts and useful to address all aspects of Goal-Directed product design.