Before any product or service can begin its design life one fundamental question needs to be addressed; “Who is it for?”
Brand and product marketing, in order to maximise profits, has always been concerned about the target audience and demographic that will be buying the product and how best to attract and engage with them. The application of personas to the design process has similarities and differences to that of targeted marketing and is this week’s blog I will look to explore this, the stages of persona development and the pros and cons of this method.
Alan Cooper is commonly cited as the being the inventor of personas in design thinking and the idea was born out of the focus of user centred design in the computing sector during the mid-1980’s. He created an idea in his head about who the end user would be, what their goals would be and how this would affect their behaviour. So much so that he had conversations with himself adopting both the designer and the user’s voice and view point. He defined a persona as follows;
“Personas are not real people, but they represent them throughout the design process. They are hypothetical archetypes of actual users and are defined by their goals”
The application of the user persona is fundamental for several reasons. It stops the design team designing a product that suits their own ideals and goals rather than the end user’s and allows them to step into someone else’s shoes to understand their goals, limitations, frustrations and even their fears. In the design process, the key to the persona being successful is empathy for the user
The Stages of Persona Development
The Collection of Data
To understand the user, you need to research the user. This needs to be very targeted for obvious reasons. In this stage, a large quantity of qualitative and quantitative data is collected. Ethnographic approaches allow the design team to observe the user in the environment where they will utilise the product. What are their everyday practices, motivations and concerns? Observation of behaviour is accepted as preferable to questioning the user on what they do as it is more reliable and as it is more immersive, it is better for developing empathy.
So now you have a large amount of data. How do you collate it and turn it into a tool to help the design process?
At this stage, the data is assessed for similarities or themes and using these, hypotheses can be generated. Is there more than one type of user that needs to be included? By using affinity diagrams or empathy maps the design team ascertain who the user is and all parties must agree on the hypotheses that will ultimately become personas. At the end of this process everyone must have a clear picture of the persona(s) and all must agree as to who they are. In some instances, the persona is given a name and a photo is sometimes attached, this seems to have mixed views as some feel it allows the persona to be considered on a much higher level by the design team, but that it is also sometimes hard for external stakeholders to take seriously. Particularly if the audience is a scientific one – they generally respond better to figures and graphs and the photo of the persona may serve to trivialise the practice.
The resulting persona(s) needs to be very detailed and contain an understanding of the user’s lifestyle, educational background, their goals, attitudes and their usual pattern of behaviour.
Acceptance of The Persona
Obviously for the persona to become a natural part of the design process everyone involved needs to buy in to it. From departments that support the design process to external stake holders and clients, in the example of a design consultancy. If the persona is clearly recognised by the end client as the user they envisioned, then this cements the point very well, but it can be problematic if the persona is not recognised and/or it is wrong!
To be truly successful the persona needs to be used by all at every stage of the process. One of the commonly reported failing of personas is that everyone goes through the process of creating one, but then it is forgotten for the rest of the project.
During this stage, various scenarios are created in which the persona may find him/herself, really bringing the persona to life and giving it real value.
If generated and utilised correctly the persona can be a very powerful tool in the success of the product and ultimately an increase in the adoption of the technology. It can streamline the design process and ensure that everyone is aligned in their approach with the end user always in everyone’s thought processes. But if it is not targeted enough or communicated well it can create the wrong interpretation of the person the product is designed for, completely skewing the design objective.