We invited Richard Douglass to New Zealand on a three-month secondment, after meeting him at the UXPA conference in Las Vegas earlier in the year. He has a truckload of experience, in everything from building UX teams to conducting user research. Oh, and he happens to know quite a bit about personas.
Personas are fictional characters based on both quantitative and qualitative research. Ideally, they are formed after conducting contextual enquiry interviews with users to uncover their goals and motivations for using a product, visiting a website, etc. The primary advantage of personas is that they embody research in a memorable way that project teams can use to help guide their design decisions.
Since Alan Cooper’s The Inmates are Running the Asylum was published in 1998, personas have grown in popularity amongst those in the design and marketing fields. Lately, information technology professionals have also shown an increasing interest in personas, particularly to help support projects that employ the Agile software methodology. They have found that persona posters placed in Agile team rooms can create a rallying point for helping the group stay focused on the primary needs of their audience.
However, if you are fortunate enough to have buy-in to produce personas and have taken the time to create them, a number of practical questions will soon arise:
- How do I socialise the personas and gain wider adoption?
- How do I update them?
- Can I compare and gain insight from personas developed at other times or for other projects?
In terms of socialising, a number of avenues exist to get the word out about personas. One of the simplest and best forms can take the form of ‘brown bag lunches’ where you can provide an overview and engage in an extended question and answer session. More creative approaches include providing an email address for each persona so that team members can interact with them, or having these new characters make regular blog entries. Vodafone New Zealand even had persona posters above the men’s urinals for a while!
Whichever avenue you choose, it is best to keep the concept of progressive disclosure in mind. Think of yourself as a story teller where you gradually reveal more about the main character in your novel.
It is also important to make sure that it is clear that the personas are based on research. Unfortunately, too often personas are created based on short brainstorming sessions at the beginning of a project (what Adaptive Path calls ‘ad hoc personas’). As a result, it’s important to take the time to spell out your sources and the methodology you used to create them.
Once you have your personas, it is important to create a plan for how you will keep them up to date. After 12 to 18 months, personas should be revisited again by either formal or informal means. On a project I was involved with recently, one of my colleagues developed personas for a Java development suite. To keep her computer programmer personas up-to-date she would visit job boards to review recent postings for Java developers to determine if the requirements for these roles had changed in terms of training, technology / programming languages, etc.