DonnaM » Blog Archive » Personas & scenarios

Personas & scenarios

Part of my job as an information architect/interaction designer/user-centred designer (whatever I happen to be doing) involves communicating with a range of people, including colleagues, managers and developers.

One of my favourite communication techniques is personas and scenarios.

Personas are stories about users, that provide important details about them (including goals, skill levels etc). Scenarios are representative tasks that they need to do. Both remove a mythical ‘average user’ from the equation and focus on the variety of real users and their goals.

As an example, I recently did a requirements gathering process for an application. I ended up with flowcharts describing the process, a list of requirements for the application, and a list of potential users. I could have handed this to a developer and discussed it, but instead developed personas and scenarios.

For the persona, I wrote small stories (a paragraph or two) about each major type of user (I mixed up the real details so individuals weren’t recognisable). For each major type of task that they would do, I wrote a scenario (again, a couple of paragraphs), illustrating the parts of the task that were most important.

These were so powerful! It is amazing how much extra information stories can give. With a requirements list, I knew we would end up arguing about why particular things were important. However, once it is in story form, it is simple to see why a requirement is important, because the requirements, user skills and goals are all wrapped neatly together.

Here is an over-simplified examples (I can’t include the full details here). In the requirements list for this application, I asked for a spell-checker. I knew this could be tricky, and may cause lengthy discussion. However, when put like this:

Persona: Donna writes media releases and organises for them to be distributed in paper form. She has been doing this type of work for 4 years. She also arranges for the media releases to go on the company website, but someone else does the work. She would like to do it herself to save some time, but does not know how to prepare website content (she doesn’t know anything about html).

Part of the scenario: Donna pastes some text from a word document, and types an additional paragraph. She adds some headings and reads through it. She wants to make sure it is accurate, so checks the spelling. When the document is ready, she sends it to her boss for approval.

We can easily understand why the feature is necessary.

There are a lot of web references about personas & scenarios. Here are some of my favourites:

UI7: An Interview with Cooper

2 Responses to “Personas & scenarios”

  1. James Robertson Says:

    This is a great summary. I’m sitting here writing up a half-day tutorial on usability techniques (for the upcoming Open Publish conference), and I found this really useful.

    There are now three slides devoted to personas, including an exercise for the participants to create a sample persona for their own site.

    Thanks, and keep these “from the frontline” posts coming…

  2. donna Says:

    Glad you found it useful – I think the participants will like doing it as an exercise.