DonnaM » Blog Archive » A persona crisis

A persona crisis

I’m having a personal crisis about the use of personas. Here’s how it goes.

I believe in following techniques in the way they were originally intended – it helps us to communicate well, ensures that we are using techniques appropriately in our work and ensures that good techniques do not get watered down until they resemble nothing more than a proforma. Accordingly, I believe that personas are part of goal-directed design and that their strength is in being able to identify underlying goals, not in writing up a cutesy story about our users.

I also don’t believe that the core persona technique is particularly useful in information-rich environments (I do believe that it is highly applicable in interaction-rich environments). I just can’t come up with a useful set of personas for a 20,000 page website. Personal goals may describe the high level interaction with the site and its overall brand, but do little to inform content choices, groupings or navigation.

But I would like to write a short desciption of the type of people who visit a site I’m redesigning (my own!). I’d like it to describe their previous experience, their tasks and the type of information they may need for their task (more scenario-based than goal-based). I only want it to be based on my personal experiences – I’m not going to do formal user research. I just want to do this as part of a reminder to myself about why people are at the site. It sounds just like a lazy application of personas and I guess that’s why people are using them so widely.

Maybe I’ll call it ‘lazy stereotypical visitor description’. No, it needs something more catchy than that. What shall I call it?

5 Responses to “A persona crisis”

  1. Peter Boersma Says:

    “Target Group Description”?

  2. charles adler Says:

    My first reaction is to say, why are you formalizing the definition of a Persona? Let the document be what you need it to be from a detail perspective.

    So for deep, information rich sites, the persona, in my opinion, would provide insight not only into the overall interaction/experience needs of an archetype user, but also the information needs. Think Intranet.

    The persona I would develop for an Intranet versus a public website would be drastically different in form and function.

  3. Kim Krause Berg Says:

    I do my “user personas” similar to how you describe, in a way that’s more affordable for my clients. Which means a lot of the task behavior I assign to my “user persona” is how I would approach it. It’s not based on detailed data supplied to me or researched by me, because my clients can’t afford that.

    I create all sorts of scenerios for my test case “user”. Instead of calling them “user personas”, I often refer to them as a “user character”, which leaves the integrity for Cooper’s version intact at least (I hope).

    This week I create a “user character” who will be purchasing an airplane. I’ve never actually bought one, but with a little bit of info from the client, and data I have on user and search behavior, and some demographic type info, I can create a “person” with a task scenerio, etc.

    The other thing I add into my test scenerios from my life, that are often typical for people, like being interrupted by someone, a spouse or one’s children looking over one’s shoulder, youth trying to do homework research, holiday shopping and wanting to do price comparisons on the laptop while making dinner…

  4. MsM Says:

    I agree that the conceptualisation of personas is really one dimensional. How about personal schemas based on recent development and uses of Schema Theory in psychology and cognitive science?

    “All human beings possess categorical rules or scripts that they use to interpret the world. New information is processed according to how it fits into these rules, called schema. These schema can be used not only to interpret but also to predict situation occurring in our environment. Think, for example, of a situation where you were able to finish another person

  5. donna Says:

    Good idea. I have done some reading on schema theory when researching memory and wayfinding (separately). It would have some interesting potential. Maybe I should add this to my list of IA research