Ten years with personas

Last friday Rósa Guðjónsdóttir defended her doctoral thesis Personas and Scenarios in Use. The thesis is based on professional experiences and the work in a European research project, Nepomuk.and it describes how personas were used as a tool for communication and acceptance in an organisation. You can find the thesis here.

So what’s ”personas”? In short, personas are fictive persons used to label a certain segment of users or target groups. You often put them into scenarios of various kinds, in order to understand needs, attitudes and behaviour.

If you are designing something for a small group of people you can easily talk to all of them and study their needs. But when you work with large numbers of people you will need to do some form of segmentation, see some patterns that do not reflect the full variety but which is good enough to guide your work.

In systems development you formulate the requirements; what functions the users need based on working tasks, processes and other behaviour. If you work in a user perspective, which you should, this will be based on user profiles that can be labeled as personas.

In marketing it is also common to segment the target groups so that you can direct your advertising to those that are actually interested, and see general patterns in attitudes so that you can adapt your offering/product/service so that they may choose yours instead of the competitors’. Also here the segments are sometimes labeled with personas. The information they represent can be qualitative or quantitative.

So personas are labels to functional, behavioural or attitude segments, but then why do you make these fictive person labels; why not settle with the segments? I would say that the method uses the human ability to attach a large number of information to a name and a face, because that is what we do when we get to know people. Think of the large number of data you can present about the people you know! In daily work it is also more practical to refer to a fictive person than a segment. you can say that ”this solution will not fit Eric”.

This picture is from a project Rosa and I did for Africa Online at Icon Medialab in 2000, where we made life-size versions of the personas so that the user requirements could be constantly present in the ongoing project. More efficient for directing the user quality of a project than handing out thick requirement documents that no one would read anyway…

Finally, personas are not only practical and efficient molds of facts that your object of development should fit, but they also help you finding new and valid ideas – personas are inspiring!

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