Examples where personas are *not* useful

13 Nov 2007 - 3:19pm
6 years ago
138 replies
3761 reads
oliver green
2006

Hi everyone,

I am trying to understand the finer nuances of using personas. The
various articles/book chapters that I have read talk about instances
where using personas would be useful. But I feel that to really
understand a methodology, one should be familiar with the weaknesses
as well. So, can you give me examples where using personas would not
be advisable/helpful?

Thanks,
Oliver

Comments

27 Nov 2007 - 8:07pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I still don't buy there's anything to this activity-based design stuff.
>

Care to elaborate? You can't just spit out something like that and run off.
;) What is it that bothers you about it?

In the end, it's all about having information to make informed design
> decision, no matter what stupid label you apply to it.
>

Agreed. But I'm afraid we need those labels in order to convince the rest of
the world - the part that still doubts the role of interaction designers -
that we know what we're doing and have significant value. Do you disagree?

-r-

27 Nov 2007 - 8:18pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Mazlov's pyramid--if you don't have these things, I think
> your design is pretty much doomed, no matter what other tools you
> use.

Just wanted to correct the spelling in case anyone wanted to look that one
up: it's "Maslow", not Maslov.

And speaking of, I love the way the authors of "Universal Principles of
Design" adapted the pyramid to design. It went:

- Creativity (top)
- Proficiency
- Usability
- Reliability
- Functionality (bottom)

-r-

27 Nov 2007 - 8:40pm
Helen Killingbeck
2005

No flames from me Tamara:

I think you have very eloquently explained the importance of how
implementing the persona process in a company that has not embraced a User
Centered design culture can help with the communication process between the
various departments and can reduce the "us vs them" thought process. I am
thinking along the lines of business units..."throwing it over to
the fence" to the "tech department (read business system analysts and
developers). It definitely serves as a "language of communication".

Helen

On Nov 27, 2007 6:04 PM, Tamara Adlin <tamara at adlininc.com> wrote:

> I still think this discussion is missing a super-critical point.
> Personas are not just about design. Personas are about focus. It's
> great if a company has time and money to do full, data-driven
> personas. That takes time and planning and a lot of work (see
> ginormous book I wrote with Pruitt). All the stuff in there is based
> on almost a hundred practitioners' experiences. And guess what? most
> of the time i do *no* data collection as you guys would define it.
> NONE. that's right, none. Why? because most companies are so out of
> whack when it comes to good design and simply talking to each other
> that the most powerful thing they can do is smooth the communication
> between the execs, marketing, design, and dev.
>
> All of these people have tons of 'data' in their heads. of course
> it's warped and full of wrong assumptions. But given no time, and a
> good idea for a product (i know, i know, how do you know it's a good
> idea, but c'mon. they all have ideas. we're there to help them take
> action on the ideas in smart, well-designed ways), the best possible
> solution, with the most startling results, is to create ad-hoc personas.
>
> Again, why? because the process (not the final product of the
> 'persona documents' or whatever--but the *process*) gets everyone
> aligned. I think that the only assumptions that can hurt a product
> (if you are going to build a product based on assumptions, which,
> face it, most companies do...and many of them are successful...i
> agree with Robert on this) are the assumptions you don't know about.
>
> If you can get the execs and stakeholders in a room and force them to
> get their assumptions out on the table, several things happen:
> 1. they realize they are not on the coveted 'same page'
> 2. they realize that they have not thought about user goals
> 3. they realize that goals tend to 'straddle' other ways of
> categorizing users, and thinking about goals is actually easier than
> what they've been doing so far
> 4. they 'suddenly' realize they've been thinking about their product
> in the 'wrong way' (inevitable)
> 5. they are able to agree on a basic set of ad-hoc personas based on
> goals--very quickly, i might add.
> 6. they are able, when FORCED, to prioritize those personas based on
> business objectives (it's all about business at this point.)
>
> and, hey presto, suddenly they have seen the light. if we have time
> for data collection for validation, great. if not, several delightful
> things still end up happening:
> 1. the execs clarify (often after changing!) their business
> objectives in terms of target user groups
> 2. the rest of the company suddenly has a snowball's chance of
> understanding what the heck the execs want them to do.
> 3. the design and dev can get started knowing that, if the execs
> change their minds, they can use the ad hoc personas to understand
> what's going on (hey, you guys prioritized Suzie, right? well these
> new ideas are all for Marvin, right? So does that mean you've changed
> your mind about how important Suzie is?)
> 4. they're willing to do real data stuff next time.
>
> So i see this all totally differently. To me, when i work with
> companies, much to my surprise, the personas are a business strategy
> tool, a means of prioritizing focus across the org, and a shared
> language. Mazlov's pyramid--if you don't have these things, I think
> your design is pretty much doomed, no matter what other tools you
> use. And, btw, this is why I don't think it *ever* works to build
> personas as a consultant and throw them over the wall into a client
> org--yes, even if there is a major champion in the client org.
>
> Let the flames commence.
>
>
> --Tamara
>
> design twice, build once Tamara Adlin adlin, inc.
> tamara at adlininc.com 206.779.1776
>
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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>

27 Nov 2007 - 8:43pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 27, 2007, at 6:04 PM, Tamara Adlin wrote:

> Let the flames commence.

Nah, now we're just going in circles.

:)

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

27 Nov 2007 - 9:02pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 27, 2007, at 8:07 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:
> I still don't buy there's anything to this activity-based design
> stuff.
>
> Care to elaborate? You can't just spit out something like that and
> run off. ;) What is it that bothers you about it?

I did elaborate when we talked about it here: http://ixda.org/
discuss.php?post=13134 (scroll down to December 26 at 2:44pm). My
opinion hasn't changed in 11 months.

> In the end, it's all about having information to make informed
> design decision, no matter what stupid label you apply to it.
>
> Agreed. But I'm afraid we need those labels in order to convince
> the rest of the world - the part that still doubts the role of
> interaction designers - that we know what we're doing and have
> significant value. Do you disagree?

Yes, I disagree.

I don't think we need the labels to convince "the rest of the world."
They don't care what we do, as long as we solve one of their five
problems. (What five problems? Read Identifying the Business Value of
What We Do at http://tinyurl.com/2dt8ne )

We need the labels so we know what the hell we're talking about when
we talk amongst ourselves.

That said, I *still* don't think there's anything to this activity-
based design stuff. I think there is stuff the team knows and there
is stuff the team doesn't know. Sometimes, they know who their users
are, but don't know much about the activities those users are engaged
in. Sometimes they don't know who the users are.

I think (based on our research) that the top designers have a toolkit
of techniques and tricks for gathering information and insight to
fill in the gaps of what they know. Sometimes they'll focus on
getting a clearer picture on the subtleties between the users.
Sometimes they'll focus on learning more about the activities.

But I'm not bought into the notion there are a variety of
methodologies that support one versus the other. In fact, I think
it's dangerous for UX folks to get too wrapped up in any
methodological notions. Techniques and tricks are where it's at.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

27 Nov 2007 - 9:50pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I did elaborate when we talked about it here: http://ixda.org/
> discuss.php?post=13134 (scroll down to December 26 at 2:44pm). My
> opinion hasn't changed in 11 months.

This (hybrid) quote from you is, I think, the heart of it:

"An example would be the activity of ordering a blood test in a pediatric
ICU. Here, the activity is done most commonly by nurses, but occasionally by
doctors themselves. [...]"

"[...] I guess I don't see how you get to the activities of an interface
used in a foreign setting (such as a pediatric ICU) without some sort of
research. And I don't think you're suggesting designers just guess based on
what they've seen on Grey's Anatomy."

Indeed. I'm not saying you can just magically design great things all the
time without research, I'm saying that *people* don't have to be the heart
of the research. Sure, on an occasion like your hospital example, talking to
users would probably be the best way to find out how an activity is
performed (because you can't perform it yourself), and I've advocated
talking to users in situations like this (repeatedly, mind you). But I don't
believe for a second that you need a persona to understand or to document
the activity.

You do need something to document the activity, but I don't see how a
persona is the best way to do this.

I also believe that in a huge percentage of cases, you can learn about the
activity without locating and interviewing representative users. Perhaps not
in a hospital situation like the one you mentioned, but in many other
situations for sure. And these cases are where my argument shows its
benefits: you can very often study the activity in half the time it takes to
locate and interview all those users.

In your example, how different, exactly, is the process of ordering a blood
test going to be when you're a doctor as opposed to a nurse? Assuming both
have the authority to do so, the process would be, well, identical, would it
not? If the nurse doesn't have the authority and needs a doctor's approval,
then one step in the process changes. The elements of the activity are
pretty dern stable compared to the roles the two personas play.

I know I'm never going to "win" an argument like this with you, so all this
rhetoric is probably pointless. I'm just so tired of hearing about the
"magic bullet" that is the notion of personas when I have yet to find a
company that uses them, and yet to find a situation where I have been unable
to succeed without them.

Heck - you could barely find a company that does them *well* (only 5% you
say?), so how can you be such an advocate for their use?

We need the labels so we know what the hell we're talking about when
> we talk amongst ourselves.

Hehe ... I'll give you that one. ;)

Sometimes, they know who their users
> are, but don't know much about the activities those users are engaged
> in. Sometimes they don't know who the users are.
>

So, is your argument that it just doesn't matter what we call it or what we
focus on? This statement is a bit confusing.

Again, my whole point here is that there is a huge percentage of teams that
can't, for whatever reason, function the way many of the people on this list
think they should. And personally, as a community, I think we should try to
help them by figuring out how they can do great work without these tools and
processes. Find something that works for them in those situations.

Would we rather let bad design fly in every case these tools can't be used,
or would we rather find solutions that help those designers who can't rely
on UCD processes?

-r-

27 Nov 2007 - 9:58pm
SemanticWill
2007

Every once in a while our list becomes possessed by the ghost of
Escher and we get caught in an infinite recursive loop.

will evans
user experience architect
wkevans4 at gmail.com
617.281.1281

On Nov 27, 2007, at 8:43 PM, "Jared M. Spool" <jspool at uie.com> wrote:

>
> On Nov 27, 2007, at 6:04 PM, Tamara Adlin wrote:
>
>> Let the flames commence.
>
> Nah, now we're just going in circles.
>
> :)
>
> Jared
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

27 Nov 2007 - 10:19pm
White, Jeff
2007

Well, that kinda sucks they continue beating a certain flavor of UCD
to death. One key concept of UCD, to me, is there is never a magic
formula for doing it. Everything, as with any form of design, is a
matter of context - goals, resources, time, etc. I've used personas
throughout 5% of my career doing UCD - hardly ever. The fact of the
matter is they are not needed. Heck, UCD is not *needed*. BUT it is a
proven way to deliver very high quality designs that maximize business
value across the board. I'm not saying it's the only way. My
experience has been that personas have only been useful as a sales
vehicle to execs and other stakeholders. Obviously others on this list
disagree.

So, whatever you want to call it, practicing good research and using
that to drive design is an excellent practice, in my book. And good
research doesn't mean long, expensive research that results in a 900
page findings document that no one will ever read. Take the next
design you create for one of your clients to a coffee shop and buy
someone a non-fat double mocha whatever the heck in exchange for
completing a few tasks with one of your prototypes. You'll learn
something, and it will cost $12.95 or however much Starbucks charges
for a cup of java these days. Name one company you've worked for that
can't afford a cup of coffee. Ok, you probably can, but you see my
point. There are realistic research options for you. If anyone tells
you personas or any other deliverable has to be done, they've had too
much starbucks caffeine :-)

My opinion is not that companies don't have the time and resources to
do UCD - they don't have the time and resources *not* to do it. It's a
heck of a lot more expensive to design in a black hole than it is to
conduct good research and then throw your design chops on top of that.
That is true the vast majority of the time - certainly not always. If
you can show a company how to consistently create top notch UX at a
cheaper cost than producing non-research driven products and services,
you've really done your job as a designer. Again, not saying UCD is a
prerequisite to quick development, smooth approvals from stakeholders,
good UX, cheap support costs, etc etc. Just most of the time. Sorry -
obviously the last thing you want to hear is another UCD soapbox. But
I think there is UCD that can be practiced in any situation, any
budget, etc.

As far as usage centered design, I only know enough about it to think
it's not that great, that's just my opinion. I just threw it out there
as an example of a choice you have as a designer.

Jeff

On Nov 27, 2007 7:59 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
>
>
> > I feel like we do have choices Robert. There's UCD, under that
> > umbrella are tons of tools, techniques etc at your disposal - no one
> > is saying there is one way to conduct UCD.
>
> Lots of people on this list have said similar things, but then many continue
> beating the persona stick to death as thought it's the only sound solution.
> It just gets so exhausting.
>
> And yes, one could say that I'm only stressing myself out by arguing about
> it all the time, but most of the time, I think it's a battle worth fighting.
> UCD is simply unrealistic in a huge number of situations and we need to be
> able to help the rest of the designers out there do effective work even when
> they can't practice UCD the way we talk about it.
>
> > There's also usage centered
> > design.
>
> From what I know, usage centered design isn't all that different than ACD,
> so it's interesting that your bring that up. Has anyone here practiced usage
> centered design? How does that process look? Does it involve personas? What
> are the deliverables?
>
> > Or you can come up with ideas and design them based on your expertise
> > as a designer and never ever do customer research. If your idea fails
> > because you spent all your capital or resources developing a feature
> > that no one uses or sees or understands anyway, that would be a shame.
> > Bad UX can cripple the best product or service concept. UCD is a
> > proven way to deliver high quality UX.
>
> Proven only in certain situations, as practiced by certain people. It's not
> fool-proof by any means.
>
> > What is it you feel is missing?
>
> It's not that it's missing anything, it's that it *adds* a whole lot of
> stuff that most teams just don't have time to deal with and is largely
> unnecessary in many situations.
>
> UCD - personas/scenarios in particular - work really well for consulting
> firms and companies with money to burn. But personally, I have yet to work
> with or for a company that has had the time, resources, or money to deal
> with it. They want it now, and they want it great. At the root of what I
> advocate is this simple fact.
>
> All I want to do is find a method that helps people in those situations
> instead of continuing to shove UCD and personas down everyone's throats when
> it clearly cannot work in a huge percentage of projects.
>
> -r-
>

27 Nov 2007 - 10:30pm
Adlin, Tamara
2004

i just can't help it i guess. the arguments about data vs not data,
personas vs other tools, 'real' ucd vs whatever else...i still think
we get so rolled up in our own discipline that we become part of the
problem far too often.
On Nov 27, 2007, at 6:58 PM, William Evans wrote:

> Every once in a while our list becomes possessed by the ghost of
> Escher and we get caught in an infinite recursive loop.
>
> will evans
> user experience architect
> wkevans4 at gmail.com
> 617.281.1281
>
>
> On Nov 27, 2007, at 8:43 PM, "Jared M. Spool" <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
>
>>
>> On Nov 27, 2007, at 6:04 PM, Tamara Adlin wrote:
>>
>>> Let the flames commence.
>>
>> Nah, now we're just going in circles.
>>
>> :)
>>
>> Jared
>>
>> Jared M. Spool
>> User Interface Engineering
>> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
>> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
>> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
>>
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> *Come to IxDA Interaction08 | Savannah*
>> February 8-10, 2008 in Savannah, GA, USA
>> Register today: http://interaction08.ixda.org/
>>
>> ________________________________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
>> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
>> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
>> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help

--Tamara

design twice, build once Tamara Adlin adlin, inc.
tamara at adlininc.com 206.779.1776

28 Nov 2007 - 7:09am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 27, 2007, at 9:50 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> You do need something to document the activity, but I don't see how
> a persona is the best way to do this.

What would you recommend? Personas, in this case, could be a very
efficient artifact to document both the activities and behaviors of
the person taking the blood test as well as the one who's donating the
blood or having the blood drawn.

I can't speak for others, but our model packs a lot of very useful
information into one page.
http://www.slideshare.net/toddwarfel/data-driven-design-research-personas

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

28 Nov 2007 - 7:10am
Todd Warfel
2003

BTW, we typically use personas in tandem with our task analysis grid.

Personas
http://www.slideshare.net/toddwarfel/data-driven-design-research-personas

Task Analysis Grid
http://toddwarfel.com/?s=task+analysis+grid

On Nov 27, 2007, at 9:50 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> You do need something to document the activity, but I don't see how a
> persona is the best way to do this.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

28 Nov 2007 - 7:12am
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 27, 2007, at 10:19 PM, Jeff White wrote:

> My opinion is not that companies don't have the time and resources
> to do UCD - they don't have the time and resources *not* to do it.
> It's a heck of a lot more expensive to design in a black hole than
> it is to conduct good research and then throw your design chops on
> top of that.

AMEN to that, brother.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

28 Nov 2007 - 8:38am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 27, 2007, at 9:50 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> You do need something to document the activity, but I don't see how
> a persona is the best way to do this.

Sigh. Once again, I'll try to be clear.

*Personas* don't document anything. Personas are memes created by a
team to help understand individual differences between user groups
and how those individual differences can affect the final design.

*Persona descriptions* outline a persona, but rarely do it justice,
just like a description of your summer vacation probably doesn't
relay how great it actually was. Just because the description misses
the vitality of the actual event doesn't mean the vacation sucked.

*Persona descriptions* are most useful with accompanying scenario
descriptions, again based on research, to help the team understand
the context of use that's dictated by individual differences.

Creating documents are *never* the best way to do something. Using
the document as a common stimuli to ensure the team is working with
the same conceptual framework can help, when done well. When combined
with discussion and other artifacts, documents can be very valuable.

> I also believe that in a huge percentage of cases, you can learn
> about the activity without locating and interviewing representative
> users. Perhaps not in a hospital situation like the one you
> mentioned, but in many other situations for sure.

Sure. Never said that wasn't the case. A "huge percentage" doesn't
imply a majority. If we're talking 20-40%, I'd be good with that.

Beyond that, I'd like to see actual studies of cases, because, in our
work with teams, I don't find that to be true. I'd like to know why
your numbers are different.

> And these cases are where my argument shows its benefits: you can
> very often study the activity in half the time it takes to locate
> and interview all those users.

Maybe. Depending on the team's familiarity with the problem space,
the time is going to vary widely. I don't buy this argument that
resources are always shorter if you don't study individual
differences between users but, instead, just focus on activity.

> In your example, how different, exactly, is the process of ordering
> a blood test going to be when you're a doctor as opposed to a
> nurse? Assuming both have the authority to do so, the process would
> be, well, identical, would it not? If the nurse doesn't have the
> authority and needs a doctor's approval, then one step in the
> process changes. The elements of the activity are pretty dern
> stable compared to the roles the two personas play.

In many private hospitals (which are the majority now, because of the
privatization movement of the last 20 years), the process of ordering
a blood test (say a CBC or a Chem-7) has become more complex due to
billing and quality (aka avoiding-malpractice) issues. Nurses are
typically trained to handle these cases, where doctors aren't.
(Malpractice insurance for nurses is substantially cheaper than for
doctors, being one factor.)

In the rare instance where you'd have a doctor interact with a system
for ordering bloods, it's likely that the user would be less aware of
many of the prompts, constraints, contextual subtleties, and
procedural details, thereby putting more burden on the system to
check and enforce these issues. It's the equivalent to having a bank
teller interact with the banking mainframe (the teller's workstation)
versus having the customer directly interact with it (ATM). The
activity is the same, but the context puts huge implications on the
design.

> I know I'm never going to "win" an argument like this with you,

That's because I'm right!
Mua ha ha ha!
:D

> so all this rhetoric is probably pointless.

Yet, we persist. Pointless rhetoric is a theme on this list. (Hey,
that would make a great band name: Pointless Rhetoric)

> I'm just so tired of hearing about the "magic bullet" that is the
> notion of personas when I have yet to find a company that uses
> them, and yet to find a situation where I have been unable to
> succeed without them.

I never said they were any kind of magic bullet. I don't believe in
magic bullets. I believe in hard work, skill, talent, and a bit of luck.

All I said is that they are a useful tool for the designer's toolbox.
And I've been trying to help clear up misconceptions about when they
are useful.

Part of what they are useful for is they reduce the role of luck and
increasing the roles of hard work and skill. A team is fixed on the
amount of talent they bring to the project. You can't add or detract
from it without changing the team members. However, you can
manipulate effort, skill, and luck. That's where something like a
robust persona process comes in.

> Heck - you could barely find a company that does them *well* (only
> 5% you say?), so how can you be such an advocate for their use?

Sturgeon's Revelation
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon's_law

When we start rating teams by the quality of the user experience they
produce and we start comparing the methods the teams producing the
best experiences use to the methods the other teams use, we see
robust personas playing an important role. While most teams that
claim they use personas basically do what people here have called
"assumptive personas" or "ad-hoc personas" (hey, let's just write up
a 2-page description of who we'd like our user to be), when we
separate those out from the robust personas, you can see the
difference in user experience quality.

That's why we're strong advocates of robust personas.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

28 Nov 2007 - 11:11am
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

I've come to the conclusion that I'd be a much happier person if I stopped
taking part in these conversations about personas. Most of them hinge on a
basic understanding of something that no one will clearly define, and a
difference in definitions of almost every key term in the debate. No matter
how anyone spins it, we'll all keep trying to fit everyone else's ideas into
our own world views, and it just never gets anywhere constructive.

So, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing - designing successful
experiences without personas, using methods that take half the time and
money of the persona research and creation process - and if anyone wants to
know more about how I consistently accomplish this, you can read the 3-part
article that will soon appear on Peachpit.com.

Feel free to keep debating, but I've got another client to make happy right
now, so I'm off to do some persona-less design work. Cheers.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 11:35am
Mark Schraad
2006

Hi Robert,

If you are designing for yourself and by yourself, then you may not benefit greatly from personae.

The primary benefit for building personae is in the research. If you were designing a social networking site for say a unique culture in Africa (bear with me) then I would think you would be either the wrong designer, or ill advised to proceed without some understanding of social culture and practices in the group. You would have do do some research. This is a drastic example, but it serves to make a point. I managed an online project for Yellow Freight in the mid 90's. We did discovery research with the 5 different target segments and found that the word 'van' had three distinct definitions amongst them. We would have never known this... it even confounded folks working within the industry. The site would have been a disaster had we not uncovered that. We ALL thought we knew the audience... and I can give you a hundred examples of that from the last 12- 15 years.

The second most important benefit is the common target and goal for the design team. If you are a team of one, this will be of little interest or concern. The better those persona are flushed out, the more the language and purpose becomes common amongst us. These personae also make great reference points when the project constraints take a decided shift (as it does soo often when business, marketing are involved... or when working agile).

No one here is saying that persona are the optimal, only or best tool. But they are a good tool that we can all share. I want to ask, have you ever tried the research, building and usage of personae with a design team? I still think you might find it a valuable tool.

Mark

On Wednesday, November 28, 2007, at 11:11AM, "Robert Hoekman, Jr." <robert at rhjr.net> wrote:
>I've come to the conclusion that I'd be a much happier person if I stopped
>taking part in these conversations about personas. Most of them hinge on a
>basic understanding of something that no one will clearly define, and a
>difference in definitions of almost every key term in the debate. No matter
>how anyone spins it, we'll all keep trying to fit everyone else's ideas into
>our own world views, and it just never gets anywhere constructive.
>
>So, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing - designing successful
>experiences without personas, using methods that take half the time and
>money of the persona research and creation process - and if anyone wants to
>know more about how I consistently accomplish this, you can read the 3-part
>article that will soon appear on Peachpit.com.
>
>Feel free to keep debating, but I've got another client to make happy right
>now, so I'm off to do some persona-less design work. Cheers.
>
>-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 11:42am
David Walker
2007

No, no! Don't take your toys and leave.

Hey, personas aren't the only way to do design. Heck, I did a lot of design
work without personas. It's just that I missed out on so much. My designs
are so much better now. I am better able to get into the mind of the person
who will be using the product instead of the person who makes the product.
Personas really help get past a lot of mental block. It is a little hard to
describe the magic that happens, but it is real. It's like seeing the chess
table from a different angle.

The upside-down ketchup bottle is hard to invent when you are trying to
design from the production line floor.

Dave

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Robert
Hoekman, Jr.
Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 8:11 AM
To: Jared M. Spool
Cc: ixd-discussion
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Examples where personas are *not* useful

I've come to the conclusion that I'd be a much happier person if I stopped
taking part in these conversations about personas. Most of them hinge on a
basic understanding of something that no one will clearly define, and a
difference in definitions of almost every key term in the debate. No matter
how anyone spins it, we'll all keep trying to fit everyone else's ideas into
our own world views, and it just never gets anywhere constructive.

So, I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing - designing successful
experiences without personas, using methods that take half the time and
money of the persona research and creation process - and if anyone wants to
know more about how I consistently accomplish this, you can read the 3-part
article that will soon appear on Peachpit.com.

Feel free to keep debating, but I've got another client to make happy right
now, so I'm off to do some persona-less design work. Cheers.

-r-
________________________________________________________________
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28 Nov 2007 - 12:13pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I want to ask, have you ever tried the research, building and usage of
> personae with a design team?

Not with a team, but on my own, under the radar, in the interest of helping
the team. Gave it a solid shot a few times, and found it simply didn't work
for me.

See, a long time ago I read "Inmates Are Running the Asylum" and thought it
was the best thing since sliced bread. I very quickly came to believe that
personas are a great way to make consultants money if they can sell them to
clients, but a completely infeasible solution in most internal situations.
So I looked for alternatives, found some, tested them, found one success
after another, and threw the idea of using personas out the window. Now, as
someone doing client work on my own instead of in an internal situation, I
keep using the things I came up with, and it still produces great results,
and it saves my clients money.

The one time since giving up on personas that I thought it would be helpful
was while dealing with a particularly argumentative product manager. He
consistently overestimated the abilities of the users of his product, and I
thought a small set of personas would help him see the light. As usual,
however, I never actually had the time to put them together - not even
ad-hoc persona descriptions. Simply too busy. This has been the case with
every company, and every client.

For the record: I have never once said that you should design in a black
hole devoid of any research - quite the opposite, actually. I've only said
that the research doesn't have to come from users, research can take a lot
less time when using alternative methods, and that I believe personas are a
useless deliverable.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 12:22pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> The upside-down ketchup bottle is hard to invent when you are trying to
> design from the production line floor.

Depends on your creative abilities and how well you study the activity of
pouring ketchup, I suppose. And you're sorta making my case for me here. You
can be an expert on this subject without ever talking to a single user,
iterate your way towards a better solution, and bam, find yourself with an
upside-down ketchup bottle.

It's not rocket surgery. A lot of problems can be solved very easily by
simply looking at the problem. Really looking. The tiniest bit of thought
could have very easily produced the upside-down bottle idea. Of course, if
you were really looking at the problem, you would have seen that the
upside-down bottle has issues (like the occasional inability to close the
cap without making a ketchup-y mess), and that there's probably a better
solution.

I'm not sure how documenting Joe the Occasional French Fry Eater would help.
(I know, I know, now all of you are going to say you wouldn't need a persona
in this case.)

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 12:45pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 12:22 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> I'm not sure how documenting Joe the Occasional French Fry Eater
> would help.
> (I know, I know, now all of you are going to say you wouldn't need
> a persona
> in this case.)

And you know this because you have a good sense of our personas. :)

Never said you always had to use personas. I would agree that the
upside down ketchup bottle is a persona-less design context.

The upside-down pill bottle (Target's ClearRx), however, wasn't.
Deborah Adler had very clear personas in mind when creating her
remarkable game-changing design.

Which I think is both of our points.

I'll be pleased if I don't have to talk about personas for a while
either. :)

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

28 Nov 2007 - 12:51pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> The upside-down pill bottle (Target's ClearRx), however, wasn't. Deborah
> Adler had very clear personas in mind when creating her remarkable
> game-changing design.
>

But this is also a case where you could have arrived at the solution without
a persona, because you can become a SME on it without talking to other
users.

I'll be pleased if I don't have to talk about personas for a while either.
> :)
>

I'm with you.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 1:06pm
andrew_hinton a...
2007

Jared & Robert wrote:

I'll be pleased if I don't have to talk about personas for a while either.
> :)
>

I'm with you.

-r-

Well, now I feel downright silly about the response I posted on the
website this morning (that hasn't been moderated yet).

Teaches me to start reading a thread almost 2 weeks after it began...

---
Andrew Hinton

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28 Nov 2007 - 1:35pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 12:51 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

>
> The upside-down pill bottle (Target's ClearRx), however, wasn't.
> Deborah Adler had very clear personas in mind when creating her
> remarkable game-changing design.
>
> But this is also a case where you could have arrived at the
> solution without a persona, because you can become a SME on it
> without talking to other users.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.

Maybe you could have. But nobody did.

And the problem has been around for a really long time.

So, what does that mean?

:)

Jared

28 Nov 2007 - 2:31pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Maybe you could have. But nobody did.
>
> And the problem has been around for a really long time.
>
> So, what does that mean?
>

Sometimes, I think all it means is that no one asked me how to fix it. ;)
(Kidding!)

I often wish the people in charge of designing everyday products would get
off their butts and start thinking for a change. It's sad that so many
products go unchanged for decades when they could so easily be improved.

Incidentally, though, the use of personas didn't change the fact that this
went untouched for so long, and a decision to use personas would not have
made it happen any sooner. It only addresses how the designer arrived at the
new design once someone finally decided to pay attention to the problem.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 11:50am
AndrewHInton
2007

The funny thing is, if you've ever imagined what it might be like to
be your intended user trying to *use* the thing you're designing,
you've done persona-based design. Period. That's all it is. The
"method" is just the formalized cruft that's accrued to this very
basic, intuitive act of design.

Methods are just formal structures to help us along, not laws to
mindlessly follow.

But imagining what it's like to be a person you're designing for --
that's pretty essential; and it's something that's important to do
well, no matter what method you might use to get there.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=22531

28 Nov 2007 - 3:18pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 2:31 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Incidentally, though, the use of personas didn't change the fact
> that this went untouched for so long, and a decision to use
> personas would not have made it happen any sooner. It only
> addresses how the designer arrived at the new design once someone
> finally decided to pay attention to the problem.

Actually, the way Deborah Adler (the designer) describes the
discovery stage, she stumbled upon it accidentally when her
grandmother accidentally took the wrong medication because the
bottles were poorly labeled. Deborah then created several personas
that she used throughout her reconceptualizing (which was for a
school project).

As with many things, it wasn't a decision to use a particular design
technique (personas) that inspired the innovation. It was just dumb
luck. But the design techniques helped the designer move from a
concept through production. (In this case, the personas were
important because of all the different parts of the business that
were involved.)

Are you thinking that I'm saying innovation only comes from personas?
Because I'm not. Innovation and inspiration can come from almost
anything.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

28 Nov 2007 - 3:24pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 8:50 AM, Andrew Hinton wrote:

> The funny thing is, if you've ever imagined what it might be like to
> be your intended user trying to *use* the thing you're designing,
> you've done persona-based design.

Again, in an attempt to not overload terms, I'd say that isn't
necessarily persona-based design. It is role playing, which is
another important design technique and not mutually exclusive with
persona-based design.

It would be a part of persona-based design if the intended user were
using was a persona. If it's just someone you just made up in your
head, then its just role-playing. (Both are valid techniques, but
have different purposes.)

I would also say that persona-based design has many more activities
than just role-playing.

Sorry for being the namespace police, but I think its to our
community's advantage to have everyone using a common language.

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks

28 Nov 2007 - 3:46pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 2:31 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

> Incidentally, though, the use of personas didn't change the fact
> that this went untouched for so long, and a decision to use personas
> would not have made it happen any sooner. It only addresses how the
> designer arrived at the new design once someone finally decided to
> pay attention to the problem.

How can you be certain of that?

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

28 Nov 2007 - 3:47pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 3:18 PM, Jared M. Spool wrote:

> (In this case, the personas were important because of all the
> different parts of the business that
> were involved.)

I think this is the part that ant-persona people miss. It's a tool
that helps get all the different stakeholders on the same page. And
for that, we've found them to be a very, very useful communication
artifact.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

28 Nov 2007 - 3:55pm
Pierre Roberge
2005

Jared said

>It would be a part of persona-based design if the intended user were
using was a persona. If it's just someone you just made up in your head,
then its just role-playing. (Both are valid techniques, but have
different purposes.)

I agree with the first sentence but not the second one. Role-playing is
a technique that can be used with or without a persona. If you *made
up* someone in your head, you just created a persona. If you role-play
using someone you know, it is role-playing but you are not using a
persona. A persona being archetype, a creation and not a real person.

Pierre Roberge
User Experience Designer - Business Analyst
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28 Nov 2007 - 6:21pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> Incidentally, though, the use of personas didn't change the fact that
> this went untouched for so long, and a decision to use personas would not
> have made it happen any sooner. It only addresses how the designer arrived
> at the new design once someone finally decided to pay attention to the
> problem.
>
>
> How can you be certain of that?
>

I'm not sure I understand your question. How could you possibly create
personas before deciding to redesign the pill bottle?

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 6:26pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> I think this is the part that ant-persona people miss. It's a tool that
> helps get all the different stakeholders on the same page. And for that,
> we've found them to be a very, very useful communication artifact.
>

She designed it for a school project. What stakeholders did she need to get
on the same page?

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 6:28pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> She designed it for a school project. What stakeholders did she need to
> get on the same page?
>

Never mind - I just read the description of how she designed it. I see that
she actually dealt with all those people first-hand.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 6:37pm
Robert Hoekman, Jr.
2005

> If you *made
> up* someone in your head, you just created a persona. If you role-play
> using someone you know, it is role-playing but you are not using a
> persona. A persona being archetype, a creation and not a real person.

Wow. Let me get this straight.

All I have to do is imagine a person to create a persona? And if it's a real
person, it's not a persona? What if I imagine a cartoon character? What do
you call that? If a tree falls in a forest and hits a mime, does anyone
care?

;)

I think I need a vacation.

-r-

28 Nov 2007 - 7:04pm
Todd Warfel
2003

On Nov 28, 2007, at 6:26 PM, Robert Hoekman, Jr. wrote:

>
> I think this is the part that ant-persona people miss. It's a tool
> that helps get all the different stakeholders on the same page. And
> for that, we've found them to be a very, very useful communication
> artifact.
>
> She designed it for a school project. What stakeholders did she need
> to get on the same page?

It's a general statement about people missing the point of personas.
Try reading it again.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
President, Design Researcher
Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at messagefirst.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

29 Nov 2007 - 9:03am
Chris Borokowski
2007

Like statistics, it's a useful form of "proof" to show others.

I am not convinced of its universal applicability, but it depends on
the project. In some cases, personas may be useful. In others, the
users follow similar paths at different speeds or with different
amounts of data, but otherwise, their needs are the same.

--- Todd Zaki Warfel <lists at toddwarfel.com> wrote:

> I think this is the part that ant-persona people miss. It's a tool
> that helps get all the different stakeholders on the same page. And
> for that, we've found them to be a very, very useful communication
> artifact.

http://technical-writing.dionysius.com/
technical writing | consulting | development

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29 Nov 2007 - 10:09am
AndrewHInton
2007

jared... you certainly make a great point on roleply vs personas.... I
suppose I made my oversimplified statement assuming the designer has
actually met and observed at least a few possible users. I forgot that
even that element was in question in this thread.
I agree that distinction is important! And I'm all for term-policing
in this case. UX practitioners are long overdue for a real consensus
on what we mean by 'personas.'
In my view, the essential elements are primary experience of real,
intended users, and an effort to internalize what youve learned
(imagine what it will be like for such people to use your design).
That primary experience could be very informal, or enhanced through
some intentional method.
I dont really believe you can even do roleplay in a total vacuum...
you're still basing it on something. So to me, roleplay without real
experience of the original person(s) is just going to be sloppy
roleplay. But maybe youre meaning some specific kind of roleplay I'm
not familiar with.
I do believe that some intentional process is useful to doing this
well and improving chances of a favorable outcome, but that method
necessarily varies for each designer or team.
Of course its always possible for a very experienced/talented designer
to 'wing it' and hit a home run as well.
(sent from mobile on a teeny keyboard)
andrew hinton
inkblurt at gmail.com

On 11/28/07, Jared M. Spool <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
>
> On Nov 28, 2007, at 8:50 AM, Andrew Hinton wrote:
>
> > The funny thing is, if you've ever imagined what it might be like to
> > be your intended user trying to *use* the thing you're designing,
> > you've done persona-based design.
>
> Again, in an attempt to not overload terms, I'd say that isn't
> necessarily persona-based design. It is role playing, which is
> another important design technique and not mutually exclusive with
> persona-based design.
>
> It would be a part of persona-based design if the intended user were
> using was a persona. If it's just someone you just made up in your
> head, then its just role-playing. (Both are valid techniques, but
> have different purposes.)
>
> I would also say that persona-based design has many more activities
> than just role-playing.
>
> Sorry for being the namespace police, but I think its to our
> community's advantage to have everyone using a common language.
>
> Jared
>
> Jared M. Spool
> User Interface Engineering
> 510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
> e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
> http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks
>
>
>

--
Sent from Gmail for mobile | mobile.google.com

29 Nov 2007 - 1:15pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

The bottom line for me in this entire thread: To those folks who
promote personas as a useful design tool, it seems quite clear to me
this industry has not done a good job of making clear what a persona
is and what some of the better methods are to research them.

Jared, to define that a "persona" is a meme inside an industry list
is one thing, but to have the people who develop these memes then
also create printed deliverables that read more like character
studies for movie spec scripts and lack more practical data
presentation discovered from the research is another. (I feel a Tufte
moment of railing on all the chart junk in persona deliverables
coming on, but I'll refrain.) The problem of how personas became
flubbed in our profession is straight forward as far as I'm
concerned. The printed persona deliverable -- the only tangible
element of this research process -- becomes the actual persona in the
minds of those who were not part of the research process. Basically,
every one else in the company. Then over a small amount of time, the
meme is no longer the persona, the persona has become that piece of
paper with the superficial photo on it. Then that circles back into
the core process and it degrades the tool overall for others who then
try to copy what they see other people doing, which in this case is
the printed deliverable.

The fact that the persona has become so bastardized as a tool is a
serious problem for our industry. We -- myself included to be honest
-- need to fix that.

If no one wants to fix it, then it becomes the kind of thing that
seriously degrades our value as professionals. Why? Because when
executives, entrepreneurs, engineers, product managers, marketing
execs, etc... When they work with designers in this field, they get
mixed messages and convoluted processes. The more they encounter
that, the more we lose our credibility.

And fwiw, that's exactly why I get so bent on some of these topics. I
actually agree with Jared that its insane that companies will spend
$8M on sales retreats but the design team has to scratch tooth and
nail to get $800K to do the proper research on a product. At the same
time, I also know that we don't enough of a good job justifying why
we need the budget. Our deliverables and process still seem far too
white ivory tower, throw it over the wall kind of things. (And this
is also why I harp on prototypes, since that deliverable does exactly
the job of creating large amounts of credibility for designers.)

It really needs to change.

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

1 Dec 2007 - 11:34pm
dszuc
2005

One benefit of research is that your design decisions (which may well
be right without research) are being informed. It also gives you data
you can talk to when speaking to Execs who just talk to their own
opinion, just as designers sometimes to talk to their own opinion as
well.

More data points helps to tell a story.

rgds,

Daniel Szuc
Principal Usability Consultant
www.apogeehk.com
T: +852 2581 2166
F: +852 2833 2961
"Usability in Asia"

The Usability Kit - www.theusabilitykit.com

On 28/11/2007, at 3:33 AM, Todd Zaki Warfel wrote:

> Yes, this is my point. That good design done w/o any type of research
> is rare. To think that it happens simply by chance is IMHO
> shortsighted and naive. Furthermore, why take the risk? Why wouldn't
> you inform your design by some research?
>
> Speaking for myself and Messagefirst, every time we've done some
> research, typically based on ethnographic methods, our designs have
> turned out that much more informed, innovative, and intuitive. We have
> done some good designs based simply on pre-existing knowledge, but
> they're not nearly as good as those that are informed through
> research. I hardly think this is an anomaly.
>
> On Nov 27, 2007, at 2:24 PM, Jeff White wrote:
>
>> But that doesn't mean that *no* user centered research was conducted
>> - it just means they didn't use personas. Which I think is Todd's
>> point here...good design is much more probable when some sort of
>> user centered research (especially when designing for an audience
>> other than yourself) is conducted.
>
>
> Cheers!
>
> Todd Zaki Warfel
> President, Design Researcher
> Messagefirst | Designing Information. Beautifully.
> ----------------------------------
> Contact Info
> Voice: (215) 825-7423
> Email: todd at messagefirst.com
> AIM: twarfel at mac.com
> Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
> ----------------------------------
> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
> In practice, they are not.
>
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