Hi, all. I was inspired to post this question by the very interesting
ACD/UCD discussion, during which the personas concept has frequently been
mentioned. I've always been a little uncertain of personas, but many people
seem to love them, and so I'm wondering if I'm missing or misunderstanding
Below are my three main problems with the concept. I'm hoping some of you
might be able to tell me whether (and how) I'm on- or off-base with them.
1) *Frankenstein.* As I understand it, the better persona practitioners will
base their constructions on real-world data. Essentially, they use various
methods to gather a bunch of data on behaviors, attitudes, and demographics
from some population, and then reorganize and combine the various data
points into some mock person. If that is correct, then it would seem that
the resulting persona doesn't represent any actual user -- it's just made up
of parts of real users, like a Frankenstein's monster. As James
Page<http://gamma.ixda.org/discuss.php?post=35466#35613>said in a
comment on the ACD/UCD thread, the result is a fiction.
2) *Efficiency.* If personas are made up of pieces of real users, I'm
uncertain about how much benefit is gained from from recombining those
pieces into a narrative that makes sense, as opposed to simply looking at
the dataset and any potential relationships within it. For example, in his
original post in the last ACD/UCD thread, Jared Spool describes the
> "Recently, I had a client show me their persona descriptions that talked > about the car the family had and the family dog. My first inclination was to > suggest they take this information out. However, their project was a > home-improvement information site and providing filters for pet-friendly > improvement projects and easy-to-bring-home materials was an obvious > no-brainer out of this simple info." > Unless the persona creators got lucky, the car and pet details in their
creations came from some actual data -- a demographics survey, focus groups,
user interviews, or whatever. If so, I wonder whether the effort of creating
those fictional representations of home-improvement customers could have
been saved by just looking at the simple data on which they were based. Put
another way, was it the persona that helped, or was it the simple finding
that some of their customers drive small cars and own pets?
3) *Variability.* Persona creation, and the conclusions that come from them,
seem to be more of an art than a science. (Ultimately, design is an art, but
the recommendations on which those designs are based should perhaps fall
more in the science realm.) My impression (and that's all it is) is that the
process of imagining a persona turns datasets into inkblots, with different
practitioners looking at the same thing and coming up with different
interpretations. If so, that makes me question the utility of the concept.
Going back to the ACD/UCD discussion, I wonder if there would be less
variability in design recommendations if they were based on analyses of the
central activities/tasks that users must perform, along with real data
showing associations between user characteristics and those activities.
That's just speculation, but if there's any truth in it, then the costs and
benefits of personas as a design tool may be an interesting investigation.
Thanks for your time if you've read all of this. I'm hoping it will generate
a good discussion on the topic and give me some insight into the issue.
Michael Stiso, Ph.D.