Personas development - best practices

4 Apr 2006 - 4:35pm
8 years ago
12 replies
1009 reads
Mauro Cavalletti
2005

Personas development is becoming more and more important as a practice in
the company I work for. People in other disciplines have been involved in
creative workshops, we are doing collaborative creation with clients, and we
are investigating ways to better express and use the results of this
creative exercise.

I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the most efficient and
insightful works we have available. I am looking for examples of creative
results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to significant sources?

I mean examples like these:

Robert Reinmann’s excerpt from Dan Saffer’s book –
http://www.designingforinteraction.com/reimann.html

The classic IDEO – MIT Media Lab on wearable computers -
http://www.ideo.com/mit/index.html

Cooper’s Persona description:
http://www.cooper.com/content/why_cooper/powerful_personas.asp

Thank you very much.

Mauro Cavalletti
Creative Director
Organic, Inc.
San Francisco
(415) 581 5346
www.organic.com

Comments

4 Apr 2006 - 7:18pm
Lada Gorlenko
2004

MC> I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the most efficient and
MC> insightful works we have available. I am looking for examples of creative
MC> results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to significant sources?

I very much liked Steve Mulder's presentation "Bringing more science
to persona creation" at the recent IA Summit, see
http://www.iasummit.org/2006/conferencedescrip.htm#14
This really nailed it for me. Personas can have solid science behind
them, which to me personally is very important. I'd love more of
those, please, dressing on the side.

Steve, if you hear this, thanks a lot; great stuff.

Lada

4 Apr 2006 - 10:20pm
Daphne Ogle
2005

> Although not an example, Cooper has a lot of good things to say
> about Personas in both "The Inmates are Running Asylum" and "About
> Face 2.0".

-Daphne

On Apr 4, 2006, at 5:18 PM, Lada Gorlenko wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> MC> I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the most
> efficient and
> MC> insightful works we have available. I am looking for examples
> of creative
> MC> results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to
> significant sources?
>
> I very much liked Steve Mulder's presentation "Bringing more science
> to persona creation" at the recent IA Summit, see
> http://www.iasummit.org/2006/conferencedescrip.htm#14
> This really nailed it for me. Personas can have solid science behind
> them, which to me personally is very important. I'd love more of
> those, please, dressing on the side.
>
> Steve, if you hear this, thanks a lot; great stuff.
>
> Lada
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
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Daphne Ogle
Interaction Designer
University of California, Berkeley
Educational Technologies Services
daphne at media.berkeley.edu
cell (510)847-0308

5 Apr 2006 - 4:55pm
Christopher Fahey
2005

Lada wrote:
> Personas can have solid science behind
> them, which to me personally is very important.

I also very much enjoyed Steve Mulder's IA Summit presentation: I thought
all of his ideas and methods were top-rate, and I look forward to his book.

But I also think that another school of thought is valid and useful for many
(if not the majority of) UX designers, and it's the polar opposite of what
Steve and Robert Reimann (and many others) have been preaching for a long
time: It's the "ad-hoc" persona, personas created without the benefit of
empirical or quantitative data.

Such "ad-hoc" personas have been long vilified, but I think the bad
reputation is largely undeserved. In fact, I think that IAas have gotten
*too* scientific with personas, to the point where they're so time consuming
and expensive that we can't sell them to clients and we can't usually
justify using them ourselves: so most of the time we just don't do them. The
ideal persona-creation process most of us envision can cost tens, even
hundreds of thousands of dollars to do "correctly". I think we need an
industry-blessed process for creating valid personas on the cheap. By cheap,
I mean in a matter of days or even hours.

Are personas created in a one-day group discussion between the web
development team and a small group of key clients/stakeholders better than
no personas at all? My answer is a resounding yes. In fact, I would even
argue that a lot of research-based persona creation is of dubious value
anyway: spending $30k on a month of scientific persona research and creation
isn't a whole lot more valuable than spending just $5k. The 80/20 rule, law
of diminishing returns, etc...

I'd be super interested to hear what you think of the idea of "ad hoc"
guerilla-style personas.
-- Do I sound like a luddite, suggesting that we go back to the dark ages
where we used to just make stuff up out of thin air and get everything
wrong?
-- Or do I sound like a fresh dose of practical realism in a environment
where scientific idealism is stifling the use of personas for a lot of UX
designers?

[I blogged a long article about this after seeing Steve's presentation,
maybe some of you would be interested in reading my thoughts on this
further.
http://www.graphpaper.com/2006/03-29_ia-summit-2006-the-science-of-personas]

Thanks,
-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
http://www.behaviordesign.com
212.532.4002 x203
646.338.4002 mobile

> -----Original Message-----
> From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> [mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On
> Behalf Of Lada Gorlenko
> Sent: Tuesday, April 04, 2006 8:18 PM
> To: discuss at lists.interactiondesigners.com
> Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] Personas development - best practices
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant
> quoted material.]
>
> MC> I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the
> most efficient and
> MC> insightful works we have available. I am looking for
> examples of creative
> MC> results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to
> significant sources?
>
> I very much liked Steve Mulder's presentation "Bringing more science
> to persona creation" at the recent IA Summit, see
> http://www.iasummit.org/2006/conferencedescrip.htm#14
> This really nailed it for me. Personas can have solid science behind
> them, which to me personally is very important. I'd love more of
> those, please, dressing on the side.
>
> Steve, if you hear this, thanks a lot; great stuff.
>
> Lada
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>

6 Apr 2006 - 6:42am
Robert Reimann
2003

"Ad hoc" or "provisional" personas are not contrary to my/Cooper's methods
(I can't speak for
Steve), but are sometimes a necessity borne of circumstance: there's simply
not enough time or
resources to perform the necessary field work.

There are however caveats: while provisional personas may help focus your
design and product
team, if you do not have any data to back up your assumptions you may:

* focus on the wrong design target
* focus on the right target, but miss key behaviors that could differentiate
your product
* have a difficult time getting alignment from individuals and groups who
did not participate
in their creation
* cause your organization to reject personas (or full personas) in the long
term

If you are using provisional personas, it's important to:

* clearly label and explain them as such
* represent them visually with sketches, not photos, to reinforce the above
* try to make use of as much existing data as possible (market surveys,
domain research, subject matter experts, field studies or personas for other
products)
* document what data was used, and what assumptions were made
* steer clear of stereotypes (harder to do without field data)
* focus on behaviors and motivations, not demographics/technographics
(again, harder without the data)

That all said, the thing I really can't agree with is the "dubious value" of
real field research.
In my mind, there is nothing more valuable than a direct, first-hand
understanding
of who your customers/users are, what motivates them, and how they use your
product. What could possibly be of greater value to your business?

Robert.

---

Robert Reimann
Manager, User Experience

Bose Corporation
The Mountain
Framingham, MA

On 4/5/06, Christopher Fahey <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Lada wrote:
> > Personas can have solid science behind
> > them, which to me personally is very important.
>
> I also very much enjoyed Steve Mulder's IA Summit presentation: I thought
> all of his ideas and methods were top-rate, and I look forward to his
> book.
>
> But I also think that another school of thought is valid and useful for
> many
> (if not the majority of) UX designers, and it's the polar opposite of what
> Steve and Robert Reimann (and many others) have been preaching for a long
> time: It's the "ad-hoc" persona, personas created without the benefit of
> empirical or quantitative data.
>
> ...

In fact, I would even
> argue that a lot of research-based persona creation is of dubious value
> anyway: spending $30k on a month of scientific persona research and
> creation
> isn't a whole lot more valuable than spending just $5k. The 80/20 rule,
> law
> of diminishing returns, etc...
>

6 Apr 2006 - 6:54am
Robert Reimann
2003

Below is a Cooper case study that was presented to AIGA back in 2002. This
case study is also
summarized in Nico Macdonald's book, _What is Web Design?_, which has many
other interesting
(non-persona) case studies.

http://www.aiga.org/resources/content/7/6/2/documents/FORUM_calde_case_032102.pdf

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/2880466865/104-3677346-6257550?v=glance&n=283155

Robert.

---

Robert Reimann
Manager, User Experience

Bose Corporation
The Mountain
Framingham, MA

On 4/4/06, Mauro Cavalletti <mcavalletti at hotmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
>
>
> Personas development is becoming more and more important as a practice in
> the company I work for. People in other disciplines have been involved in
> creative workshops, we are doing collaborative creation with clients, and
> we
> are investigating ways to better express and use the results of this
> creative exercise.
>
> I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the most efficient
> and
> insightful works we have available. I am looking for examples of creative
> results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to significant sources?
>
> I mean examples like these:
>
> Robert Reinmann's excerpt from Dan Saffer's book –
> http://www.designingforinteraction.com/reimann.html
>
> The classic IDEO – MIT Media Lab on wearable computers -
> http://www.ideo.com/mit/index.html
>
> Cooper's Persona description:
> http://www.cooper.com/content/why_cooper/powerful_personas.asp
>
> Thank you very much.
>
> Mauro Cavalletti
> Creative Director
> Organic, Inc.
> San Francisco
> (415) 581 5346
> www.organic.com
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>
>

6 Apr 2006 - 7:24am
Robert Reimann
2003

And here is a link to a wide variety of persona resources:

http://www.usabilityeffect.com/datapractice_persona.html

Robert.

On 4/4/06, Mauro Cavalletti <mcavalletti at hotmail.com> wrote:
>
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
>
>
> Personas development is becoming more and more important as a practice in
> the company I work for. People in other disciplines have been involved in
> creative workshops, we are doing collaborative creation with clients, and
> we
> are investigating ways to better express and use the results of this
> creative exercise.
>
> I am looking for examples of best practices: What are the most efficient
> and
> insightful works we have available. I am looking for examples of creative
> results, or meaningful practices. Can you point me to significant sources?
>
> I mean examples like these:
>
> Robert Reinmann's excerpt from Dan Saffer's book –
> http://www.designingforinteraction.com/reimann.html
>
> The classic IDEO – MIT Media Lab on wearable computers -
> http://www.ideo.com/mit/index.html
>
> Cooper's Persona description:
> http://www.cooper.com/content/why_cooper/powerful_personas.asp
>
> Thank you very much.
>
> Mauro Cavalletti
> Creative Director
> Organic, Inc.
> San Francisco
> (415) 581 5346
> www.organic.com
>
>
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> List Guidelines ............ http://listguide.ixda.org/
> List Help .................. http://listhelp.ixda.org/
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://subscription-options.ixda.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixda.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixda.org
> Home ....................... http://ixda.org/
> Resource Library ........... http://resources.ixda.org
>
>

6 Apr 2006 - 4:05pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Hello Robert,

What do you think about using one of personality type classifications
as a starting point in building persona? I like Kingdomality (
http://tinyurl.com/qntn7 ) since it is simple enough to keep in my
head and to apply on the spot even though it is not comprehensive.

By the way I was reading "Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman!" by
Richard Feynman ( http://tinyurl.com/qlkfq ) a while ago and was
struck by similarity of his approach in evaluating scientific ideas
and persona approach. In both cases concrete examples are used to
quickly assess viability of assumptions. With personas fictional yet
well defined person is used to evaluate in designer's mind if specific
software feature is helpful to users, Feinman uses concrete examples
provided by the theory creators.

--
Oleh Kovalchuke

On 4/6/06, Robert Reimann <rmreimann at gmail.com> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> "Ad hoc" or "provisional" personas are not contrary to my/Cooper's methods
> (I can't speak for
> Steve), but are sometimes a necessity borne of circumstance: there's simply
> not enough time or
> resources to perform the necessary field work.
>
> There are however caveats: while provisional personas may help focus your
> design and product
> team, if you do not have any data to back up your assumptions you may:
>
> * focus on the wrong design target
> * focus on the right target, but miss key behaviors that could differentiate
> your product
> * have a difficult time getting alignment from individuals and groups who
> did not participate
> in their creation
> * cause your organization to reject personas (or full personas) in the long
> term
>
> If you are using provisional personas, it's important to:
>
> * clearly label and explain them as such
> * represent them visually with sketches, not photos, to reinforce the above
> * try to make use of as much existing data as possible (market surveys,
> domain research, subject matter experts, field studies or personas for other
> products)
> * document what data was used, and what assumptions were made
> * steer clear of stereotypes (harder to do without field data)
> * focus on behaviors and motivations, not demographics/technographics
> (again, harder without the data)
>
> That all said, the thing I really can't agree with is the "dubious value" of
> real field research.
> In my mind, there is nothing more valuable than a direct, first-hand
> understanding
> of who your customers/users are, what motivates them, and how they use your
> product. What could possibly be of greater value to your business?
>
> Robert.
>
> ---
>
> Robert Reimann
> Manager, User Experience
>
> Bose Corporation
> The Mountain
> Framingham, MA
>

6 Apr 2006 - 4:50pm
Christopher Fahey
2005

Robert, many thanks for your insights into the advantages and disadvantages
of ad hoc personas -- very good points. The "focus on the wrong target" risk
seems to me to be the biggest potential problem. If a team identifies 5 user
personas and omits or misidentifies even one key constituency, the result
could be disastrous (losing 20% of customers, for example!).

> "Ad hoc" or "provisional" personas are not contrary to
> my/Cooper's methods (I can't speak for Steve), but are
> sometimes a necessity borne of circumstance: there's
> simply not enough time or resources to perform the
> necessary field work.

My concern is that the "necessity borne of circumstance" you speak of in
fact describes the circumstances of the vast majority of user experience
designers. Ad hoc is not the exception: it's unfortunately the rule.

> That all said, the thing I really can't agree with is the
> "dubious value" of real field research. In my mind, there
> is nothing more valuable than a direct, first-hand understanding
> of who your customers/users are, what motivates them, and
> how they use your product. What could possibly be of greater
> value to your business?

Heh, I definitely should clarify: By "dubious value" I did not mean to
suggest that field research isn't inherently valuable. Field research has
immense value. A diamond also has immense value. It's just that such things
are often "nice to haves". They're often simply not worth it for the
projects many of us work on. For example, it is of dubious value to spend
$5-10k on persona field research for a project with a $50k budget.

Another problem is that *bad* research can be damaging and create a false
sense of security: For example if you do field research with an insufficient
number of subjects, you will run into the same problem as at the top of this
message: identifying the wrong users. In other words, if you're going to do
field research, you better be prepared to spend enough to do it right!

Some clients I've had understand (or rather *some* people in the
organization understand) their target customers/users so wel (through their
own direct contact with them, and/or research they've already done) that my
team was able to learn far more from simply talking to ten client
stakeholders for 8 hours in a group meeting than if we had tried to do the
same with actual users. Obviously I can't empirically prove this statement,
but the difference in cost between these two approaches would probably have
been on the order of at least five to one, and that's good reason enough.

-Cf

Christopher Fahey
____________________________
Behavior
http://www.behaviordesign.com
212.532.4002 x203
646.338.4002 mobile
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

6 Apr 2006 - 9:45pm
Oleh Kovalchuke
2006

Here is how I think Kingdomality is relevant to building personas:
most interaction designers should probably fall under
Discoverers/Prime Ministers profile, usability folks - Scientists and
Engineers, developers - Engineers, development managers - Doctors, R&D
managers - Benevolent Rulers, marketing folks - Dreamer Writer,
support folks - Shepherd/Doctor corner etc. These labels come with
more detailed description of personal profile and could be basis of
initial persona creation.

By the way you can check your profile by taking test here:
http://www.cmi-lmi.com/enterppp.html

--
Oleh Kovalchuke

On 4/6/06, Oleh Kovalchuke <tangospring at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello Robert,
>
> What do you think about using one of personality type classifications
> as a starting point in building persona? I like Kingdomality (
> http://tinyurl.com/qntn7 ) since it is simple enough to keep in my
> head and to apply on the spot even though it is not comprehensive.
>
> By the way I was reading "Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman!" by
> Richard Feynman ( http://tinyurl.com/qlkfq ) a while ago and was
> struck by similarity of his approach in evaluating scientific ideas
> and persona approach. In both cases concrete examples are used to
> quickly assess viability of assumptions. With personas fictional yet
> well defined person is used to evaluate in designer's mind if specific
> software feature is helpful to users, Feinman uses concrete examples
> provided by the theory creators.
>
> --
> Oleh Kovalchuke
>
>
> On 4/6/06, Robert Reimann <rmreimann at gmail.com> wrote:
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
> >
> > "Ad hoc" or "provisional" personas are not contrary to my/Cooper's methods
> > (I can't speak for
> > Steve), but are sometimes a necessity borne of circumstance: there's simply
> > not enough time or
> > resources to perform the necessary field work.
> >
> > There are however caveats: while provisional personas may help focus your
> > design and product
> > team, if you do not have any data to back up your assumptions you may:
> >
> > * focus on the wrong design target
> > * focus on the right target, but miss key behaviors that could differentiate
> > your product
> > * have a difficult time getting alignment from individuals and groups who
> > did not participate
> > in their creation
> > * cause your organization to reject personas (or full personas) in the long
> > term
> >
> > If you are using provisional personas, it's important to:
> >
> > * clearly label and explain them as such
> > * represent them visually with sketches, not photos, to reinforce the above
> > * try to make use of as much existing data as possible (market surveys,
> > domain research, subject matter experts, field studies or personas for other
> > products)
> > * document what data was used, and what assumptions were made
> > * steer clear of stereotypes (harder to do without field data)
> > * focus on behaviors and motivations, not demographics/technographics
> > (again, harder without the data)
> >
> > That all said, the thing I really can't agree with is the "dubious value" of
> > real field research.
> > In my mind, there is nothing more valuable than a direct, first-hand
> > understanding
> > of who your customers/users are, what motivates them, and how they use your
> > product. What could possibly be of greater value to your business?
> >
> > Robert.
> >
> > ---
> >
> > Robert Reimann
> > Manager, User Experience
> >
> > Bose Corporation
> > The Mountain
> > Framingham, MA
> >
>

9 Apr 2006 - 2:43pm
Cindy Blue
2006

> If you are using provisional personas, it's important to:
> * clearly label and explain them as such
> * document what data was used, and what assumptions were made

I couldn't agree with this more. I also saw the "Bringing more science to
persona creation" presentation at the Summit and have had several
conversations around the office about this exact topic since. If you feel
that personas will be helpful to you during your design process, but that
you need to make a lot of assumptions to do so, just be clear about that.
Make sure that anyone outside of the design team that sees them understands
what they are and how you're using them.

Cindy Blue
NavigationArts, LLC

10 Apr 2006 - 4:58pm
Robert Reimann
2003

On 4/6/06, Christopher Fahey <chris.fahey at behaviordesign.com> wrote:
>
> ...
>
> My concern is that the "necessity borne of circumstance" you speak of in
> fact describes the circumstances of the vast majority of user experience
> designers. Ad hoc is not the exception: it's unfortunately the rule.

Yes, that is a concern to IxDers, and should be a concern to business. But
there
was a time when even basic usability testing was considered a luxury,
and now it is typically considered a must-have. The only way for this to
happen with
user research is to continue to press the issue and go guerilla if
necessary, so that
stakeholders and executives can learn the power of the results first-hand.

Heh, I definitely should clarify: By "dubious value" I did not mean to
> suggest that field research isn't inherently valuable. Field research has
> immense value. A diamond also has immense value. It's just that such
> things
> are often "nice to haves". They're often simply not worth it for the
> projects many of us work on. For example, it is of dubious value to spend
> $5-10k on persona field research for a project with a $50k budget.

They may not be worth it for an individual project. But the lasting value to
the business as a whole may be far greater. But this isn't generally
apparent
to stakeholders until they see the results for themselves.

Another problem is that *bad* research can be damaging and create a false
> sense of security: For example if you do field research with an
> insufficient
> number of subjects, you will run into the same problem as at the top of
> this
> message: identifying the wrong users. In other words, if you're going to
> do
> field research, you better be prepared to spend enough to do it right!

Absolutely.

Some clients I've had understand (or rather *some* people in the
> organization understand) their target customers/users so well (through
> their
> own direct contact with them, and/or research they've already done) that
> my
> team was able to learn far more from simply talking to ten client
> stakeholders for 8 hours in a group meeting than if we had tried to do the
> same with actual users. Obviously I can't empirically prove this
> statement,
> but the difference in cost between these two approaches would probably
> have
> been on the order of at least five to one, and that's good reason enough.

That may well be true, but there are some caveats here as well:

1) When was the last time your subject matter expert was involved in the
field?
Subject matter experts can have skewed perspectives based on "old"
experience.
Has your product/industry changed in the last five years?

2) SMEs can have a skewed view of the customer. Who are they talking to?
Just your big customers? Just the angry ones? Just the ones in their
market segment?

3) Where are they getting their data? From end users? From your customers'
IT managers?
From focus groups? From surveys?

All of this data can be useful and interesting, but it needs to be viewed in
perspective,
and any hidden assumptions or blind spots identified and taken into account.

Robert.

---

Robert Reimann
Manager, User Experience

Bose Corporation
The Mountain
Framingham, MA

11 Apr 2006 - 3:49pm
Michael Jones
2006

I've also seen "ad-hoc" personas (personae? that's another thread)
used to help make sense of a huge product, where you can prioritize
feature development by primary and secondary personas. You've
identified that there are three kinds of people that are going to use
your product, but type A is far larger / more important. Therefore,
we're going to build the product with the core functionality that
Type A needs, and hold off on everything that type B and C need for
version 2.0. This is somewhat related to the 37signals idea of
building half a product, rather than a half-assed product-- you're
concentrating on the core things that your product has to do first,
but you're identifying those core things by who needs what.

Of course, you have to identify those three kinds of people first,
but "ad-hoc" works here because you're just using them to roughly
timeline feature development.

-Mike

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