Depicting Your Personas

22 Sep 2010 - 12:04pm
3 years ago
23 replies
2730 reads
denniskardys
2010

For all you persona creators out there, do you typically use photos of real people/users that you have interviewed for the project, or do you prefer to use stock photography? I'm often hesitant to request peoples permission, as I don't want to make them uncomfortable or potentially overly conscious of the fact that they are under observation.

Also, has anyone performed any studies on how (or whether) the images we use have any affect on how we connect with the persona? I am particularly curious about how a real photo vs. a stock photo vs. an illustration might change the way we empathize with the character in question.

 

 

Comments

22 Sep 2010 - 12:37pm
Joe Sokohl
2004
I used to use stock photos, until it was pointed out to me how, well, "stock-y" they look. That look makes the pictures less real, making the personas less real. So now I use pictures of people I know. I never use pictures of people I interview unless there's no way for the project team/client to know. Otherwise, they'll transfer their impressions onto that persona from their impressions of the actual person (hope that makes sense ;))
22 Sep 2010 - 12:59pm
dennis_breen
2010

I use stock, but I try to get images that look like real people, not models. Takes some extra time to source images, but it's worth it. I think they need to look like real people, and not models. Part of the goal with personas is to create some empathy for the people who use a product. It's hard to empathize with something that's clearly fake. That's why I'd avoid illustrations. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone has tried them.

22 Sep 2010 - 3:06pm
Audrey Crane
2009

Agree with Dennis here.

I use illustrations or outlines for provisional personas, to clearly and constantly indicate the difference (I believe I read this in Tamara Adlin's book). This is especially useful when a key stakeholder joins late with a "pet" persona that wasn't represented at all in the research, but they can't let go of it. Easy way to include their thoughts without diluting the credibility or quality of the formal personas.

On Sep 22, 2010, at 11:58 AM, dennis_breen wrote:

> I use stock, but I try to get images that look like real people, not models. Takes some extra time to source images, but it's worth it. I think they need to look like real people, and not models. Part of the goal with personas is to create some empathy for the people who use a product. It's hard to empathize with something that's clearly fake. That's why I'd avoid illustrations. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone has tried them. > >

23 Sep 2010 - 6:05am
Cindy J Kwiatkowski
2010

That's exactly why I don't use stock. I used them for a project for MIT and the stock images kept showing up on other sites because they were among the few that looked "real." Models can look real, they're not perfect looking, just professional. I'm not talking Brooke Shields...

On Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 3:20 PM, dennis_breen <dennis.breen@nform.ca> wrote:

I use stock, but I try to get images that look like real people, not models. Takes some extra time to source images, but it's worth it. I think they need to look like real people, and not models. Part of the goal with personas is to create some empathy for the people who use a product. It's hard to empathize with something that's clearly fake. That's why I'd avoid illustrations. But I'd be interested to hear if anyone has tried them.

22 Sep 2010 - 1:05pm
Cindy J Kwiatkowski
2010

My favorite option is real photos, but not of anyone actually interviewed. Since a persona is typically a composite, I use someone "real" who best represents that demographic. Don't use client-facing office personnel but if you can afford it, have a pro photograph either friends, models/actors or both. In the past my team has used a combo of one employee (admin), models, friends of employees, and the photographer's assistant. Stock photos are bound to show up in other publications and could potentially undermine some of the credibility of your work.

On Wed, Sep 22, 2010 at 1:31 PM, denniskardys <dennis@robotregime.com> wrote:

For all you persona creators out there, do you typically use photos of real people/users that you have interviewed for the project, or do you prefer to use stock photography? I'm often hesitant to request peoples permission, as I don't want to make them uncomfortable or potentially overly conscious of the fact that they are under observation.

Also, has anyone performed any studies on how (or whether) the images we use have any affect on how we connect with the persona? I am particularly curious about how a /real photo/ vs. a/ stock photo/ vs. an /illustration/ might change the way we empathize with the character in question.

 

 

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22 Sep 2010 - 3:01pm
denniskardys
2010

Good points. It seems to me like the potential problems of stock photography outweigh the potential benefits of it. I might try out some experiments using illustration though, because I think it may have some legitimate potential. I think that a good quality illustration might be able to express all of the desired characteristics you want to imbue in the persona, without any of the baggage that comes along with using people you know or have interviewed. Initially, I did consider that they might not seem real enough. But the more I think about it, I feel like the abstract elements might serve to enhance the way we respond to that persona instead of the other way around. I've been reading Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics, and there is a section of it describing how our minds process different levels of abstraction. It's pretty interesting. Anyway, just a thought. For now I think I'll stick to taking photos of real people (but not actual users).

22 Sep 2010 - 6:14pm
ruthenry
2010

I prefer real photos in the persona profile. I have used the advance search in flickr http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced/?  select the  Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content .

30 Sep 2010 - 3:22pm
cxchuck
2010

Thanks for that tip.  I've tried to avoid public image search for usage reasons, but this helps.

22 Sep 2010 - 11:58pm
Mathew Sanders
2009

I've heard of people using dating websites to get photos for personas - since you have all the filters available in a profile search to find people that match demographic qualities. 

Legally, I'm not sure if it's allowed (I guess it would be on a case by case situation looking at the terms of use for a specific profile website).

Ethically, I'm not sure either (I've also had some discussions with colleges about how awful it would be if you presented personas to a group of stakeholders you'd not met and someone they knew, or worse they appeared - but I guess you could lower this risk by choosing people from a different state or country).

I'd be interested in hearing what people think of this approach.

23 Sep 2010 - 2:06am
Joe Ortenzi
2008

I think using images from dating sites is both illegal and inethical.
The dating site publishes the pictures under controlled conditions and legal permission is granted for that use only when submitted to the site. The person has not given you permission to use their image for a persona, so ethically, you're on shaky ground as well.
If you want "real" images, you could try sourcing them from a photo-sharing site like Flickr etc. Some images are published under a creative commons licence, so in those cases you may not even have to ask, since the licence makes the permission conditions crystal clear. Other images can be used after permission, which you can acquire by emailing the image publisher through the site. You might consider creating a permission request template, with links to examples and your company website so the image owner knows what you're doing with the image, along with reassurances of the audience scope and size.
But any image acquired from anywhere has an author, who has rights you need to be aware of and honor.
Ethically at the very least.
joe

On Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 4:01 PM, Mathew Sanders <mathew.sanders@gmail.com> wrote:

I've heard of people using dating websites to get photos for personas - since you have all the filters available in a profile search to find people that match demographic qualities. 

*Legally*, I'm not sure if it's allowed (I guess it would be on a case by case situation looking at the terms of use for a specific profile website).

*Ethically*, I'm not sure either (I've also had some discussions with colleges about how awful it would be if you presented personas to a group of stakeholders you'd not met and someone they knew, or worse /they/ appeared - but I guess you could lower this risk by choosing people from a different state or country).

I'd be interested in hearing what people think of this approach.

(((Please leave all c
23 Sep 2010 - 4:23am
Jonas Löwgren
2003

Fwiw, here is a link to a recent Swedish dissertation: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?searchId=1&pid=diva2:319155

The PhD student, Rosa Gudjonsdottir, reports a case study of personas and scenarios in use. The case is a multi-site research project, and I am not sure how relevant you might find it, but the reason I wanted to share the link is that Rose consistently uses illustrations to depict personas and she has some reflections about that choice in the dissertation.

Briefly, her arguments for choosing illustrations over photos are (p. 120):

- emphasize that personas are fictitous representations

- allow more control over what the personas look like and how their environment is represented

- no risk of using photos of people that someone in the development team knows or recognizes

- illustrations tend to look more professional since the visual style of all personas will be more coherent

- finally, illustrations support the creation of multiple representations such as life-size images and scenario pictures.

/Jonas Löwgren

23 Sep 2010 - 4:59pm
Mike Dunn
2008

I feel that a slightly more conceptual approach can actually be more effective as the viewer can identify with or place themselves into a slightly more cartoonish character. A photograph is a picture of one person, while a cartoon or illustration is representative of a type of person.

23 Sep 2010 - 8:05pm
Joe Ortenzi
2008

But the persona is meant to represent a fictional user. Can you clarify why a viewer needs to "place themselves" into the character? The Persona needs to be as real, not generic, as possible, I'd have thought. Therefore my empathy with a persona might be a problem, not an asset, since it is not meant to represent me (either as a user or as a UX tester) but a type of user to test and design in accordance with. Very much an "other" from my point of view. Even from the point of view of the business/client, since they are not delivering to themselves, but to users. 
Or have I misconstrued the theme of this discussion?

Joe

On Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 10:24 AM, Mike Dunn <mike@foolishstudios.com> wrote:

I feel that a slightly more conceptual approach can actually be more effective as the viewer can identify with or place themselves into a slightly more cartoonish character. A photograph is a picture of one person, while a cartoon or illustration is representative of a type of person.

(((
24 Sep 2010 - 9:24am
denniskardys
2010

Actually Joe, I think what you mentioned is kind of what I have been thinking about. So let's say we identify what we clearly would not want to do...and that is to project our ideas and behaviors onto the persona. This would be ineffective because then we would be taking a self centered design approach. But I think in order for any persona to be effective it must, as you mention, be an entirely "other" person, and consider their perspective. I think that this does require a great deal of empathy. Without empathy, the best that you can do is follow a list of use cases. By empathizing with the persona, you aren't imposing your perspective onto them, but rather you are putting yourself in their shoes, and seeing things from their vantage point. 

So then the question becomes, do layers of abstraction have the potential to give you greater insight into the behavioral patterns of a persona? I think outside of the defined use cases and scenarios that are created around a persona, you need to be able to refer to them to sometimes resolve design disputes. The more you "get" the personas and what matters to them, the better you can make these judgements. I think in the Simpsons example, Simpsons type drawings might be too cartoonish and generalized to be very useful. The identities of each character from the Simpsons has been built up over time. Using that style on a project might require too much of a cognitive leap to make the connection. But if we used illustration that sat somewhere in between the realism of a photo and the extreme abstraction of a cartoon, I wonder what the effect would be. I guess I am thinking about an illustration style similar to Charles Burns or even Chris Ware. So much mood and storytelling can be conveyed through illustration.

Dennis K.

23 Sep 2010 - 2:58pm
eocurry
2010

Not only do I not use stock photography, I don't use personas! I prefer to create profiles of the people I actually speak with, and I use real photos and video to help me tell their stories. Because personas are composites, it's easy for an audience to dismiss any attributes that don't mesh with their own perspective on a problem as being somehow less 'real'. It's also too easy for the person creating the persona to cherry-pick the aspects of a user or group of users that they want to highlight; even if they aren't being intentionally deceptive, the result may not be completely honest.

I find that the practice of trying to add colorfol but fictional detail leads to idealized users who are completely one-dimensional because they are created by adding back story to one or two interesting anecdotes. At the other end of the spectrum, you have super-consumers who represent too many competing points of view because they're created by simply mashing together the bits the researcher finds most interesting - these tend to result in designs that are one-size-fits-all because the designer has to work with too many competing requirements.

Real people are complex and interesting already, and real stories are always going to be the most compelling when you are making a case for change. Besides, if you're talking about a real person, you don't have to remember all of the fake details of a persona . . .

e

24 Sep 2010 - 9:05am
jalton
2008

Well said. Although isn't the same pitfall of persona inherent in profiling a real person: selective judgment?
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-----Original Message----- From: eocurry Sender:
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 2010 06:19:25 To: Reply-To: discuss@ixda.org Subject: Re: [IxDA] Depicting Your Personas

Not only do I not use stock photography, I don't use personas! I prefer to
create profiles of the people I actually speak with, and I use real photos
and video to help me tell their stories. Because personas are composites,
it's easy for an audience to dismiss any attributes that don't mesh with
their own perspective on a problem as being somehow less 'real'. It's also
too easy for the person creating the persona to cherry-pick the aspects of a
user or group of users that they want to highlight; even if they aren't being
intentionally deceptive, the result may not be completely honest.

I find that the practice of trying to add colorfol but fictional detail leads
to idealized users who are completely one-dimensional because they are
created by adding back story to one or two interesting anecdotes. At the
other end of the spectrum, you have super-consumers who represent too many
competing points of view because they're created by simply mashing together
the bits the researcher finds most interesting - these tend to result in
designs that are one-size-fits-all because the designer has to work with too
many competing requirements.

Real people are complex and interesting already, and real stories are always
going to be the most compelling when you are making a case for change.
Besides, if you're talking about a real person, you don't have to remember
all of the fake details of a persona . . .

e

24 Sep 2010 - 3:17pm
eocurry
2010

The researcher's subjectivity never stops being an issue, but at least you have notes and video to go back to to make sure you're representing the person accurately when you are profiling an actual person, and being aware of our own subjectivity is the best defense against letting it sway our decisions too much. (I also like to double check my results against key cognitive biases: how am I framing this? am I anchoring on the wrong activity? what am I assuming about other people's motivations based on my own experience? etc)

e

23 Sep 2010 - 3:24pm
rszumski
2009

We've done Simpson's style personas for our different purchasing groups and find that it fits our needs well, but our personas aren't really that diverse.

http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/9862/personas.png

23 Sep 2010 - 8:05pm
Joe Ortenzi
2008

what is the little square you've blanked on the character's chests/t-shirts?

On Fri, Sep 24, 2010 at 8:05 AM, Rob Szumski <rob@falloutweb.com> wrote:

We've done Simpson's style personas for our different purchasing groups and find that it fits our needs well, but our personas aren't really that diverse.

http://img823.imageshack.us/img823/9862/personas.png [1]

24 Sep 2010 - 9:15am
rszumski
2009

That's logo of the product that they are a persona for.

24 Sep 2010 - 2:57pm
Paul Bryan
2008

I wouldn't use Flickr photos or other public domain photos of people's faces if you anticipate an audience wider than just your team, because even if the photographer has relinquished rights to the photo through creative commons, the person in the picture may not have relinquished rights to their face. If nobody outside your four walls will see the images, then some would say, "no harm no foul," but I wouldn't do it in an agency or large business setting.

Personas are aggregations of the most significant and most prevalent characteristics representing the vast majority of your user base, so real people interviewed should not be used to depict them. We use stock photos of people in context, as "day in the life" as possible. There's a difference between a stereotype and an archetype. (More about this at: http://www.virtualfloorspace.com/?s=personas)

Using original photography is great, but I can't justify the expense in terms of time. In the past I've seen some cartoon persona images executed elegantly to tell a compelling story, but you have to have the right people all the way around the table or it could go over like the proverbial lead balloon. And how do the people who need to use and modify them continue the process without the original illustrator?

If you create user profiles rather than personas, as in a day-in-the-life study, then using real people's pictures to represent emerging behavioral types makes sense.

/pb

 

30 Sep 2010 - 3:32pm
cxchuck
2010

I use personas to depict an idealized future state.  Therefore, whenever possible, I use improvisational actors armed with first-person narratives as back story.  When the projects warrant it, we have key client stakeholders engage directly with them.  We video these sessions and build "slice-of-life" clips that can be used in a variety of ways.

Often my work is about understanding segments and occasions in purchase decisions, so it may not be as literal as some here who need to understand, synthesize and report out specific usage behavior on an interface or physical product.

Sometimes budget only allows for stock photography and yes, it is time consuming, but finding the closest works and i find my clients need real faces in real situations.

I always prefer controlling the imagery so it is as "real" as you can make a fictional composite.

14 Oct 2010 - 7:06am
ask
2009

I follow Rosa's advice mentioned above by Jonas.

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