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From my understanding of personas, one of the main purposes is to find out how your users behave and what their mental models of the system might be. I had always thought that, like in usability testing, tapping people that already have a knowledge of your system will introduce unpredictable biases that are difficult to control for. I'm sure we all know the axiom that people can't really tell you what they want. I have heard that people do build personas off of people that currently use their system, however.

So my question is two-fold (and a good answer will be as well):

  1. Is doing persona research on potential users good practice?
  2. If yes, how do the research and creation methodologies differ? If no, what would you consider the best way of getting high-quality, accurate feedback from current users?

(Note: I know that the answer won't be cut-and-dry. UX work never is. :) )

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2 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Personas are a representation of your users, based on research. if your business goal is to get more new people using your system, you'll conduct your research with new people - you'll target your research on the people you want to engage with your system. There's no problem doing research on your existing user population to understand them better and meet their needs, and this can give you good insight into these users. So to address your questions directly:

  1. Yes, but "persona research" is the wrong term. Research your users, current or potential, then build your personas based on the research results

  2. The research methods you use can be the same for either current or new prospective users BUT researching with existing users means that you can use what you already know about them, and what they know about your system, into account when you are doing research. So for instance, you could use a survey, but the questions you can ask of existing users can assume some knowledge of your system.

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#1 is an excellent Yes, but...One thing you want to do with personas is to highlight behavioral differences that make a difference. You want the research to guide you to the different behavioral types or information needs of your different user populations. New/existing may or may not be a relevant or important dimension for how users use your app. –  fitzgeraldsteele Feb 14 '12 at 21:19
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  1. Yes this is really important to get User Persona of Potential User (and Current User), Current User gives you understanding of As-IS Scenario , and potential User gives you To-Be Scenario. (Along with that its always handy to note down all stakeholders' and their main goals towards the system).

    • To be Scenario since defines the system which you'll be designing, needs deep understanding of user to know his working conditions, his personality etc to make usable system for him.
    • As-Is Scenario helps you understand the problems in the current system and also the current process being used.
  2. I'm not sure if I got your question right. But strategy we use for researching into User Personas is having informal interviews in their work environment and gathering all info. And then having a session with most of the stakeholders, where they can all bring in their concerns.

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