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A hypothetical example: let's say I am researching software engineers, and my end goal is to build a new networking service for engineers.

I might discover Amy, my 'storyteller' persona. In that persona, I might discover the following behaviors that help influence the design of the product:

  • this person that loves being on stage and talking at conferences
  • she blogs regularly
  • she is a frequent user of social media

Amy may work at a large high-tech company (like Google), she may work at a small, early-stage startup, or she may be an independent consultant. Each of these roles are transient, i.e. Amy can move pretty easily between them.

However, each of these roles also brings environmental factors, and constraints, that may affect my design. For example:

  • if Amy works at Google, she will have access to tons of smart people, cutting edge technology and much easier access to networks already

  • if Amy works at a startup, she may not have much time to do anything other than work

  • if she is an independent consultant, she spends a lot of time travelling to different cities and wants to meet people when she travels

How can I represent these relationships in my personas?

I think the role-based factors are as important as behavioral for my design, but I don't want to end up with a matrix of role vs persona.

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2 Answers 2

In my view you have uncovered a limitation of personas, they can get lead to an excess of information that often, in retrospect fail to influence the design. For example the idea of being on stage and talking at conferences can be treated in two ways. It can be an element on a persona or you can treat it as something that a person in a particular role is likely to do. It becomes an attribute of a role.

My approach is to explore the tasks that roles wants to carry out and how roles overlap. For example I use 'tube maps' to work out what different roles do, which I initialy started to use for 'task' based sites but now also use for 'information' based sites.

Task Tube Map

In my view this represents how different roles interact with the overall solution and I find work best when you make it technology agnostic. By understanding what they need or would like to do it becomes clear where a digital solution can offer worth. I then tend to also build up 'role profiles' that support the attributes of the role. For example 'Is likely to be focused on work.' would be supported by extracts from real world interviews providing the context behind this for those that want to learn more about real users.

My aim is to remove assumptions from personas and remove as much of the fictious elements from them as possible. This means avoiding 'assumptive personas' and focusing more upon what users do over what their goals are in an abstract way. I find it easier to map what they want onto what they do rather than work out what they want to do from what they want! Different users are likely to have different overall goals but will carry out those tasks in much the same way. Different needs can be represented by a range of attributes in the role profile and also in branches and diversions on the tube map.

The results is something solid where real user information can be linked directly to the site structure and the interaction design. It can be done quickly if needed using a mixture of subject matter experts and 1 hour one to one contextual interviews. It avoids arguments over what people think different personas may want as you can see how a real person thinks about different parts of what you are attempting to build.

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If I correct understand the question is how can you represent possibly different roles for a person.

Matrix view could be useful tool for comparing and analysing personas. But it requires carefully structure and defining set of features. For your roles it could be: Assess to network, Access to smart people, Travelling, etc.

But Person is a bit less structured way to describe real users, so finding features (variables) and their values could be difficult. Also, it is recommended to have just one (key) persona for an interface (A. Cooper's About Face) to fully reach his goals. So maybe you have a reasonable small number of persons/roles. Then they could be presented just as a set of columns with roles in headers.

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