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Do current LeanUX methods advocate sending out surveys to understand potential customer segments?

Or should personas be written based on assumptions and then just user tested with customers that fit those segments?

(this relates to entirely new products where the customer is unknown but there may already be competitors/solutions in the market)

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Not always, especially with self funded startups. They just don't have the resources/money/manpower to do so.

I've worked with numerous startups for developing their apps and most of them stray away from sending surveys to potential customers. Infact the reliable information for the design specs comes from company's own resources(people in sales, marketing managers, etc).

Exceptions, are VC funded startups, they really have a proclivity towards customer surveys.

About, "How to write personas?"

I am not Jeff Gothelf, and frankly I don't work with startups that provide huge resources to designers. The reality is that for most of the part personas are developed based upon the company's resources, with very little market research done. You will have to do the research all by yourself, you'll have to look into the resources and learn as much as you can from the available resources. As user research is time taking, it is negated because startups are always in a hurry to launch the optimized product as soon as possible.

Ideally, you make a persona from the available resources. And when you start testing your UX, you iterate your persona.

For example, if John's characteristic was "Smart, tech savvy and Fashionable", from testing you may find that John is "Smart, tech savvy but unfashionable". That being said, you are iterating on the user characteristics on the persona, and not on the "type of user". It is important that you get the target user right, otherwise testing in Lean UX would be very frustrating.

With this kind of testing you will understand user frustration, how they want to achieve their targets, etc and can iterate your persona with it.

Again, I would like to remind, persona based UX is the trait of startups (SMBs), majority multi-national corporations are data driven with their decisions.

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It depends on the kind of analytic data you are following for the current process. I do believe that, customer surveys will add more weightage to the ux process. Reason is pretty simple - LeanUX develops on cross-functional collaboration.

As far as concerned second part - personas are fictitious, they are based on knowledge of real users. Also , I do believe that, some form of user research is conducted before they are written to ensure they represent end users rather than the just your assumptions.

  • I've heard the term 'personas are fictitious' before. I guess this is why I find them fairly useless. If they are based on real users - why not distill what they do into a overall user type and include a few real users as an example? That's what I now tend to do. – Stewart Dean Mar 18 '14 at 12:17
  • The kind of project am on, based on that experience and depends on each projects personas are going to define. While we do not have access to real world users have to sketch based on knowledge of real users. As I mentioned earlier and being ux person have to do user research before getting involved in personas. If you do have real users to grab the facts about analytic data then personas are "factual" than "fictitious". – JaganJ Mar 18 '14 at 16:10
  • @StewartDean A proper persona ought to be the rolled up "average" user of a given segment. In a sense they are like an overall user type. But by naming it as a fictitious persona person, it allows the rest of the team and people in other departments to more easily identify with the user. Kind of like there's thousands of hungry kids in Africa, but it's way more salient to help one. The danger of using real users is that you may run into a problem that is specific to just that particular user. That's why personas, if used correctly, are more effective. – nightning Jun 16 '14 at 21:41
  • It depends on the audience for your persona. If you work in UX then 'averaged' personas are better than nothing but I would pick knowing the range of ages over being given an 'average' age. In terms of problems specific to one user, the danger with assumptive personas is that that persona might not actually exist. Also the real people are what should be used to create the persona - so why not just use the raw data rather than one level removed? – Stewart Dean Jun 18 '14 at 9:33
  • @StewartDean: "why not just use the raw data rather than one level removed?" Because numbers & trend lines are boring, abstract, potentially confusing, and impersonal. Beyond a certain # of data points your trends & conclusions no longer have a face. Personas help maintain empathy & a concrete connection to "real" users by making the same data more tangible & approachable. They help keep designers from losing the will to live during meetings, and help ensure you/your boss/your client truly understand your conclusions because they force you to first distill and explain the data. – mc01 Nov 13 '14 at 17:01
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The simple answer is yes. With Lean UX all tools are still available - but you really have to make sure it's taking things forward.

Recently I have been using one on one research sessions with recruited users. If you build these into the heartbeat of the project you can phase from user research to user testing as the project continues and do 2-3 sessions ever 2 weeks, keeping things as direct and lean as possible (easier said than done).

Personas, for example, can often be needless fluff (in my view) compared to understanding what the user does, why the do it and what they need whilst doing it. Assumption based personas can be dangerous as they amplify prejudice in a team. Good solid personas are useful, on the other hand. Things I like to know is what is the age range of my users, what kind of environments do they use what we're designing in and generally as much as possible to set the context of use.

One more thing - doing one to one sessions with your competitor sites is a great way to benchmark your competitors and give you a very good steer about where any new product could go.

Any user research will nearly always save time even if it takes time - and in Lean it's all about working about what is the most effective thing to do in the time given. No two projects will be the same.

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    In other words, iteration is expensive. At some point, you make a the best possible decision that moves you forward instead of holding up the process for another agile cycle. Lean basically codifies what a good UX designer should be able to do anyway - know when to compromise and use his/her intuition. I think, perhaps, it leans too far the other way at times but it that's all part of the art vs. the science. – Imperative Jun 16 '14 at 20:54

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