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Personas are a tool that is becoming ever more central to the UX experience.

The utility in identifying representative users, their challenges, their needs, their context, etc... is fairly clear to even the most UX- skeptical of audiences.

One area which has less obvious benefits in personas however are the personal aspects.

That Jane is a call centre manager who has to deal with a high employee turnover, an antiquated computer system and customers who are annoyed at the constant 30 minute waits is all well and good. But why does it matter that she is a mother of two who enjoys horse riding when she gets free time?

The argument here is of course that it fleshes out the persona into more of a real person. Something more than just a list of challenges and goals. The whole reason we want to fix those challenges to give Jane more peace of mind so on the weekends so she feels relaxed enough to get away from the kids and go ride horses!

However....how does one come to these personal aspects of a persona? How much effort should go into researching there vs. getting at the 'meat of the problem?' How detailed should they go? How does one get the right balance between the aspects of a person's life that are relevant and irrelevant to the challenge at hand?

  • 1
    It should be noted that personas are not without some controversy. The concept is seemingly great, it helps many (including myself sometimes), and is a standard part of the UX curriculum. But it has its opponents and there's actually quite a bit of empirical research that casts doubts on their usefulness, whilst also revealing some key issues, especially when used with non-UXers. Believability, which personal aspects are largely to serve, is one of these issue. – Izhaki Jan 13 '16 at 23:09
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I compare UX professionals to actors. Actors use routines helping them to impersonate their characters. These routines go extensively into the character's background, environment, behavior in different situations. All that helps actors to play their characters more realistically in the limited environment defined by their role. When an actor "transforms" into their character, the spectators can feel all that background, even if the role doesn't show it.

Same is with UX. To understand my users deeply I have to become them, impersonate them. I have to act, like them, feel the same, have the same problems. For instance, having kids, means that I can get a call from school while I'm in the middle of important meeting or need to make sure they don't mess up with this application on my phone/computer or simply that I'm not in young-adult mental state.

  • I also think about actors routines when doing personas legend! Also, FBI profiling. I think all UX'ers are a good profilers material. – Zoe K Jan 14 '16 at 14:12
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That Jane is a call centre manager who has to deal with a high employee turnover, an antiquated computer system and customers who are annoyed at the constant 30 minute waits is all well and good. But why does it matter that she is a mother of two who enjoys horse riding when she gets free time?

The chunks of personal in Personas not only create a 3-dimensional context that makes them more believable and more coherent for the team (and more coherent things & people are easier to remember), but it also can give the development a great if unusual angle of seeing how the product can additionally benefit the user or how it doesn't fit users' expectations.

A first-hand story :-) About 5 years ago I was working as a UX specialist at the leading Germany Antivirus provider. We had a personas-related workshop. And there we discussed a that time persona, say, Kurt, a divorced truck driver with a kid. Marketers said — why did it matter that he was divorced with a kid? Who cares, really.

Well, it did matter. Because if Kurt was to find himself in the situation of battling for the custody for his kid, he wouldn't want court to find some malware on his computer that would download porn. That's why a divorced middle-class guy with a kid might want to use an antivirus.

Marketers thought this was brilliant.

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You have to include what is relevant to You and your set of designers, developers, product owners, BAs, etc...

You are the audience. What do you need to make the personas meaningful to you?

For instance I made personas about shoppers at a clothing store. We based the personas on people coming through the stores. We, the designers, developers and UX team spent several afternoons watching people, talking to sales staff about customer types. Here's a sample of what we came up with:

Quick Introduction: Men

“Emanuel”

  • Gay Man

  • Race: N/A

  • Age: Mid-20s to late 30s

  • Comfortable as a trendsetter. Wants to be recognized as a trendsetter.

  • Brand whore.

  • Interested in looking good on a daily basis.

  • Wants to know that non-brands are up-and-coming and that he is staying ahead of the curve. If it is a no-name wants to know that the purchase has been tastefully inspired by the brand name and isn’t a cheap knock-off.

    “Oscar”

  • Older Man
  • Race: N/A
  • Sexual Preference: Not important
  • Age: 50+
  • Tasteful dresser, but concerned that the fashion is not “too young.” Wants to be stylish without trying to look young.
  • Quality over brand.
    • Looking good on a daily basis.

Details:

  • Emanuel is openly gay, and a trendsetter as far as clothing and fashion is concerned. It is important that he is recognized by others as being a trendsetter and being abreast of everything fashion related.
  • He is a college graduate, earning REDACTED and ranks fashion purchases as a necessity. His major expenses are college loans, rent, travel and shopping. He is a brand-whore but interested in up-and-coming designers. He loves to have been able to say “I purchased an ‘X’ last season before anyone had heard of him.” Story-lines are critically important to this shopper. “Bogosse means …” “One Like No Other …” Loves spending free time in the stores trying on, experiencing, and discussing the new fashions. He is influenced by fashion magazines and stylish celebrities. Purchases may or may not be influenced by celebrity shots but nonetheless is interested in knowing who wears a particular designer.

  • On-line experience: Is interested in fashion news and is interested in fashion photos and celebrity stories. Yet, for all his interest in designers, story-lines, etc… his on line shopping revolves around price and the ability to return items at whim. He is a serial returner. Returning about 50% of all items ordered. He does not want store credit with a return, although accepts it willingly enough in a purchase made in a store setting.

  • ** Additional points:** Emanuels make a “good salary”. In this scenario it applies to anyone who is able to purchase multiple items per season. Lower income Emanuels will have a roommate to cut costs but maintain fashion and nightlife budget. Items desired and purchased have great overlap across income levels. The key difference is that lower income “Emanuels” are more inclined to buttress their wardrobes with up-and-coming designers and tastefully rendered no-names. Higher-income Emanuels are less included to purchase no-name labels. Marketing departmentflags by purchase amounts/per season, designer, and size. An Emanuel who purchases or learns about a designer before he becomes big will become a dedicated shopper and a valuable lead for new sales.

These, and many other personas helped us fine tune the market.

When I made personas for employees who used the HR or Time Clock system the personas concentrated on their personality, their expectations about technology and what they thought about their work day. Sexual preference was never considered as part of the persona.

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...how does one come to these personal aspects of a persona?

Talk with (potential) users. Collect characteristics that you find typical for each user, even if you’re not sure how useful it is. Combine those characteristics to form a persona.

How much effort should go into researching there vs. getting at the 'meat of the problem?' How detailed should they go?

Sometimes a specific characteristic won’t stand out by talking to one person but will be noticed after talking to more people. Example: One person likes to watch birds, another is a biologist and one user likes to walk through nature. You don’t have to make up that your persona is a biologist that likes to watch birds and walk through nature. Mentioning that the persona is actively interested in nature will be enough. Think of selling biological products on your website to people who want those products because of their believes in the purity of these products or people (hipsters) who like to make a statement buying these products. The persona tells you have to focus on the first group.

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