Personas and Product Design
I’m not a huge fan of personas, at least not in the traditional UX sense. They’re kind of a “fuzzy” deliverable that often ends up taking more time than they’re worth and, if taken too seriously, can become a pretty poor stand-in for your actual customers.
Personas aren’t all bad though; I like to think of them as the coffee table book of UX design deliverables, and that makes them a least a bit interesting. They’re great for getting a conversation going—for setting a user-centric tone and keeping customers front of mind—especially among a group of diversely skilled people.
Regardless of my own personal bias, almost every team I’ve been on in has used them in some way or another. Some take them very seriously and others use them as a starting point to frame a discussion around customers, which is my preferred way. Probably because of that bias, I’ve got some ideas of how to make the most out of them. Here they are:
- Involve everyone in their creation. This way you can quickly identify and work out misconceptions and biases about who your customers are. This is a great way to do personas. I think this is also a good general rule to follow with any kind of user research.
- Do them quick and dirty. The “meat” of customer research lies in actually talking to customers. Personas can be a great way to communicate and conceptualize your findings, but spend most of your time listening to customers.
- A company isn’t the same as a customer. That should be obvious, but it’s actually pretty easy to co-mingle customer (user) traits with company traits. Of course, they can be related and you can build personas for both, but be sure you know which is which as they are different.
- Avoid getting caught up in semantic debates around the details. Details are important, but don’t go overboard. You’ll want them to be an accurate representation of your customers and their goals and behaviors, but don’t get bogged down by semantic disagreements. Along those lines….
- Don’t use real people as personas. While they should be an accurate representation of your customer, you should keep them somewhat general. Putting too much reality into your personas can make them inflexible and skew your discussions.
Finally, if there is one bit of advice I could give regarding personas it’d be this: Don’t obsess over your personas. Obsesses over your customers.
(If you’re not familiar with personas, and want to get a good overview, I’m kind of a fan of Luxr’s method and they’ve got a good cheat sheet here.)