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Personas and politics:  The discursive construction of the "user" in Information Architecture - IA Summit 2009
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Personas and politics: The discursive construction of the "user" in Information Architecture - IA Summit 2009


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A talk given by Adrienne Massanari, Assistant Professor at Loyola University - Chicago, at the 2009 IA Summit.

A talk given by Adrienne Massanari, Assistant Professor at Loyola University - Chicago, at the 2009 IA Summit.

Published in: Design, Technology, Education

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  • Transcript

    • 1. Personas and politics: The discursive construction of the “user” in IA
        • Adrienne Massanari
        • Loyola University Chicago
        • [email_address]
    • 2. or… all I need to know about IA I’ve learned from 20 th century French philosophy
    • 3. Who am I?
    • 4. I’m supposed to be a “user advocate”… But I have no idea who these people are.
    • 5. What am I talking about today?
      • Beginnings - users, interfaces, and conflict
      • Why discourse?
      • Images of the “user”
      • Personas and politics
      • Implications and conclusions
      • Q & A
    • 6. (1) Beginnings
    • 7.  
    • 8. Users, content, and context
    • 9. (2) Why discourse?
    • 10.
      • Language actually shapes reality in a very deep way.
      • - Andrew Hinton, IA Summit 2009
    • 11.
      • [Discourse is] the space in which various objects emerge and are continuously transformed
      • - Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language
      • Knowledges, institutions, subjects and practices which construct what is and is not part of the community of practice, discipline, or field
      • - Gillian Rose, Visual Methodologies
    • 12.
      • By examining the nature of a discourse, including the methods of textual production, dissemination, and reception that surround it, we can understand how the concepts that make social reality meaningful are created.
      • - Nelson Phillips & Cynthia Hardy, Discourse Analysis
    • 13.
      • So, discourse is powerful.
      • We’d better understand how we’re shaping it.
    • 14. Materials
      • Usability, User-centered design (UCD), and IA texts
      • Whitepapers
      • Exchanges on SIG-IA and IXDA mailing lists
      • Conference proceedings
      •  Expert accounts *not* lived experiences 
    • 15. (3) Images of the “user”
    • 16. A problematic term
      • Suggests an instrumental, one-way relationship
      • “ Users are not monolithic or straightforward, but are complex and fragmented in nature…”
      • – Mackay et al. “Reconfiguring the User”
      • Are we all addicts?
    • 17. Theme 1: The “stupid user”
    • 18. Theme 2: Users as victims of bad design
    • 19. Theme 2 (cont’d.): Designers as heroes
    • 20. Theme 3: Users as co-designers From Becky Stern’s Body-Technology interface project (
    • 21. (4) Personas and politics
    • 22. … Merely being a victim of a problem doesn’t automatically bestow on one the power to see its solution…. [Thus] we make up pretend users and design for them . We call these pretend users personas , and they are the necessary foundation of good interaction design. - Alan Cooper & Robert Reimann, About Face 2.0
    • 23.  
    • 24.  
    • 25.  
    • 26.  
    • 27.  
    • 28. Few users users are consciously aware of or are able to clearly articulate their goals…[and]…tend to focus on low-level tasks. - Alan Cooper & Robert Reimann, About Face 2.0
    • 29. … half of the personas out there are entirely made up, with no user research to back them. In most cases, no one on the design team has talked directly to users to find out who they are, so designers come up with an idea of a user type. The resulting personas are like the designer’s imaginary friends. - Dan Saffer, “Persona Non Grata”
    • 30. Rather than describing a feature for ‘infrequent large-scale Fortune 1000 purchasers who use SAP,’ you can say, ‘it’s for Leonard’ and marketing, engineering, and design will know the qualities of the audience and how they will use the feature…. The rest of the benefits of the procedure…are side effects of this communication benefit. - Mike Kuniavsky, Observing the User Experience
    • 31. Personas are boundary objects
      • For IAs and designers - personas are a convenient shorthand encapsulating complex data
      • For developers - personas may help foreground user needs
      • For project managers and analysts - personas may be wielded as a political tool within the organization
    • 32. (5) Implications and conclusions
    • 33. What does IA/UCD discourse say about “users”?
      • They are often resources we mine for information
      • We tend to flatten differences between them
      • We sometimes undervalue their tacit knowledge and position ourselves as “experts”
      • We use them (in the form of personas) for political purposes
      • Do we feel more comfortable with simulated users than actual ones?
    • 34.  
    • 35.
      • Let’s not mistake the map for the territory.
    • 36. What if usability problems cannot be neatly divided into cause and symptoms? If so, it is difficult for designers to be heroes (or for workers to be victims…) because there is no tyrant to overthrow, no dragon to slay…. That means that workers’ innovations and the destabilizations they encounter become more important for designers to examine as they attempt to find ways to contribute – as partners. - Clay Spinuzzi, Tracing Genres Through Organizations
    • 37. Conclusions
      • We can’t simply “understand users and then ignore them” – Robert Hoekman
      • We need to think strategically about integrating users as partners within our work
      • We have to understand our unique positions as IAs within our organizations
      • We must think about the possibilities of a critical/reflexive IA practice
    • 38. (6) Thanks! (Q & A)