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Getting Personal: Do Personas Help or Hinder Content Design?


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Personas are tricky things. While their intent is to understand a user and effectively speak to their needs, they can often lead us astray if we’re not careful. Under the hood, there are often misunderstandings, missed opportunities, and wonky assumptions.

This presentation reflects about lessons learned through audience targeting, particularly in the realm of UX content strategy. How do we avoid personal biases and pave the way for sincere empathy? Is it better to be broad or specific? Is it even possible to assess the unique needs of everyone who will be experiencing your product or design?

Published in: Design
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Getting Personal: Do Personas Help or Hinder Content Design?

  1. 1. GETTING PERSONAL Do personas help or hinder content design? Kelly Robinson, Content & UX Strategist amUX ATL 11.1.17
  2. 2. WHAT DOES CONTENT DESIGN EXAMINE? How content is visually presented in web or print Content prioritization and information architecture The tone and voice in which information is conveyed What information to include and exclude How content is dynamically or manually maintained over time How content is personalized for varied audiences
  3. 3. TOPICS What are some different ways of defining personas, and what is their purpose? 1 What are some different approaches out where for persona- building? 2 What are the benefits to personas? 3 How do personas fall short of their goal? 4 Real life examples of challenges assessing audiences 5 Tips on approaching effective persona- building 6
  4. 4. WHAT ARE PERSONAS? A persona is typically a concrete, detailed depiction of someone who uses your product, platform, or service — and how they use it. The depiction could take the form of a presentation, report, poster, demo, etc. Personas explore factors like a person’s goals and motivations, their struggles, how they interact with technology, and how their background shapes their decision-making.
  5. 5. HOW PERSONAS ARE USED Shaping design decisions Understanding and relating to audiences Improving how to speak to our audiences, from a marketing or UX point of view Improving processes and policies Integrating into user journey mapping Improving accessibility
  6. 6. EXAMPLES Joe was injured on the job and is eager to get back to work. This persona from the Rehabilitation Institute of Washington profiles his background, needs and goals.
  7. 7. EXAMPLES As Kerrie and her husband reach a later stage in life, home tasks are becoming more difficult—they could use some help while retaining their independence. This persona examines her perceptions of home care services, including how they may align with her goals and why she might potentially avoid the services.
  8. 8. EXAMPLES Edward is one of many people interviewed about how he consumes political information. In addition to documenting his behavior and preferences, this persona specifies a particular goal of Edward’s, and what type of design would make that goal most achievable for him.
  9. 9. METHODS FOR FORMING PERSONAS In a data-based approach, a large collection of user information gets analyzed for patterns. Then, based on patterns pulled from that data, a fictitious person is born who represents an audience’s most common features.
  10. 10. METHODS FOR FORMING PERSONAS A a real scenario approach can: ● Profile a person who completes a task within the context of the interview ● Represent someone who reflects back on a task, project or scenario during an interview ● Convey a person’s current struggles or frame of mind in relation to a scenario
  11. 11. METHODS FOR FORMING PERSONAS An audience profile takes a sampling of diverse users within a particular audience. Those users are interviewed about their motivations, preferences, lifestyle, etc. This is more general than a scenario approach, though it can encompass a theme.
  12. 12. METHODS FOR FORMING PERSONAS A two-ends-of-the-spectrum approach creates a scenario or profile of two hypothetical people based on two ends of a spectrum within an audience. For instance, a team may want to contemplate how their product would be viewed and understood by someone who rarely uses computers vs a programmer; a couple with no children vs a couple with 6; a health nut vs a Dorito connoisseur.
  13. 13. THE GOOD SIDE OF PERSONAS They help make abstract ideas feel more concrete. They can give insights into—and solve the needs of—real people. They help us solve for design problems we may not have considered. They help us see through the lens of another person, creating empathy. They challenge our assumptions.
  14. 14. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT Because there’s no exact formula or approach, personas can be sloppily done and poorly researched (or not researched at all!). Issue: This undermines the credibility of personas and can actually lead us astray when interpreting how to use them.
  15. 15. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT People are complex. Their needs, wants, reactions, and struggles can’t be summarized in a tidy little box. How someone behaves in one scenario isn’t always going to reflect how they behave and experience the next. Issue: Personas don’t always tell the whole story. They’re at risk of misleading us.
  16. 16. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT With personas, it’s nearly impossible to account for learning curves, technology advancements, and general change. People learn and adapt quickly. What someone struggles with one day could be a breeze for them the next. But your design doesn’t change that quickly. Issue: You don’t want to build an experience around something that quickly becomes irrelevant.
  17. 17. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT They can suffer from both observation bias and the observer effect. Observation bias means we see what we want to see. With the observer effect (or Hawthorne effect), people may behave differently when they’re aware they’re being observed or analyzed. Issue: This can give us inaccurate representations that we end up interpreting literally.
  18. 18. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT The paradox of personas: While they’re intended help us break outside our assumptions, they often, in return, create NEW assumptions and gross generalizations. Issue: We end up designing based on misinterpretations, under-serving our audience in return.
  19. 19. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT People often get so caught up in the presentation component of personas that they lose sight of the true intent, ignoring truths and complexities of the real-life scenario. Issue: Time, effort and resources are put into a pretty picture that that’s ultimately lacking in meaning or usefulness.
  20. 20. WHERE PERSONAS FALL SHORT We can’t truly “think” like someone else just by seeing a summary of them represented on a page or in a prototype. Yet sometimes personas have a way of giving us the confidence that we can. Issue: Overconfidence breeds unfair conclusions, false empathy, or generally missing the point.
  21. 21. REAL PERSONA CHALLENGES Home Depot: Understanding “Pros” Would an isolated “pro” persona—or small set of personas—speak to the entire pro base? Probably not. Potential solution: Segment research into 4-8 “pro” categories like painters, general contractors, remodelers, and landscapers. The challenge: “Pros” (i.e., people who shop at Home Depot for their job) make up a huge percentage of the company’s customer base. But “pro” can mean many things.
  22. 22. REAL PERSONA CHALLENGES Protravel: Understanding “Distinctive Honeymoon” Clients The challenge: A luxury travel company created a honeymoon division with its very own honeymoon registry platform. But misconceptions about the platform and brand prevented clients from signing up. Could 3-4 personas help Protravel better understand and connect with their audience, getting to the root of misconceptions? Very likely! Topics to include in persona: Phase of honeymoon planning, spending habits, tech- savviness, quotes about platform and brand perception.
  23. 23. REAL PERSONA CHALLENGES Flexdrive: Understanding Potential Drivers The challenge: A vehicle subscription service is trying to understand why so many people initially show interest in the program but don’t follow through and subscribe. Could a set of personas help Flexdrive unveil who their potential customers truly are, gaining insight into those customers’ needs and struggles? Maybe. (But it would take more than 3-4, plus follow-through!) Topics to include in persona: Current vs desired car behavior, reactions to website and app, budget behavior
  24. 24. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Avoid interpreting a single user persona as “people.” Common ways this plays out: “People don’t read text.” (Reality: They’re in the experience to gather information, but large chunks of text can feel daunting. Instead, think: How can we present this text in a friendlier way?”) “People don’t like change.” (Reality: People don’t like it when changes take away or provide obstacles to the features and design they like the most. Instead, think: How can we introduce change in a thoughtful way?)
  25. 25. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Have a “brain-clearing” session in which you honestly assess your personal (or company’s) agendas and your preconceived notions—then tuck them away for a little while. ● Am I trying to prove something with this persona? ● What assumptions do I have about people who use this product or service? ● Is there some sort of recognition I’m trying to gain?
  26. 26. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Don’t take personas too literally. Use them as a guide, or as a nugget/artifact—not gospel (e.g., “One person wants easier navigation, so we have to simplify all our navigation right away”). Allow them to open your eyes to something you may not have considered.
  27. 27. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Always consider people with barriers. Even if the persona is not focused on the person with the barrier, ask questions like: ● How would a visually-impaired or hearing-impaired person handle this? ● How would someone who struggles with reading handle this? ● Would someone with mobility issues be able to work through this? ● Would this resonate with an ESL audience?
  28. 28. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Consider the opposites. Example: This persona was from a city dweller. Would a country dweller likely have the same experience? Why or why not? Example: This persona was from someone who loves to cook. Would someone who hates to cook have the same experience? Why or why not?
  29. 29. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS When creating a presentation, include actual quotes from people—don’t rely too heavily on your interpretation of what they said. And keep the quotes in context.
  30. 30. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS When interacting with someone you’re building a persona around, create a safe, non-judgemental space. ● “Please feel like you can be as honest as possible.” ● “It’s okay to change your mind or give information that feels conflicting. That’s normal!” ● “If you share something and decide you’d prefer for it to be confidential, no problem. Just let me know.” ● “If you don’t like the product, you won’t hurt my feelings. I’m here to learn!”
  31. 31. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS Create personas that are specific to your industry or point of focus, rather than using a generic template.
  32. 32. ADVICE FOR CREATING MEANINGFUL PERSONAS If it comes too easy, you might not be approaching it “right.” Meaningful personas require careful effort to prepare and internalize. They provoke honest reflection. They sometimes reveal things that you don’t want to hear.
  33. 33. LET’S CONNECT! Kelly Robinson