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Personas – valuable tool or a waste of time?

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Sophie addressed the love hate relationship that most UX’ers have with Personas (for good reasons) and took us through the common pitfalls that cause them to fail. She gave advice, tips and industry examples, that could help turn a hate relationship with personas into a love-affair.

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Personas – valuable tool or a waste of time?

  1. 1. Personas – Valuable tool or waste of time By Sophie Bo Schmidt, Sociologist and UX Researcher eXperience Design Brisbane - 21st February 2018
  2. 2. So…. What are they? Personas are fictional, yet realistic, descriptions of the target users of your product or service.
  3. 3. Fail #1: You talk about different things
  4. 4. Fail #2: You think personas can solve all your problems
  5. 5. What are the attitudes, goals, values that guide our users? What is their problem space? Personas are great for some things…
  6. 6. What makes people buy a new product? Forces diagram: Model of behavior change
  7. 7. What is the end to end user experience of a service? Customer Journey Map: End-to-end experience
  8. 8. What content and features are users seeking? User requirements/stories
  9. 9. Fail #3: You don’t do research
  10. 10. Photo/illustration Sliders e.g. be personality/thinking style/behavior Description What characterizes her and her main problem space? Name/type Influencers Who/what influences her decision making? Brand perception How does your persona see your brand? Goals What is your persona trying to achieve on a functional, social and personal level? “Quote, that highlights the essence of the persona” Sources Where does she get her information from? Frustrations (push) What are the painpoints your persona experience with current situation? Gains (pull) What is attracting her to a new solution? Inertia What are the habits, that makes the persona resistant to change? Routines/behaviours Highlight relevant routines – e.g. a specific consultation Environment What is the context of the environment in which they work or operate? Tech use and attitude What is her technology or devices do they use? Role Title, responsibilities, level of authority, relationships Familiarity Experience and familiarity with the system Anxiety Her worries about new solution/changing behaviour?
  11. 11. Fail #4: You do the wrong kind of research
  12. 12. Fail #5: You struggle turning your data into meaningful personas
  13. 13. Fail #6: You don’t involve other people in the process
  14. 14. Creating personas as a team Sense making workshop
  15. 15. Fail #7: You take them too literally
  16. 16. Fail #8: You don’t know how to use them
  17. 17. Fail #9: You don’t test
  18. 18. So… Are personas a valuable tool or waste of time?
  19. 19. • Form a shared idea of what personas are and how you will use them • Use additional artefacts if needed • Leave the desk and talk to users • Be the scientist and the storyteller • Get people in the organisation involved • Use them in hands on sessions • Test your solutions Then they will be a valuable tool!
  20. 20. For more information: Sophie Schmidt www.peakxd.com.au sophies@peakxd.com.au Level 2, North Tower 10 Browning St, West End QLD 4101 PO Box 3141, South Brisbane 4101 Phone: 07 3129 7070

Editor's Notes

  • Slide 1: Personas – Valuable tool or waste of time
  • Slide 2: So…what are they?
    They are fictional, yet realistic descriptions of a typical or target user of a product or service
    Invented by Alan Cooper in 1998 (to build software for people, not what developers think)
    Since then, have been loved and hated (for good reasons)
    I personally love them: makes research come to life – keep discussions focused around user needs instead of opinions
    Understandable why they are hated. Lots of poor examples of Zombie personas.
    Will walk through some common fails and show how you can avoid these pitfalls.
  • Slide 3: Fail #1 - You talk about different things
    We have talked about creating personas – and this is how you start the process
    Maybe initially, you don’t realize that different people want different things from personas – we’ve noticed this
    Marketing (campaigns), designers (new features), sales (leads to sales), PM (shared idea of users), Content creators (who am I communicating with?).
    Set yourself up for failure if you assume that everyone has the same idea of what a persona is.
    Even though it can seem trivial – Important to get a shared idea of what they are, how you create them and how you’ll use them.
  • Slide 4: Fail #2 - You think personas can solve all your problems
    Would be great if personas were unicorns.
    If they alone could answer all your research questions you have about your users
    Wouldn’t it be great if all the different departmental needs could be satisfied by this artefact
    They most likely can’t be, so remember: you can always complement your personas with other artefacts.
  • Slide 5: Personas are great for some things…
    Good for insights into attitudes, motivations and defining the problem space – doesn’t matter if you’re in marketing & development
    Adding other artefacts can pinpoint specific/other aspects of the user experience
  • Slide 6: Forces diagram: Model of behaviour change (JTBD framework)
    This process looks at what factors are driving people to change a behavior, purchase a product, shift from one product to another.
    This diagram could easily complement each persona – highlighting how this persona would be inclined to switch to/buy your product
  • Slide 7: Customer Journey Map – End to end experience
    Personas are a snapshot of your users – not what they are doing, but experiencing in a process.
    Incorporate personas into journey maps helps to communicate the process they go through
  • Slide 8: User requirements/stories
    Turn research into user requirements or user stories (either high level or more detailed/functional)
    Translating user needs into more features, content, product specific stories
    Often the same user research data can be re-purposed – into different artefacts.
  • Slide 9: Fail #3: You don’t do research
    Your personas are only as good as the research that went into creating them
    Personas are not hypothetical – they should be based on field studies amongst real users
    Don’t download ready-made persona templates from Google (even though they are pretty and well designed)
    are only as good as the research that went into them.
    Personas are not hypothetical – they are derived from exhaustive, expert field studies (this was also one of Alan Coopers points back in 98).

    Without research, your personas will just be a reflection of your assumptions. So we can’t recommend downloading one of the thousands of ready made persona templates from Google, get people from the business together in a room to fill them out – I wouldn’t call them personas.
    Basing your future strategy or new product on assumptive personas that are flawed – stating problems that you THINK your customers have – instead of uncovering them through research… that’s a strategy we will talk you out of at any time 
    Creating personas is a problem finding process, it is about exploring what problems your users are actually faced with, what drives them, what excites them, what they are going through… getting a feeling of who they are! That is what you need in order to come up with the right solutions – whether it’s design, marketing or content.


  • Slide 10: Persona
    Try to consider which insights about your customers you need for your project.
    Guide with possible elements – which of these might help you understand your users – in relation to your product (if designing a transport app, the commuting routine is relevant)
    Build your interview guide based on the elements
    Make sure you cover these in your conversations with users
    Value starts with a good research approach
  • Slide 11: Fail #4 - You do the wrong research
    Creating personas is a learning process, getting under the skin of your users.
    Attitudes, reasoning, motivations, excitement - trying to get those deep insights
    Interviews and observations are the best way to understand people
    Don’t be afraid to get away from the numbers on the screen and instead talk to real users!
  • Slide 12: Fail #5 - You struggle turning your data into meaningful personas
    It is terrifying having lots of research data, so much so that you might focus on the wrong things (demographics, pictures and format)
    Remember: state things that make you understand the users’ attitudes, not their demographics.
    50% science 50% art: Be the scientist and be the storyteller
  • Slide 13: Fail #6 – You don’t involve other people in the process
    Lack of organisational learning in the process
    Involvement: Better chances of user centered discussion (not opinions)
    Better chance of good use afterwards
    The more engagement (understanding and empathy) created in the process the better
  • Slide 14: Creating personas as a team
    Genie Solutions – a medical software company.
    Guided them in the persona making process
    They were a diverse team - they executed the research themselves (through interviews, talking to the customer support facing staff, emails)
    Conducted a sense making workshop: made sense of the research as a team.
    Pulled out findings from each interview related to the aspects they wanted to cover (goals, motivations, routines, environment, attitudes towards risk etc..)
    Found differentiators and common traits, and used these to craft personas
    Great discussion about users: engagement, understanding and empathy.
    Learning during the process is just as important as the final personas
  • Slide 15: Fail #7 - You take them too literally
    Once you put your personas to use, don’t take them too literally
    There should be enough detail in them to help them come alive
    But when you use them, try to focus on the idea that they are conveying rather that their specific demographic etc.
    Make sure the whole team understands that they need to loosen up a bit and see the bigger picture.
  • Slide 16: Trap#8 - You don’t know how to use them.
    I have seen and made these mistakes myself! Having picture perfect personas - seems like a great idea to put them up on the wall for people to see
    Seeing is not enough. Have to use them hands on!
    Some examples of good use:
    Workshops with stakeholders – this is a fast way to share understanding of user goals
    Design sessions – designing for specific somebodies rather than generic everybody
    Recruit and test with users
    Keep discussions focused on user needs, not opinions.
    Ideally, you know what you will be using them for before you even build them. The more specific and relevant to the project, the better the results!
    Here are some examples of how we and the clients we work with use them.

    Co-creation sessions – a fast way to get everyone on top of the research. People don’t have time for reports.
    Working on a project with other agencies (marketing, SEO) – fuels the discussions.
    How to recruit representative users for testing
    Design sprints – focus on a user – design for a specific somebody
    Write scenarios for design inspiration and usability-test tasks
    Requirements – specify which type of users would benefit from each feature/content piece
    Discussions with personas as user-data references.
    Rationale for design choices – use them to see the benefits. This imperative for communication.
  • Slide 17: Fail #9: You don’t test
    You’ve done your personas and have begun using them to craft new solutions
    But the designs are still not validated, just best guesses that we want to validate
    Don’t know how they will perform with real users.
    So remember: always test your designs!
  • Slide 18: So… Are personas a valuable tool or waste of time?
  • Slide 19: Are you prepared to:
    Form a shared idea of what personas are and how you will use them
    Use additional artefacts if needed
    Leave the desk and talk to users
    Be the scientist and the storyteller
    Get people in the organisation involved
    Use them in hands on sessions
    Test your solutions
  • Slide 20: Thank you
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