Experience Design

Shorcuts to Personas – what works?

Personas are incredibly helpful at informing project teams because they are powerful mnemonics for large amounts of data. They combine our ability to perceive and recognize other human faces and our ability to remember stories in a light, accessible document. Personas are based on deep research of the users through interviews, observations, and other reliable sources of data.
The reality is that we don’t always have the luxury of being able to conduct the research to create a persona. What can we do?

When the time and effort required to create Personas is not an option, I advocate creating “Profiles.”  Profiles include basic information about the target user and are based on both assumptions and some research. More importantly, they can be created quickly, even through brainstorming sessions. Profiles can be considered a pre-persona stage of the research process. I make sure they are clearly visibly different from any existing Personas and work with the team to understand the difference.
During a discussion on Twitter last week @saraford asked my opinion on a blog entry on ZURBlog titled “Using TV to Create Customer Profiles” and I was taken aback at first. I love the TV show GLEE  and here were the characters being proposed as Profiles (thankfully not as Personas). The blog stated that the TV based Profiles purpose was to “tell the story of users who have real problems, goals, and desires, so their traits and behaviors ultimately affect the designs and interactions of the product.”  That sounded reasonable enough.
So I asked myself “how much different from the Profiles I create are these?” Mine are based on assumptions and brainstorming sessions with stakeholders that may not have much more than educated guesses to go on. These TV based Profiles are based on not-so-stereotypical teenagers on a TV show. Both leave a lot of questions unanswered and both are based on unconfirmed information.
Well then, why not use TV characters?
The TV based Profiles have additional “baggage” that is brought with them. Not only is there the on-screen life of the character to consider, but there can be added complications with their off-screen real-life antics. Additionally, while we cannot know the future for anyone, TV characters have an odd way of being very unpredictable and their story line may be a big distraction to the team.
I can see using TV based Profiles as a jumping off point. A way to at least start the conversation about the users. It sounds like a fun activity. What do you think?
If I was on a project with these TV based Profiles, I would move to anonymous images and descriptions as quickly as possible. That way any unintended consequences could be avoided. Once the project was moving forward and as time allowed for more research those Profiles could be turned into Personas that would be truly helpful to the team.

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Carol Smith

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