What really matters in a persona?

susan-weinschenkIn June Susan Weinschenk guest starred at a J. Boye group meeting in Copenhagen and shared some of the typical mistakes often made when working with personas. These include:

  • they are created based on job role
  • there are high-level personas for customers
  • personas describe variables (age, income, and so on) that are not critical for the project at hand.

Susan Weinschenk is a US-based behavioural psychologist, who has published several books including How To Get People To Do Stuff and 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. I asked her to elaborate and she generously agreed to share some of her insights on the topic.

How to do personas right

According to Susan, to have an effective persona you have to look at the people who are actually going to use the particular product or service you are working on — and those people may be different from your “usual” target audience.

For example, you may be interested in a different geography or age or customers who have more or less experience with the subject matter than usual.

So don’t just use personas you’ve used before or those that someone in marketing research did for you. You have to ask:

  • Who is my target audience for this project/product?
  • What are the critical variables to describe them,  which are relevant for my project or product; depending on what you are working on, this might be any number of things. Don’t just use “typical” variables. It may make no difference to YOUR project how old someone is, whether they are married and so on. What are the variables that are relevant to your project?

What are the different personas on those variables? Are there differences among the critical variables you have identified? If so, then those define your personas.

In her work, Susan has found that each project often has different personas than another project for the same company. This is because the particular product she is designing is for a specific subset, so she has to redefine that with new personas.

The key question behind a good persona

Do I know who I am designing for? And how many different groups am I designing for? How do they differ? How are they the same? Which one is the most important? If you can answer these questions, you are on the right track according to Susan.

One more thing: Don’t forget unconscious and emotional variables too… their self-story, their fears, what will motivate them; not just “demographic” variables, but “psychographic” ones too.

New perspectives and new possibilities

From time to time we invite industry experts to join J. Boye peer groups to share their experiences and expertise and to have an open, unscripted and confidential conversation with the group.  If you think this sounds interesting, you should check out the benefits of joining.

The entire J. Boye community has a get-together in Aarhus, Denmark in November for the annual international J. Boye conference. Here you can meet peers and expand your network. This year you’ll find a packed program, including a dedicated user experience conference track.

Inconvenient truths about agencies

If you have worked in the industry for a while, you are bound to have come across a few failed digital projects led by various agencies. To be fair, it doesn’t always turn out this way, but failed projects are not rare. So, what should you know before you get started?

Agencies offer services for strategic, creative and technical development of digital offerings, which can include graphic design, SEO, CMS implementation and much more. In the J. Boye groups members use many different agencies, most of which consider themselves industry thought-leaders various ways – rightly or wrongly.

Here’s how you get the most out of working with an agency:

  • You may only hear of the miserable failures, but the agencies would not have grown and remained in the marketplace had they merely produced failures. Talk to references.
  • There are very few established best practices. Agencies themselves don’t agree on much and if you ask them to do a project, they will each propose very different solutions with significant differences in their methodologies. In general you should never tell an agency how you want things done, but rather focus on what you want. When dealing with agencies, be open to some alternative solutions and make sure to communicate regularly with the agency, even though it takes time.
  • You will need good project management at your end, even though agencies would gladly sell that service to you. Without good project management on your side of the table, how would you control the direction and avoid risk and unpleasant surprises?
  • An important factor is your relationship with the agency team — and not necessarily impressive resumes. Almost every agency has some very smart people working for them.
  • You will not become a key account unless you continually buy many different services (e.g. creative work, strategic work and technical work). Even big spenders that only buy creative work, or only buy technical work, will not be treated as a key account.
  • Most agencies have a handful of customers that make up the vast majority of their revenue. Some of the biggest agencies have individual customers that make up more than 20 % of their revenue. This means that if a very big customer leaves, you might be able to get some fresh talent onto your agency team, but the agency might actually be in big trouble.

There are no safe choices, even among the largest agencies. Do you have any additional truths to share?