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.

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