Do You Know Your Users?

Persona-Based Design for the Enterprise by:   |  Posted on

You think you’re just like everyone else. You think your thoughts, opinions, values, and habits are just the same as other people. Psychology calls this the false consensus bias1 because we assume much more commonality than reality warrants.

False consensus bias contributes to making bad decisions when we design software.

Alan Cooper noted this type of bias while wondering why otherwise smart, talented people often created such crappy software. He invented the persona-based design methodology to help facilitate insight into a product’s users and remove the designer’s bias. He wrote about the method in his seminal 1998 book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum.2

Have you ever heard anyone on your team say, “what if the customer wanted [some feature]?” Cooper used the term “the elastic user” to reference this shape-shifting, need-changing user who encompasses all edge cases. Good decisions can’t come from elastic users.

Imagine hotel software that is supposed to be suited for a hotel accountant, a front desk agent, and a retail worker in the hotel gift shop. The accountant is heads down in numbers and needs to focus. The front desk agent needs to be able to smoothly switch tasks and be friendly and helpful when guests walk in. And the retail worker may not be in front of a computer at all. Personas can help designers understand the nuances and needs of these different types of workers and create software that fits with their needs. Continue reading Do You Know Your Users?

The Story’s the Thing

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This is an excerpt from “UX Storytellers” :http://uxstorytellers.blogspot.com. If you enjoy it, consider getting the kindle edition of UX Storytellers – Connecting the Dots with all the stories!

Here’s something I believe in: Stories are what make us human. Opposable thumbs? Other animals have those. Ability to use tools? Ditto. Even language is not exclusive to human beings.

From my amateur reading of science, the story behind our stories goes something like this: the human brain evolved with an uncanny knack to recognize and create patterns; and through some strange twist of natural selection, gradually over millions of years, our brains started turning the incredible power of that pattern-making machinery on ourselves, until we became self-aware.

Aware of ourselves—our own faces, bodies, journeys, homes, children, tools, and everything else around us. Over eons, we went from being creatures that lived in each moment as it came and went, to protagonists in our own myths. Everything in our midst became the material for making stories, strands of moments woven into tapestries that we call things like “nation”, “family,” “love” or “discovery.”

And “design.” Because design is, ultimately, a story we make. And designing is an act of weaving a new story into an existing fabric in such a way that it makes it stronger, better, or at least more interesting, and hopefully more delightful. Continue reading The Story’s the Thing

Personas and the Role of Design Documentation

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I’d seen hard work on personas delivered in documentation to others downstream, where they were discussed for a little while during a kick-off meeting, and then hardly ever heard from again.

In User Experience Design circles, personas have become part of our established orthodoxy. And, as with anything orthodox, some people disagree on what personas are and the value they bring to design, and some reject the doctrine entirely.

I have to admit, for a long time I wasn’t much of a believer. Of course I believed in understanding users as well as possible through rigorous observation and analysis; I just felt that going to the trouble of “creating a persona” was often wasted effort. Why? Because most of the personas I’d seen didn’t seem like real people as much as caricatured wishful thinking.

Even the personas that really tried to convey the richness of a real user were often assimilated into market-segment profiles — smiling, airbrushed customers that just happened to align with business goals. I’d see meeting-room walls and PowerPoint decks decorated with these fictive apparitions. I’m ashamed to say, even I often gave in to the illusion that these people — like the doe-eyed “live callers” on adult phone-chat commercials — just couldn’t wait for whatever we had to offer.

More often than not, though, I’d seen hard work on personas delivered in documentation to others downstream, where they were discussed for a little while during a kick-off meeting, and then hardly ever heard from again.

Whenever orthodoxy seems to be going awry, you can either reject it, or try to understand it in a new light. And one way to do the latter is to look into its history and understand where it came from to begin with — as is the case with so much dogma, there is often a great original idea that, over time, became codified into ritual, losing much of the original context. Continue reading Personas and the Role of Design Documentation

Building a Data-Backed Persona

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Incorporating the voice of the user into user experience design by using personas in the design process is no longer the latest and greatest new practice. Everyone is doing it these days, and with good reason. Using personas in the design process helps focus the design team’s attention and efforts on the needs and challenges of realistic users, which in turn helps the team develop a more usable finished design. While completely imaginary personas will do, it seems only logical that personas based upon real user data will do better. Web analytics can provide a helpful starting point to generate data-backed personas; this article presents an informal 5-step process for building a “persona of the people.” Continue reading Building a Data-Backed Persona