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?