Do You Know Your Users?

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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

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

Long Live the User (Persona): Talking with Steve Mulder

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“Whether you’re designing tax forms, toasters, or retirement accounts, taking time to describe who your users are and what they need can always be helpful for creating a product that will best serve them.”

You’ve tried it all. User personas as posters, ala Alan Cooper, hanging on the office walls. User personas as cardboard cutouts, sitting at the conference table with you and your client. User personas as glossy deliverables. As paper mâché projects. As collages, comics, mood boards, Word documents, lists, charts, and just regular conversations.

Through all your attempts to bring user personas into your project, one thing remains consistent: user personas are hard to get right. And even if you get them right, they’re even more difficult to integrate into your day-to-day process.

Steve Mulder, user persona aficionado, has some suggestions. A whole book of them, in fact. That’s why Boxes and Arrows needed to interview him after getting a preview of his new book, The User is Always Right, late last year. Steve’s been kind enough to talk with us and to provide us with a free sample chapter below. Continue reading Long Live the User (Persona): Talking with Steve Mulder

Bring Your Personas to Life!

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“So you’ve got your persona set all neatly defined and documented. Now what? How can you ensure the persona isn’t ‘just another deliverable?’”

Most user-centered design (UCD) companies create personas (profiles of representative users) to guide their designs. To do UCD, you need to get the “U” in focus right from the start. So you’ve got your persona set all neatly defined and documented. Now what? How can you ensure the persona isn’t “just another deliverable?” Continue reading Bring Your Personas to Life!

Customer Storytelling at the Heart of Business Success

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“Personas and scenarios tell honest stories that are sculpted from diverse and comprehensive sets of data.”

Executive Summary

As most of us know by now, customer personas and scenarios are vehicles for helping an organization continuously keep their customers in their line of sight. Traditional segmentation identifies and categorizes a current or potential audience based upon common characteristics, including demographics, attitudes, behavior, transactions, frequency of interaction, spend, and more. They are discovered by “doing the math,” which may include data aggregation, cluster analysis, factor analysis, and other statistical methods applied to large sample sets. And then segments are given catchy names like Savvy Skeptics, Active Balancers, Indulgent Nutritionist, or Trade-Uppers. When done right, segments are statistically derived from the analysis and synthesis of quantitative data and are a solid foundation for customer understanding. Continue reading Customer Storytelling at the Heart of Business Success

Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design

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“Alan Cooper popularized personas as a valuable design tool, but many people who adopted them failed to take into account the context of Cooper’s practice, which had fairly specific needs.”

How can something that feels so right be so wrong? Personas ought to be one of the defining techniques in user-focused design. Lots of professionals create them, yet too often the personas end up being too vague to guide a product’s focus. They often lack the detail to be useful in guiding low-level design trade-offs. And, as typically done, personas have been too narrowly focused. They often aren’t helpful in identifying the information a user needs or creates. Nor do they have much to say about the sensory and emotional aspects of user experience–the sorts of factors that cause consumers to lust after products like Apple’s iPod.

As a result, personas have unfortunately become more of a check-off item than a useful tool, and many personas get put on the shelf once they are written. So how did we get here? Continue reading Making Personas More Powerful: Details to Drive Strategic and Tactical Design

Extending a Technique: Group Personas

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Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Kirk: “Or the one.”

–Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

I recently had the pleasure of teaching a workshop on applying user-centered design methods to personal technology design in a European amusement park.

The workshop started out typically. We interviewed company management, mapped out the goals of the company, the context in which the project was being done and collected information about how people currently behaved in the park. We then identified several classes of users, created personas for them, and started creating scenarios using these personas.

Initially, the workshop progressed about as it would if we were going to be designing a piece of desktop software or a website, but the minute we started developing personas and scenarios, the unique nature of the park started to become clear. Continue reading Extending a Technique: Group Personas