UI15: Developing Successful Personas

by November 10, 2010

In her Six Rules and a Myth: The Secrets to Developing Successful Personas Innovation presentation at the User Interface 15 conference in Boston MA, Tamara Adlin outlined a set of practical ways to align stakeholder, developers, and designers using personas. Here are my notes from her talk:

  • On a typical project, lots things happen before a user experience designer is brought in: idea, pitch, fund raising, traction, programming, etc.
  • When the user experience professional does get involved, they tend to be whiny: we have all this great data, why aren’t they using it, why don’t they listen to us, etc. Frankly this makes user experience professionals pretty unusable. Lengthy reports that ultimately bore the audience are not very useful to business leaders and clients. The more you whine, the less likely you are to get things done.
  • As a user experience professional, job one for you is getting the right team together, figuring out what to do and why, creating goals, and figuring out how to meet those goals. Your goals are the goals of the business not of the user experience profession.
  • The truth is most bad user experiences are caused because companies are confused. They don’t have their goals clearly articulated and as a result, can’t make decisions.

Clarity Over Data

  • The big myth: if you don’t have data, personas are useless. This is completely false. We’re not sending people to the moon. We’re helping them with common everyday tasks like banking, cooking, or finding information.
  • You should be aiming for clarity-driven not data-driven personas. Clarity is much more political then data.
  • Data helps to cause many problems in business because data is always looking behind you. How does that help with creativity and what’s going to happen next?
  • Alignment works wonders –if you can help people get aligned. You are in much better shape then you were before.vAd-hoc personas can help get you there.
  • Personas are hypothetical archetypes of actual users. Defined with significant rigor and precision. They are not customer or market segmentations.
  • Personas are a tool for expressing business clarity and focus.

Six Rules of Successful Personas

  • Rule one: If you don’t have clear goals, the persona effort can’t work.
  • Dirty little secret: no one knows what the company’s goals are. So be the first to take a stab at defining them. Don’t be afraid to be the one asking questions. Once things get written down –they begin to add clarity.
  • This is a political, psychological problem. You can’t go to executives and accuse them of not knowing business goals. But you can ask for their help to get them documented.
  • Company goals consist of: top three business objectives; top three brand objectives; and clear, defensible differentiators & value propositions.
  • Rule two: You need to get executives involved very early on. The executives are the ones who have to push personas through the company. If the execs are not involved you’ll be harassed with questions that dilute the persona effort.
  • Ad-hoc personas are like data-driven personas but: they are created by collaborating with execs & before you collect data; they are a focus & communication tool; they are prioritized against business goals.
  • Rule three: you must align the personas with business and brand goals.
  • You can collaboratively prioritize personas by distributing points and asking questions like “If we don’t make ______ ridiculously happy, we’ve failed.
  • Rule four: invoke personas to deal with feature madness.
  • The persona-weighted feature matrix: which persona will love which feature? Which will think it is expected? Who will not be affected and who will hate it.
  • Rule five: remind everyone that the priority came from the executives.
  • Taking the matrix further: you have feature priorities, based on persona priorities, which are based on business and brand goals, which are approved by execs. Map these on an axis of what is easy vs. hard and medium vs. high impact. This helps you manage communication with developers.
  • Rule number 6: create stories, not solutions.
  • Personas are the characters –now tell the stories. Focus on end-to-end narratives not little snippets.