Elizabeth Bacon’s “Death to Personas! Long Live Personas!” presentation

Elizabeth Bacon — Chief Design Officer of Devise, IxDA Vice President and Director — presented a webinar thru Catalyze called “Death to Personas! Long Live Personas!“:  Personas are way of describing users as fictitious individuals. As the use of personas has spread, however, they have encountered criticism.

This presentation tackles some common concerns about personas, including whether they are: fluffy; expensive to create; non-actionable; limiting; or counterproductive for innovation; some of these misconceptions are addressed and best practices are shared for leveraging personas during the research and design process.

Here is the full set of questions posed by attendees, with answers provided by Elizabeth Bacon:

[Q] Are there generic personas available for designers (web beginner, cardiologist, small business owner, etc)?

[Liz] I’m not aware of any resources for ‘generic personas’ and I’m definitely ambivalent about the concept. Although there are some widely-shared behaviors and qualities of people that get captured with personas, particularly with respect to consumer-oriented design problems, it is very important that personas be researched and created within the context of a specific domain. You don’t necessarily need a very specific design problem (for I have found that personas often have longevity above and beyond the initial project scope), but you really do want to focus your field research within a particular domain in order to identify and capture the most pertinent patterns of behaviors and human qualities that are needed for design.

[Q] Can you describe how personas and use case actors differs? Seems like they are very similar.

[Liz] My deepest experience with use case actors was in the context of an employer’s application of Alistair Cockburn’s use case methods. Although the use case model created in this environment was able to absorb the idea that a given Actor was an Electrophysiologist persona named Dr. Langston, or a Sales Rep persona named Brad Shore, there was no room in the use case documents themselves for the biography or other humanizing aspects of the personas that were so important for design decisions. However, if you can imbue use case actors with the key qualities of personas (i.e., behaviors, attitudes & goals) then more power to you! Go forth with richer, human use case actors that improve the whole team’s efforts!

[Q] How do you educate the team on the difference between user personas and marketing/buyer personas?

[Liz] There’s been lots of discussion lately about buyer personas, which is a marketing-oriented type of persona. It seems direct enough to state: the buyer persona will be purchasing the product while the user persona will be using the product, and these two people are not always the same person. Perhaps the latter point is most difficult to convey, especially if your marketing team works diligently to characterize their buyers but the engineering team may not have the same focus on characterizing their users. If your marketing department has had success with applying buyer personas in defining their product messaging, then probably this success could be a helpful wedge to introduce the idea of researching and developing *user* personas for the purpose of defining products.

Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as Lead Product Design Strategist at SAP and promotes User Experience Design as visiting lecturer at Köln International School of Design. Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar Medeiros has helped truly global companies in several countries (Argentina, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, United Arab Emirates, United States) create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he championed the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai

3 Responses

  1. Ben Waugh says:

    Where did you get your blog layout from? I’d like to get one like it for my blog.

  2. Hi Itamar,

    Thanks so much for sharing this personas presentation around! How are personas working in your practice? Do you see these criticisms from clients, or other colleagues?

    Best,
    Liz

  1. October 29, 2008

    […] Although there are some widely-shared behaviors and qualities of people that get captured with personas, particularly with respect to consumer-oriented design problems, it is very important that personas be researched and created within … Elizabeth Bacon’s “Death to Personas! Long Live Personas … […]

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