Sunday, October 16, 2005


why personas don't gell

Personas can potentially address many aspects of users. Each of these facets may be important to how users relate to an interactive design. But often, these facets just don't cluster around common themes, despite our desire to group everyone into a few easily digested categories. The essential problem with the persona concept is that attributes of users don't predictably co-vary with each other.

There is no common definition of what comprises a persona. Here is my own, non-exhaustive list of persona attributes that occurred to me today. You may dismiss some, or more likely, have more of your own to add. Users can be different in many ways:






Even this short list highlights how many variables can exist within a user. These variables may be interrelated. Experience can affect motivation, and vice versa. Motivation can affect goals, and so on. But just because factors can be interrelated doesn't mean they occur together in predictable ways. Sometimes they do: teenagers are likely to have little experience with investing and also have a low motivation to worry about retirement. But my experience has been that opportunities for such stereotyping is limited, and is often not even interesting.

People are complex, and becoming more complex all the time. Imagine a persona for an employee in an organization. Perhaps twenty years ago one could safely make stereotypes about certain employees. Worker responsibilities were clearly defined, workers were recruited from homogeneous pool of applicants, and people's experience was safely defined by the number of years they had at a company. Today, workers may be doing any number of tasks (roles?), have had few or many jobs previously (which could affect motivation or experience any number of ways), be on short term contract (motivation?), be of an indeterminate age (experience?), and not really be molded by the company culture they operate in (personality?). A similar blurring of identity is evident in personal lives as well.

There are simply too many variables to consider in personas to allow them to cluster around five or six personas in a tidy fashion. (Most people consider five or six the maximum number of personas that can be comprehended easily -- unless you are into Dostoyevsky.) Another problem: two personas may be nearly identical, except for a key difference on one variable. By discussing the persona as a "whole person" (even if fictional), it becomes difficult to see the one difference between two people when the discussion is about the person instead of the attribute. The temptation exists to try to make the two people different in other ways, to exaggerate their difference.

I can see uses for personas, and I have been told by others they have had success using them. But I urge restraint. The technique can gained popularity without much critical examination.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?