Personas in User Experience Design

Personas in User Experience design should always be referred to by name as if they are real people. If you start talking about them and identifying them by their role, you are no longer doing persona-based user interface design!

Back when Alan Cooper first wrote, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, I had an opportunity to work with his agency. I brought them in to help me on a project for a company called Estamp.

In a nutshell, persona-based design means you’re designing for real people. Cooper’s methods have you coming up with specific users with names, occupations, desires, goals, motivations, education, etc.

Using personas is supposed to get the design team thinking about real people rather than theoretical “users.” Every design decision should be brought back to Susan, Bill, Sara, or John. There are no generic “users.”

Curiously, when used well, this method can result in some brilliant design. By designing for specific people, theoretical users end up happier. (Go figure!)

Long ago, I tried to introduce persona based design to various companies, and it was met with skepticism and it was nearly impossible to get buy-in.

Now? Persona based design is a big buzzword. Most companies want it. And many of them even think they’re doing it!

Yet what I’ve seen is that personas creep back to theoretical users, no matter how much effort is put in to preventing that from happening. But instead of the user being called a user, they end up named by their demographic or occupation or some related bit of information.

I’m not sure this buys you anything beyond designing for a theoretical user.

Although, If you’re doing role-based design, and you’ve given a half thought to what the persona would be like, perhaps you’re getting some of the benefit of persona-based design.

Do you use persona-based design? Do your personas become vibrant, living, breathing folks? Or do they creep back to theoretical users?

Leave a Comment