Why personas matter and how to utilise ...

I do not know whether you know it, but a lot of creative people and colleagues doesn’t like or work with personas. And several people say personas are just a trend or whim in the design industry and or design history.
I would like to make two points very clear …
… Personas are well known and used since decades
… Personas are powerful tools - but it isn’t a must for each project
The intention of a persona is to help you and the whole design team makes decisions about user guidance, utility, usability, design and appearance – personas can help you at quite a lot of levels of design and phases of your project.
Clear communication within the project and development team and between the developers and clients is a crucial factor in the development process - and it’s often the key to the success of any project.

No matter how you call the organization of data and knowledge of users and customers, without it the project team works with a collection of ideas and thoughts out of context and makes conclusions without a good basis. All too often these design conclusions are pure flukes.
Time and time again I recognized that individual team members, groups or whole teams do not know whether specific and multipart design decisions were limited to particular kinds of users, customers or their intentions, interests and goals.

I would like to emphasize that empathy is important and not to be underestimated. Empathy is something that has to happen within the person designing, but it’s not something you can make someone feel through generalization (Man or Women, knowledge, experience, preferences, boredom, likes and dislikes, needs, goals, etc.). Be that as it may, personas strength designers getting into the right mindset for design.

By providing and working with good methods and approaches, we can identify values, goals and main concerns that support and smooth the progress of decision making, not confine or restrict it.

I wrote in my article (UXP isn’t a one man show) on boxes and arrows that I firmly believe personas are a powerful method throughout the whole design process. Depending on personas we can formulate, discuss and prove scenarios – up from the very beginning of the project, during the project and as check or analysis at the end of the project.

By some examples I’ll show you where and how you can use personas during the development process.

>> Original image on boxes and arrows

Basics-strategy phase
During the basics-strategy phase you should develop our personas and afterwards they will support your deliverables and your decisions during your upcoming steps.
When evaluating, estimating and comparing the content, features and functions, you should use personas as judge and guideline. During the analysis and study of competitors you can check how the competitive sites, products and processes fulfill the expectation and needs of the same persons with the same roles.
The analysis of potentials and the concept model needs to concentrate on all the content and utility available by the product and or application, and must therefore demonstrate that it can assist and support all requirements of the individual user.
At this point I like to put emphasis on the fact that as long we work on a and with high-level documents the approach have to have more or less direct relationship to the personas

Concept and design phase
Personas have an effect on the design process, important criteria and exchange of ideas about concept and design by reminding team members and stakeholders of the users’ needs and requirements. And by these dialogue personas supports and improves from the very first step to the screen design and development in so many ways and levels.
If we link and connect personas to sitemaps and to flowcharts, it shows, on the one hand, how different areas of the information structure take care of the different user groups and, on the other hand, how user’s goals and needs correlate with information areas and their contacts and interaction.
Personas help IAs, UXPs, Interaction designers and screen designers to put themselves in users’ shoes and influence mockups, wireframes, screen structures and screen design.

Usability and Testing
Depending on the manner and method of your usability tests, you can use the scenarios, goals and needs described in the personas as starting point and basis. You can use personas as “imaginary participants” to make usability tests during early process phases.
Personas have the potential to be of assistance identifying a plan for recruiting participants in the usability test. You can incorporate the personas in the test plan by describing how you’ll represent each type of user in the test.

Presentation and Reports
Your presentations and reports can be structured, explained and exemplified by personas.

Final words …
To organize your research and development process you should have several ways and tools in your repertoire / your “tool-box”. As I said … it should be clear that personas are only one technique / procedure of organizing your researches - other methods include user profiles, user scenarios, mental models, and simple storytelling. Many design teams have their own way of organizing and summarizing their research data. It’s up to you and to them whether are personas are a good user-centered design tool for your task and project. It should be clear that personas aren’t suited to every situation (client, product, budget, timeline, etc.).

Personas aren’t the Holy Grail – but it’s one of the most powerful methods for user experience (UXD and UXP) and user centered design (UCD).