The User Persona was presented to our class as an industry tool to be used at all times. Being the newbies we were, we never questioned their high position in the hierarchy of ux tools so it was a great surprise to me when a good friend of mine (a UX Researcher) and her husband (CEO of Optimal Workshop), were the first to caution me about overusing the User Persona. It didn’t take much for me to become aligned to their way of thinking.
If you’re new to UX yourself, let me give a short synopsis of what the User Persona is and why they’re used: A User Persona is a fictitious person that has been created using the data from the user research. The person is given a face (via stock photos), a name and a number of other characteristics such as age, family, education, job, salary, hobbies, personality type, and the list goes on. The User Persona has pain points, predetermined mental modes based on current technology used, and a daily schedule with opportune moments to use the product being designed. It can be seen then that the creation of this person allows the designers to keep the users’ wants and needs front and centre of the design process.
So, why should we use restraint when creating User Personas when they can be so useful? Well, when you read the previous paragraph did the idea of creating such an exhaustive Persona tire you? Did you consider the time, and thus money, spent on creating a fictitious person that represents only a small slice of users? These are a couple of reasons that my friends had me consider. As they explained to me, User Personas are still relevant but keep them light so that you don’t waste time, money, and lose focus on the many other users. And of course, when designing a product it’s standard to create more than one User Persona, but at that end of the day do they really give justice to all the users. By focusing on only a few users, think about who is being excluded?
I followed up my friends advice by searching online to see what other UX experts had to say and I found similar thoughts out there on the interweb. However, my class mates didn’t share my enthusiasm and included very detailed User Personas in their project presentations. I understand their point of view, most of my classmates weren’t so interested in UX research, rather they wanted to focus on UI. Presenting a User Persona hides a lack of research and gives a non-UX audience the appearance of user consideration.
Finally, several of my classmates and myself attended an IxDA (Interaction Design Association) meeting held by eDreams ODIGEO last week. At the end of the presentations an audience member asked about the use of User Personas and to my delight the eDream UX Research team said that they rarely use them as one person could change between different User Personas as their travel needs change, so they have found that they’re not too helpful. Not only was it rewarding knowing that this time my classmates were hearing it straight from the experts, but it was also good knowing that my divergence from the class deliverables was validated out in the real world of UX.
In conclusion, don’t let User Personas and assumptions outweigh real research and real users.