Last week in an homage to Saturday morning cartoons (The Spinach and Kryptonite of Personas), I talked about strengths and weakness of Personas. I concluded with Personas are still worth it and there are ways to increase the Spinach (their strengths) and minimize their Kryptonite (weaknesses).
Strong Research = Strong Personas
The single most important factor in crafting great personas is quality UX Research. It’s critical to conduct Stakeholder Interviews and make sure the project’s overall Objectives and Success Criteria are clear and well understood. Without knowing exactly what the purpose of the UX study is (increasing conversion, lowering costs, improving user satisfaction, all of the above…) it’s nearly impossible to get quality data. Simply put, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how do you know if you’ve found it?
In additional to quality Stakeholder Interviews is the importance of correctly identifying the target audience. I talk a bit about this in a previous article, Slicing and Dicing Your Way to Great UX. Whether you call it an Audience Matrix as I do or something else, the point is to make sure any key characteristics that might influence how someone uses your website or application are captured and in the correct proportions. The proportions of the target audience are necessary to ensure the people you’re conducting research with accurately reflect the end-users.
Regardless of what techniques are used to gather data, putting effort into Stakeholder Interviews and audience identification will pay big dividends.
There’s no ‘One and Done’ with Personas
The next step in maintaining the power of Personas is to treat them as a living document. The data contained in a Persona has a shelf life. Like vegetables or milk, the information gets old and eventually rotten. It’s imperative to keep refreshing the data from time to time. I recommend semi-annually or annually on the outset.
Keeping Personas up to date requires a little planning and a few hours every 6 months or so. If you’re in an Agile house it should be a part of your regular Sprint work. I’m planning on covering this a little more next time, but after conducting a baseline of research (Sprint 0), I strongly advise integrating touch-up research at the beginning of the Sprint. Just remember, preferences change and was what true for a user type yesterday, may no longer be true today.
It’s about the ‘Why’
Finally, focus on the writing. A great Persona should give insight into the user type not explicitly state what the design should look like. Phrases like “<the user> expects to see” undercut the Persona because it misses the why, why does the user expect to see something, why do they need it, what about them makes the information important.
The wonderful thing about building websites, software and products is that there are invariably multiple ways to accomplish a goal. However, if a design team is told how to do something, they (like most people) will tend to consider the matter closed and not think of alternatives…some of which may be much more innovative and better for the target audience.
Focus on the Truth; the good, the bad and the downright ugly
Another point about the writing, put away the rose-colored glasses. Focus on the cold, hard truth about the user type. Are they lazy? Do they not care? Are they difficult? Be sure to include the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. We’re not perfect either and great software can be built around the shortcomings of a particular user type if they’re spelled out and spoken about candidly.
Personas are still relevant and can deliver a lot of value, but as with most things you get out what you put in. Putting in great research data, keeping them fresh and thoughtful writing will produce a valuable tool for your organization.