Researching Usability

User Research and Persona Creation Part 3: Introducing the Personas

Posted on: September 9, 2010

In this final part of the persona creation series I will introduce the personas we created and discuss how we plan to keep the personas relevant and current. As mentioned in the previous blog, we created 4 personas based on our interviews. These personas were:

Pete, the progressive browser
Badaal, the search butterfly
Eve, the e-book reader
Sandra, the search specialist

Full details of each persona can now be viewed on the project wiki. It is also possible to download a Word version of the personas from the Wiki if required.

Looking at the full personas in the wiki, there a few features of them worth mentioning:

  • We decided to recreate some of the scales we used when segmenting the groups. We felt that this provided a quick snapshot of the persona in addition to the more descriptive background which hopefully brought the persona to life.
  • We used photos from iStockphoto.com and http://www.sxc.hu/
  • In addition to background and demographic information we also added sections including Personal Goals, Frustration & Pain Points, Typical Tasks and Information Seeking Behaviour. These were based on the categories we used when writing summaries for each participant.
  • We tried to create an alliteration of the persona’s name and their characteristic behaviour to make them more memorable e.g. Pete the progressive browser

Dissemination and future-proofing personas

In addition to publicising the personas through the blogging streams (WordPress and twitter), we have tried where possible to include as much raw data and project documentation as possible on the project wiki. As mentioned in part 1, we had difficulty recruiting staff and consequently were unable to create a persona which represented them. If it’s possible to conduct interviews with University staff members in future projects, an additional persona for staff could be added to the collection. By providing as much raw data as possible in addition to full explanations of the methods used, it should be possible for other groups to create their own personas using the same template.

During this year’s UPA Conference in Munich a presentation on mobile personas highlighted the importance of making them forward thinking. The presentation discussed the dangers of personas becoming outdated and the consequences of this on product design. This is not just important in mobile design, outdated personas are potentially dangerous and could have a negative rather than positive impact on a project. Tom Allison presents a number of ways that personas can become outdated or ‘Zombies’ in his excellent presentation, UX in the Real World: There’s no such thing as “No Persona” (see descriptions below). Reflecting on the process we have taken to create our personas, I am confident that our personas are not zombies, however that is not to say that they cannot ‘be turned’ in the future. To guard against this possibility it is important to encourage others to continue the work, adding more interviews and details appropriate to their work in order to make them appropriate. In our project we were interested in the persona’s attitude to UoE Aquabrowser and Voyager catalogues. However, the information seeking behaviour of each persona is much more general and has the potential to be used as a basis for other academic library use-cases. Providing a thorough account of how the personas were created should hopefully make it easier for others to create their own set of system-specific personas.

Descriptions of the different types of Zombie Personas by Tom Allison:

Mirror Personas: These are the end-user models that get used in the absence of any other reference or description. Anyone on the project team that needs to make a design decision simply asks themselves what they would want in that situation (i.e., they metaphorically look in the mirror). Usually that is not a very good reflection of what the targeted end-user would actually want. Often the difference in these two perspectives can render a result anywhere from terribly frustrating to completely useless to the eventual end-users.

Undead Personas: These are personas that were in fact constructed at one point in a project but that are no longer truly “alive” to the project. They may be hanging on the design team’s wall, or sitting in a report somewhere online or in a drawer. They exist (that’s the “undead” part), but they exert none of the positive effects that a “good persona” can. They may be the worst sort of persona in that they give the team the false confidence that they have “done personas” and they are probably most responsible for the bad reputation that personas sometimes have – in that, the team “did personas” but “it was a waste of time” because they did not keep them alive to the overall process in order to reap the benefits of their work.

Unicorn/Frankenstein Personas: These are personas dreamed up or slapped together from pre-existing parts by someone in the project team. Regardless of how they are used, the signal they give is not a true one. They no more reflect the actual end-user than the programmers mirror persona does and team members who understand that they are based on nothing more than someone’s imagination tend to resent them rather than view them as a resource. The don’t work like good personas and they are resented by those in the know. These along with their undead brethren lead to many with limited experience with personas to have a negative impression of them.

Stupid User Personas: These are perhaps the hardiest of the zombie personas. If personas are built or even just thought about and kept out of the “light of collaborative day” – that is, are not shared and publicized widely and integrated into every stage of a process – then they tend toward negative or dismissive  models of the end-user. Teams whose only access to the end-user is a combination of direct communication, interruption and negative feedback to their delivered product are very likely to cultivate these personas in the absence of “good personas”.

Conclusions and reflections

It’s difficult  to be subjective when evaluating the success of personas you were involved in creating, particularly because the personas have only just been created. Feedback from others will hopefully provide one way to measure their success. The realism and believability of the personas is important and something I believe we have managed to achieve but I am always interested to know if others agree and if there are any improvements we could make. Having spent a little time working with some* of the personas to recruit participants for the usability testing of Work package 3 (Objective 3) I have made some observations:

There are not huge differences between Baadal and Eve. The differentiating factors are the consumption of digital resources (e.g e-books) and use of the University digital libraries. On many other scales they are the same or very similar. This has made it a little trickier to recruit to each persona as often the details provided by willing participants makes them difficult to categorise as one or the other. This evidence provides a compelling argument that these personas could be merged. However, there is also an argument that participants do not have to fit neatly into one persona or another. For the purpose of the project we will continue to use three individual personas. It will be possible to evaluate the success of the personas over the course of time.

* Findings from the interviews led to the decision to test with students as these are the primary target audience for UoE Aquabrowser. Consequently we used personas Pete, Badaal and Eve in recruitment.

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1 Response to "User Research and Persona Creation Part 3: Introducing the Personas"

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