Saturday, June 7, 2008

Introducing our new member: Jennifer Wright

Who is Jennifer? Have you ever heard of her? I think not, but I hope we will make her or one of her friends come to life, soon. What we're talking about is using Personas in our development process.

Say Hello to Personas!

”Personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are most often used as part of a user-centered design process [...]” (Source: Wikipedia)

Why should we use Personas? To get: “Focus! Focus! Focus!”. And finally, the best we all can create.

Personas can help to remain the focus in our developments. Starting with requirements engineering, Personas can help to identify the functionality with most room for improvement or weighting requests for completely new features. You may just “ask” Jennifer what supports her most. For the interaction design, Personas may have special preferences, knowledge or even disabilities which affect the possible solutions. Using Personas means going straightforward.

How to Create Personas?

When creating Personas, you basically start by gathering real data from your users and identify similarities. You select the most important user types, for which fictitious characters are made up. These character traits make the information more vivid, manageable and understandable for all the people involved in the development process. And the data which the Personas are based on will make them believable.

Understandability and authenticity make them so valuable: Personas can greatly improve the communication inside the development team. And – also very important – that should work across all our activities and help us to achieve consistent solutions.

If you get the impression that this may also be useful for the other projects, you're right. Even Marketing, Documentation, ... may benefit from this approach.

What's Good Today? And What's Just Wrong?

So everything is bad? No, since we have payed attention to our users for a long time... Some data gathered in usability tests helped to identify and prioritize issues. All larger development activities are backed up by members of the User Experience team. The developers bring in years of experience with the product. And, there is a well-defined specification and design process for

But looking more closely, you may discover small inconsistencies. Working in teams means that everybody wants to achieve the best for their users, but many have their own kind of “user prototype” in mind. Or, decisions are made up on very few requests and do not represent the needs of a larger user group. Or ... I think you got the point.

What we think can help is an improved common understanding. Guess what? Personas may help us to get there.

The Next Steps

So how to proceed? First we should avoid any rush, because this might be the only chance to introduce Personas. So what we might do is ...

  1. Answer the question, whether we think Personas are useful for

  2. Select one or two first user types and collect the available data.

  3. Make up the Persona characters.

  4. Start promoting the Personas in the community and select the first development activities to make use of it.

  5. Further improve the Personas as we gain more insight in our user base.

The Big Challenge!

Although the Persona approach may sound simple, the devil is in the details. One of them is to convince all involved people like software developers, documentation or QA that this will work. “Work”, that means that it will improve our decision making, reduce development effort and improve the outcome of our activities. Now, they may just think that it is ridiculous to “talk” with those unreal persons or base decisions on such “paper” data. We have to make clear that this is their user base and that we talk about real people. Our customers, our relatives and our friends.

So what to do now? Start discussing this idea on ux-discuss, please. We would like to hear your opinion on that and if you think that it helps to achieve the UX goals: usability, productivity and enjoyment.

Have a nice day!

Frank & Christoph

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