archpers

Personas: Keepin’ it real

Who cares about where Silly Sally lives, how much she makes and what her favorite hobby is?

A fun and simple way to contextualize your research, or to put a face to your target audience, is to create personas. Personas are the anonymous (read fictional) users that were involved in your research—maybe you looked into demographics-based stats online or maybe you were lucky enough to work with the people you will be designing for. Personas have grown in popularity and come in a variety of styles; personas can sometimes be very detailed (sometimes too detailed) or very minimal (just keywords and maybe a sketch of the user).

Because personas are essentially a way for your projects to connect to real users, it is important that they aspire to be as faithful as possible to real (potential) users. Oftentimes, personas come into play after the ideation process, where novice UX-ers are simply fitting quick and dirty persona bios into already established concepts (for the sake of context rather than impact). Personas should not feel contrived and also should not package stereotypes and generalizations together under a name and picture of someone that is supposed to represent a segment of your demographic. Personas do not need to be detailed profiles of how much money someone makes or what they do to pass time, especially if this is not based on real input or directly relevant to the goal of the project—what purpose does this serve in the end? Being genuine about using personas for context would mean only including information on how the persona is engaging with the service/design in question.

An alternative to creating personas in a vacuum is to create archetypes. Archetypes are intended to emphasize behavior, which easily lends itself to interaction. Archetypes give the designer permission to speak to extreme or stereotypical users because the focus is on behavior and does not need to trace back to a demographic profile.

If you’re at a loss for user research and you tend to fudge personas in an attempt to validate your ideas, keep it real and create archetypes instead.

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