Category Archives: UX

People before personas?

I went to a great Meet-up last week organised by @rosebotanic. It is part of a series that Rose has set up called People before Pixels

This particular event was a workshop organised around the theme of ‘How to make personas in the public sector?’

There were about 40 people there to contribute their views and knowledge about personas.

Personas workshop

Rose did a nice overview described the standard view of personas. We divided up into tables and were given a persona template to complete.

Personas template

We were then given an envelope with quantitative information from which to create a persona. This is where it got interesting. We only had skeleton information and therefore had to make a fair number of ‘semi-educated’ guesses. After this we had an envelope of qualitative information. So again more ‘guesses’.

This is what we ended up with plus a pretzel:

Personas final

The point of all this was to then have a debate about the value of personas. This led to lively discussion which was very productive.

Without wishing to generalise there was agreement that personas are very useful at the start of a project to generate a common view of which users we are talking about and their priorities. They have great value for team members who have not really thought about users before. They create a hook to start productive discussions.

Do personas though have a longer term value on a project once it is underway? There were more divergent opinions on this: some did keep their personas and refreshed them on a regular basis. A more common view was that they clearly are artificial constructs (which can be dangerous sometimes) which should then be superseded by more detailed work around more tight user groups of real people. In effect people before personas.

The whole meet up was excellent and a great format to get people talking and thinking. Here are Rose’s slides

If you are interested the GDS service design manual does not seem to mention personas but talks more about prototypes which for them could be appropriate in the context of what they are trying to achieve. Here is some US guidance and of course Wikipedia.

What do your users want?

I often hear people saying, ‘I have a great idea, why don’t we do..’ or ‘I have seen a great website with this feature I want to do the same’ and variants thereof…

Indeed, I have been known to do the same myself.

However who are these things for, be they software, a service, or a product?

Are we trying to make our egos feel better; or have something ‘innovative’ to add to our staff reports; or do we just want to do something different because we can?

As a well known quote goes ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.

Or to put it another way ‘just because we can, it does not mean that we should’.

What about the user?

The who?

A user is the person or people who might want to use your software, service or product.

In another guise it could be one of us when we do our shopping online, buy cinema tickets, or download a new tune. We are all users at some point. Remember that site that drove you mad recently, or the one that worked smoothly? How many of these took their users into account.

So what can we do about it? What is our ‘great responsibility’?

Well a good start would be to look at this excellent piece of work by the Government Digital Service their Service Design Manual. GDS have drew up this manual to help government organisations design cost-effective, user focussed online services.

Have a browse, particularly the section on Discovery when user needs are researched before a new product is developed. It sounds so obvious but do we always follow these principles?

I am hoping to do use this manual more in the future so do not be surprised if when you say to me ‘I have a great idea’ that I send you the link above – you have been warned.