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common view was that they clearly are artificial constructs (which can be dangerous sometimes) which should then be superseded by more detailed work around more tight user groups of real people.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.

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