Persona Skeptics…

I recently came across this post on discussing the validity of personas in the design process. At first glance, I agree with the message. Digging deeper and reading Dan Saffer’s 2006 article about personas, I agree that the majority of personas are fibbed but I disagree in that they have no place in the design process. Trained as an industrial designer before focusing on interaction design I have created more than my fair share of fake personas. i have used friends, family and past experiences to create my ideal users. Though I agree these should not be used for the design process, I strongly defend their use in the overall span of a project. Instead of arguing right and wrong, I argue there are two types of personas, functional and influential.

Functional personas are defined as archetype users that drive the design process. This is what Saffer and many in the industry expect to see why the term persona is tossed out. Based off of actual research, functional personas are one possible tool that remind us who we are designing for and what their goals are. They are the power user, the dabbler, and the curious critic.

Influential personas are a different beast altogether. More commonly used, and mis-labeled as traditional personas, influential personas are meant simply to engage upper management, marketing and other business-minded stakeholders in the value of a product. Influential personas should not be used to drive the design process and similarly do not need to be based off of genuine research. Ideally I see influential personas being used for spin-off projects after proper research findings have been established. In this way, the main project is complete and we ask what story can we sell with a new feature or product. We already know the users and simply want to put a face to the ideal customer. Here influential personas take less time and energy but support the designer in building empathy for a user and buy-in for a product.

With functional and influential personas defined, it is easy to see how the two blur. Once developed it is easy to use influential personas in the design process. I stress the importance of avoiding this though as that is when the violation of design occurs as described by Saffer.

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