Reading Reflection II: Designing for Usability

Personas Make Users Memorable for Product Team Members by Norman Nielsen Group

It is almost impossible to work in the field of human-centered design without using personas at one point or another. The core idea of a persona is to better understand the situation of a fictive, yet extremely accurate individual that represents a potential users. Personas should never be 100% invited, ideally they should be based on real insights and the product of a deep empathic study of the desired target audience. However, the article highlighted once more that personas and user groups are two different things. Personas can be part of a user group, however target groups offer almost no detailed insights and only a very broad assumption of a group of people. Personas offer more detailed insights by providing an overview based on one specific individual.

I also support the idea of using personas as early as possible. However, I actually recommend to empathize with your users instead of forcing people to use one specific methodology, since a persona is just another methodology. So, understanding the audience and individual users is important, but the methodology is only a tool to do so. For many people, personas are a great and simple methodology to get a better overview about potential users.

Why Personas fail by Norman Nielsen Group

As previously mentioned, a persona is a methodology that is part of the design thinking approach. It offers valuable insights into a potential user of your future product and will give you an idea about their problems and challenges. This allows you to solve their problem in a user-centric way.

Nevertheless, it is important to use personas wisely and correctly as highlighted in this article. They look very simple and easy, but it’s important to follow a few basic rules in order to make the most out of this powerful methodology:

  • Build the right personas! Brainstorm or build an ecosystem first, before you choose essential users or stakeholders of your product or service. It is tempting to use previous work experience and customer inisghts to build a persona, but you should never limit yourself and try to create one from scratch.
  • Be realistic, don’t be too creative. Personas can be fictive, but they should never turn into unrealistic images of fantasy avatars. Try to validate assumptions, ideally by talking to users. Also, reduce it to important categories only that are related to your specific field or topic. Don’t replicate an existing template if it doesn’t contain useful categories. You may find it easier to create one from scratch.
  • Forget about visual design. Especially designers tend to focus more on the style of the template instead of the content. Instead, you can also sketch personas with a pen or create them with sticky notes. This is not a visual design exercise, but a strategic methodlogy. Keep it simple and save time. It’s all about the content. This will also prevent anybody from calling it “the picture thingy.”
  • Don’t assume anything. Again do your research, talk to potential users and try to see the world through the eyes of the persona that you created.
  • User your persona regularly. Otherwise, this methodology will never help you to solve real probelms of your users. So, don’t limit the use of personas to the duration of your initial design thinking workshop, instead review them on a regular bases and make changes if needed.
  • Iteration. As designers, we live in a fast-paced environment and the problems as well as the overall situation can change rapidly. So you should review and update them on a regular basis.