A Persona By Any Other Name...

VidyaDrego_small [Posted by Vidya Drego]

There was an interesting article in the New York Times on July 16, 2009 titled Before Creating The Car, Ford Designs The Driver. I think the article highlights nicely how understanding users' behaviors, attitudes, and goals -- in the form of a person -- allows designers to design something (in this case a car) that meets those users' needs instead of their own. Although this article doesn't call them that, the tool Ford seems to be using is something Forrester has been writing about for some time. The concept, called personas, are behavioral archetypes created from ethnographic research used in the design of products (both online and offline) and services. While I applaud Ford designers for their use of this tool, there are a number of other companies that have used the tool successfully in their industry since they were introduced by Alan Cooper in 1999.

Forrester has reviewed a number of personas over the last ten years (we haven't seen Ford's personas) and unfortunately, many of them miss the mark. Common problems include creating archetypes that aren't believable or are overly stereotyped, lack of focus on key behaviors that enable design decisions, inconsistent behaviors, or using personas to justify business or design decisions. I'm currently updating our report on the Best And Worst Of Personas
based on the personas I reviewed from interactive agencies in interactive agencies' Web design capabilities Wave.  

Do you use personas? Do you have thoughts and comments on this article or about the use of personas? We'd love to hear them!

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re: A Persona By Any Other Name...

We have been using personas for awhile at my company, long enough to remember when they were referred to as Target Audience Personas. But in this day of enlightened advertising when we are all more interested in engagement than manipulation, it's great to see them referred to simply as Personas. Hey, if it worked for KFC, why can't it work for us?Today, I believe the importance of personas is only growing due in large part to the semantic web. Historically, we looked at pretty typical consumer data points and conducted some primary research. Today, we need to understand a user's complete digital ecology so we can see how THEIR version of the web is formed based on the diverse sources of data they access daily. What social networks do they lurk on or contribute to? Is their virtual book club more influential than the advertisements they see during the evening news?How do we answer these questions? Ethnographic research is still the best way. But if that isn’t possible, make sure you take advantage of the available listening tools to see where your customers are and what they are saying about your brand. Incorporating this data into your personas will increase their value as you make everyday marketing decisions.