Personas are fictional characters that result from both quantitative and qualitative research. Ideally, they are formed after conducting contextual inquiry interviews with users to uncover their goals and motivations for using a product, visiting a website, etc. The key advantage to creating personas is that they are memorable embodiments of your research that project teams can use to help guide their design decisions.
Since Alan Cooper’s The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How To Restore Sanity was published in 1998, the concept of creating personas has grown in popularity amongst those in the design and marketing fields. As of late, information technology professionals have also shown an increasing interest in personas to help support projects that employ the agile software methodology. They have found that persona posters placed in agile team rooms can create a rallying point for helping the group stay focused on the primary needs of their audience.
If you are fortunate enough to have buy-in to produce personas and have taken the time to create them, a number practical questions will soon arise:
- How do socialize the personas and gain wider adoption?
- How do I update them?
- Can I compare and gain insight from personas developed at other times or for other projects?
In terms of socializing, a number of avenues exist to get the word out about personas. Whichever avenue you choose, it is best to keep the concept of progressive disclosure in mind. If you like, you can think of yourself as a match-maker where you gradually reveal more about the other person or in this case a persona.
Avenues for promoting personas can take the form of brown bag lunches where you can provide an overview and engage in an extended question and answer session. More creative approaches include providing an email address for each persona so that team members can interact with them or having these new characters make regular blog entries.
Whichever method you choose, it is important to present the personas in a serious manner and make sure that it is clear that they were created based on research. Unfortunately, too often personas are created based on short brainstorming sessions and not extensive research. It is often best to assume that some of the people you are trying to gain their buy-in about your personas have had experience with poorly constructed personas. As a result, you will need to take the time to spell out your sources and the methodology you used to create them.
Once the personas have been created, it is important to create a plan for how you will keep them up to date. After 12 to 18 months, personas should be revisited again by either formal or informal means. On a project I was involved with recently, one of my colleagues employed an informal approach for the upkeep of personas created for a java development suite used by several different types of computer programmers. She would visit job boards to review recent postings for java developers to determine if the requirements for these roles had changed in terms of training, technology/programming languages, etc.