Personas as Tools

Yesterday’s piece on personas wasn’t really about personas as much as it was about tools. Every tool you use has benefits and drawbacks and as a designer you need to choose the best tool for the job.

It turns out that lots of designers choose to use personas to help them communicate their research with other members of the project. Even if personas aren’t optimal (and I think its safe to say they’re not optimal, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion) they can still be a world of good in certain situations.

But some designers might never use them, and still be successful. I personally don’t use personas, but I can imagine a day when I might need them. That’s the way with tools. Some cabinet makers might plane their cabinet faces with a hand planer, while others might use the huge electric floor planer. Some might go back and forth depending on the situation. Either way, the cabinet face gets planed and the job finished.

Obviously, though, the discussion about personas is pretty heated. Why is that? Well, I think its because as designers we always have doubt that the way we’re doing research might not be the best way…there is always more we can learn about the people we design for. I think we simply have to accept that, and prioritize our research so that we are at least confident we’re hitting the main pain points in our design.

I’ve found in general that if we think about things as tools that its easier to take our emotion out of it. If we think about software as a tool to get stuff done, it’s a lot easier to design because we can objectively say whether or not it is succeeding.

So the answer to the personas business is that if your design turned out well with personas, then you should try them again. If it turned out well without personas, then that’s good too. It’s very possible that your cabinet will still hold glasses, no matter how you built it.

Yesterday’s piece on personas wasn’t really about personas as much as it was about tools. Every tool you use has benefits and drawbacks and as a designer you need to choose the best tool for the job.

It turns out that lots of designers choose to use personas to help them communicate their research with other members of the project. Even if personas aren’t optimal (and I think its safe to say they’re not optimal, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion) they can still be a world of good in certain situations.

But some designers might never use them, and still be successful. I personally don’t use personas, but I can imagine a day when I might need them. That’s the way with tools. Some cabinet makers might plane their cabinet faces with a hand planer, while others might use the huge electric floor planer. Some might go back and forth depending on the situation. Either way, the cabinet face gets planed and the job finished.

Obviously, though, the discussion about personas is pretty heated. Why is that? Well, I think its because as designers we always have doubt that the way we’re doing research might not be the best way…there is always more we can learn about the people we design for. I think we simply have to accept that, and prioritize our research so that we are at least confident we’re hitting the main pain points in our design.

I’ve found in general that if we think about things as tools that its easier to take our emotion out of it. If we think about software as a tool to get stuff done, it’s a lot easier to design because we can objectively say whether or not it is succeeding.

So the answer to the personas business is that if your design turned out well with personas, then you should try them again. If it turned out well without personas, then that’s good too. It’s very possible that your cabinet will still hold glasses, no matter how you built it.

Published: January 22nd, 2008

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