I was flipping through the SXSW Interactive 2012 schedule for Monday and I came across a session with a name that caught my eye, “Avoiding Bulls**t Personas: A Case Study”, I figured I would check it out. I went to the presentation that was given by Jill Christ, of Lyda.com and Stephanie Carter of BoltPeters.
They started the presentation on a funny note by showing us what really bad personas look like and also the funny hashtag that was created called #badpersonas where people just makeup the worst personas they could think of. I think it was great to start out with what not to do. Then they asked the question, “How did we get to a place where there are so many bad personas?”. That lead to the discussion of how traditional personas were created.
First people use to style personas after themselves (“the user = you”). Next it moved on to “the user = mom”. In reality though, “the user” can be a bunch of different people with a lot stuff in common, which can make it hard to figure out who they are. From this stemmed personas, which are people that are not real, are hypothetical, and imaginary. Then they told us that the big challenge is how to make personas authentic. Inspiration was drawn from a haiku to make personas honest without the fluff, also known as bulls**t. This is when the BoltPeters and Lynda collaboration story begins…
They wanted to figure out how to develop authentic personas. Lynda.com had the goal that their site needs to work for everybody and the goal of BoltPeters was to figure out who everybody is. This is where the development Modular Personas came into play. These are personas without the BS. That lead us to finding out how to go from gathering data to delivering personas. Most of us know that you collect data and then develop personas, but there is actually a lot that goes on between those two phases. This is where Jill and Stephanie detail the in between steps and tell us what we should be doing:
Data Collection Stage:
- Look at surprises over trends because it doesn’t help to summarize.
- Ask the users to tell a story
- Have the user define their words, don’t paraphrase because you can lose the details. Clarify what people say.
- Keep asking why, if not you get the hos and the what’s, which don’t get you valuable information.
Synthesis Stage: this stage takes a lot to time and can be really difficult.
- Remember the 1:3 rule – 1 hour of taking data to 3 hours of synthesizing
- You need to define dimensions – this means to distinguish and then group the users
- One dimension is situation – i.e. Newbie, Freelancers, People Who Are Multi-dimensional, etc.
- Another dimension is approach – answers to the how questions, i.e. reactive, proactive, evaluative
- The next dimension is desire – the “why?” is the motivation
The next step is to develop personas without the BS, because fluff is dangerous because it can kill credibility and when other people see fluff they just add more fluff. When you take out the fluff, you establish a culture of asking. Once you get to this stage you have to synthesize one more time and make sure you make your synthesizing digestible and easy to share.
Next Jill and Stephanie presented the point that personas need to be communicated properly. You shouldn’t use first names, because when you do it allows others to make up stuff. Instead of just first names, use an active naming system where you use behavior as the name. For example, I am a, I want to be a, and I really like doing.
They then added that you should share direct research to people who are seeing your personas because this helps to build credibility and the subtle details are important. Then you want to make your personas engaging. Jill and Stephanie said you should use personas to establish a culture of asking and to inform product directions. Then they gave examples of tactical and strategic uses for personas:
- Tactical - The lyda.com queue - They needed it to work for everybody, so they tested it
- Strategic - Use personas to prioritize – you should stop making stuff you think is cool and do things that will help users
I think that Jill and Stephanie’s presentation of the persona case study was very interesting and I definitely learned a lot from their presentation. I think they gave really good insight and made it to where the process seemed really simple, even though it can be very difficult.