The most important user you forget about when designing personas

This is an interesting write up by Kai Wong. He raises the questions about why personas still fail? and What does a successful persona look like?

Kai talks about how important it is for the design teams to not just create personas in silo for their reference. But also to present the value that it brings for the business stakeholders.

He raises an important point, in his own words:"If Personas don’t influence the rest of your stakeholder team, then it’ll be effective for however long you’re on the project and part of those meetings.

And then it might be forgotten afterward."

Photo by Kelly Sikkema
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We should know everything about personas at this point: they’re a staple in every designer’s toolkit, and they’re taught it courses and boot camps alike.

So why do personas still fail? Because we’re still not designing with our stakeholders in mind.

And to explain this, let me ask one specific question: What does a successful persona do?

Success and failure with personas

The purpose of personas for designers is clear: it’s a tool designed to understand who the user is, based on research, that is supposed to guide them in making design decisions in the future.

And you might be tempted to stop there.

But have you asked what the purpose of personas is for stakeholders?

After all, you’re not making design decisions in a vacuum. Stakeholders are paying for user research and development of these personas: are you simply just showcasing them in a single presentation and sticking them back into your workspace?

This is, in large part, why personas fail in organizations: more often than not, personas are created in a silo, for designers only, while the organization sometimes grumbles about not really having a clear, simple, and concise picture of their customers.

So let me ask again: What does a successful persona look like?

I like what the Nielsen Norman Group says about this: Personas make users memorable for your product team.

A successful persona can bring a snapshot of your user to your customers. More importantly, if they’re memorable, team members may start to refer to them in shorthand when making decisions, meaning that you’re aligning their thinking to be centered around the user.

Kind of like User-Centered Design.

So what’s the first step in actually making personas that users will remember?

By making it realistic.

The power of realism in personas

It sounds strange, to think about realism. But realism is something that people often forget about when thinking about creating design artifacts like personas.

I too have struggled with authenticity in a lot of my work. One of the worst design experiences was when someone laughed off the concept of personas.

As a result, I have tried to make sure that everything has an authentic tone to it.

And that’s one of the problems with personas. These things can easily laugh off if not careful: we’re essentially creating a fictitious user (albeit from user research) and then coming up with fictitious stories that are somehow influenced by your product.

And that doesn’t encompass exactly why someone would use your product. Just because someone is a 46-year old who may want to buy shoes doesn’t necessarily mean they would even know how to figure out how to get to your site.

This is why the Jobs to be done format for personas can be useful.