Product Personas are a Waste of Time
Opinion: Why the tool designed to bring you closer to your users will push you further away Photos by Michael Dam, Joseph Gonzalez, Nathan Dumlao and Sage Kirk on Unsplash If you are reading this, then you, like me, are most likely familiar with the creation of personas. Undeniably, the intention and thought behind Personas are good. They allow you to represent your customers as a collection of tangible people rather than cold, impersonal research. Despite their fictional nature, they are underpinned by real customer research and can cover a range of detail, from pretty basic stuff like primary user need, through to the incredibly detailed stuff like ‘extrovert, 48, Android-user, owns a cat called Trevor, Capricorn’. The intention of personas in relation to your product is that they help prevent you from building something for yourself. Personas promise to bring the voice of the customer into your teams, helping bring customers into every decision so you create a product that people love. So far so good. So, what’s the problem? For me, there are three key issues with personas: The level of detail Nobody is normal Personas are a snapshot Confused? Let’s tackle these one at a time, from the least to most critical. The Level of Detail As mentioned above. The level of detail in personas varies hugely from organisation to organisation. They need enough detail to feel like a real person, despite being fictionalised, and will work best when your team are truly invested in making their experience of using your product a good one. Too little detail then the personas don’t come to life and feel like real people, they just feel like an arbitrary grouping of attributes that are hard to empathise with and difficult to remember. On the flip-side, too much detail causes problems at a usability level as they become overwhelming and/or really boring. You need your team to get to know these ‘people’ and ultimately if the personas are too detailed then your team will fail to internalise them. It’s demotivating for the team and renders the personas useless. Too much detail can also lead to ‘overfitting’ in much the same way as this occurs in machine learning — the system is not able to predict beyond its training data set as it has become too bespoke. Or, in the case of personas, your fictional creations will love the product, but most real people won’t. You are obviously free to ignore this and go on creating personas. They can be useful in this context and definitely are useful other contexts — but please keep the detail relevant, grounded in what is appropriate to your requirements and avoid putting those pointless bars for personal attributes that have no context or are too similar. (see below). What does this actually tell me? How do I apply it to anything? This type of decorative addition is part of why personas have lost their way. They are a neat, packageable and good-looking deliverable, so end up getting produced when they shouldn’t be. Stakeholders find it hard to question their worth — their basis is good they look useful. They represent lots of research in a fairly succinct way that on the face of it seem easy to understand, digest and apply. In reality, personas are often unwieldy and difficult to use. 2. Nobody is normal Despite personas, hopefully, having a basis in research, data and interviews, each persona is still a fabrication. They are designed to cover a representative spread of certain attributes and biases to ensure you are designing for all of your target customers….
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