Personas: Why You Need To Develop with Personas First

Personas.  Generally when we hear the term persona, we are thinking with our marketing hat.  Start thinking of it as the first step in development.

“In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.  Marketers may use personas together with market segmentation, where the qualitative personas are constructed to be representative of specific segments.” -wikipedia

The problem with Personas being used solely for design and marketing is …  design generally does not start with design or marketing.  Design often starts in development.  Design is more than aesthetics, layouts, and visuals.  Design is functionality, and logic.

An example of this could be a business owner decides that his or her set of service offerings needs a new type of product to offer in their lineup. Let’s say they saw their competitors had a forum, and they want to have a forum to stay relevant.  The goal is to relay company information about their products with users.

The issue here is a fundamental decision of functionality has already been made on assumptions.  This decision will provide the framework of abilities which may or may not meet the target personas needs.  This can limit the scope of what design and marketing can do to make it a successful product for the company.

Fast forward a year, the company has a forum out. It is styled how they want, and have ongoing support costs associated with the tool.  The problem?  No one is using it.

No one is using this tool, because the project did not start with personas.  No one thought of the users first or what those specific personas were actually wanting.

Without using personas first, we did not discover the corporate administrator and what they wanted.  We did not know that they wanted a top down communication method.  We did not understand they wanted to have control of their users conversations.  They wanted this to protect company branding and image.  However this locked down the ability for users to easily contribute to the Forum.

Since we did not start with Personas, we also did not take into account that forums are generally popular with users who have issues.  Users who seek out forums need a bottom up communication solution to their issues and concerns.  We did not discover that most forums are used as a peer network of users identifying and solving each others problems.

By knowing the two personas of the corporate administrator and the forum user, we could have prevented the forum in the first place.  It was not the top down communication method this company needed.  By trying to make it work for the corporate admin persona, it was then not the open communication channel a forum persona would want.

By defining the personas initially, we could see that something like a wiki probably would have been a better solution for the corporate user, as well as users looking for controlled information.  We also avoid the headache of confusing users who are looking to ask questions, and get a misleading application for their solution, which is sure to not meet expectations.

In addition to this, if you are using an agile development style, personas can be a great way to base your user stories.  By starting with personas we can double check that our development is in the same direction that our intended users want us to be developing towards.

I would love to hear if you are defining personas to base development and user stories off of.  If so, have you had any challenges in incorporating this practice into your development flow.  Has using personas in development made your dev and marketing teams work closer together?

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Digital Strategy Consultant for Credera Consulting with experience on brands such as PepBoys.com, GameStop.com, Redbox DVD strategic initiatives, BestBuy.com and Woot.com (now an Amazon company). Political and music junky and a foodie obsessed with great food and amazing beer. Could not care less about sports 99% of the time.

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