July 1, 2003
Follow me on Twitter

Tekka 2: personas

A striking feature of Information Architecture Summit this year was the popularity of personas as a design and planning tool. When looking for guidance about the actual needs of users, information architects and software designers often seek inspiration from fictional characters designed to resemble the intended population.

Characters are powerful guides to the way real people behave, but as Cathy Marshall observes in the current issue of Tekka, they are far from foolproof.

The best-received scenarios have little to do with people and their observed interactions with technology. In scenarios, e-books are docked snugly in their battery chargers at night; laptops are never forgotten on the roofs of Audi station wagons; and the stars of these convincing vignettes are captivated by your elegant software, not hung up on their stupid, complicated, messy, little lives.

It is absolutely vital to remember that personas and scenarios are constructs, just like Progress Reports and design plans.

Personas give a friendly face to cold demographic data, add some spice to the blandness of that most generic of terms "the user." That's the trouble.... Want to make personal security and encryption a necessary feature for her email application? Let's just give her a secret life in which she's rekindled a dormant college romance via email.

If you really believe that your technical people are inmates and you don't want them to run the asylum -- a popular management theory these days -- personas won't rein them in.