What Alan Cooper has to say about personas...

Daphne Ogle daphne at media.berkeley.edu
Thu Apr 19 19:28:26 UTC 2007

Alan Cooper wrote "The Inmates are running the Asylum" and "About  
Face 2.0".  He introduced the idea of personas and scenarios in the  
former book.  Here's a blurb from "About Face 2.0"...

"The value of personas...

     * as a product definition tool.  Personas help us determine what  
to include in the product, and what to leave out.
     * as a design tool.  By creating realistic scenarios starring  
the personas, they help the design team determine how the tool should  
look and behave.
     * as a measurement tool.  Personas can help quality assurance  
testers write realstic test scripts and prioritize bug fixes.
     * as a communication tool.  Personas help articulate a focus for  
the design to which others in your organization can respond.

What are personas?

To develop and test the best design ideas, we first create concise  
set of user personas.  Each persona is an archetype representing the  
needs, behaviors, and goals of a particular group of users.   
Throughout design and development, the personas consistently embody  
key user motives and actions that inform product creation.

Personas give designers and developers a clear design target.   
Ambiguous user definitions lead to confusion and misunderstanding  
because everyone has a different idea about who the user actually is  
and what this person might need or want.  Personas with definite  
backgrounds, names, and personalities keep everyone focused on the  
significant characteristicsof a known user.

Well-defined personas help us pose questions such as "Will Spencer  
ever do this?" or  "Why would Debbie want that feature?"  Emperical  
answers stop repeated speculation about what users want or need  and  
curb the proliferation unnecessary and undesited features.  At the  
same time, a proper set of personas will remain complex enough to  
exhibit a wide variety of human behaviors and concerns.
Personas are not elastic

Why does each persona have a name, a face, and a little bit of social  
biography?  These details make it easy to imagine a definite person.   
Statementst like "A Debbie ina different city might use the system  
this way" are invalid because there is only one specific persona for  
Debbie.  Targeting appropriate personas ensures that the most likely  
users have suitably powerful and pleasing experiences.
Goals vs Tasks

Our design is Goal-Directed, not task-directed.  Different users  
represented by a single persona might have different tasks.  As long  
as the goals of these users are the same, though, one persona can  
accurately represent them.  Our design doesn't ignore tasks--it lets  
goals prioritize them.

For example, a salesman starts his day by checking his office voice  
mail, his email, and his cell phone voice mail.  Improving the method  
he uses to perform these tasks might help him somewhat, but his goal  
is not to check messages.  His goal is to repond to clients and close  
deals.  If design help him do this, it might be able to eliminate  
some or all of the tasks.

Edge cases, or events that happen rearely for a small number of  
users, must be accounted for in teh final implementation, but the  
tasks necessary for handling them should be available only through  
commensurate effort.  This keeps them out of the way for other users.
Categories of personas

Separating personas into primary and secondary categories allows us  
to focus our design on the people whose needs matter most.  As we  
design for a primary persona we check the design against secondary  
personas to make sure that they are not neglected.

Primary Personas are critical archetypal users.  Their goals must be  
satisfied, or they and others will be frustrated.  Each primary  
persona requires a unique interface in order to meet his or her goals.

Secondary personas are people who influence the design of the  
interface, but are not a focus of the design.  Secondary personas  
include beginner-level users, infrequent users, and experts.  An  
interface that satisfies only the needs of secondary personas will  
frustrate and confuse primary personas.  The unique needs of the  
secondary persona, however, must be met in order to make viable  
products for a large number of users in the real world."

Daphne Ogle
Interaction Designer
University of California, Berkeley
Educational Technologies Services
daphne at media.berkeley.edu
cell (510)847-0308

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