Personas and Behavioural Axes Analysis

Mara Hancock mara at
Mon Nov 3 00:10:16 UTC 2008

Hi John --

Glad to hear they explained it in a way that made sense to you. I have  
definitely heard this message before from the Fluid design team. It's  
probably not stated on the wiki in exactly the same way. What you  
describe is also one of the reasons the designers often talk about not  
being able to provide personas out of context of the design problem.  
It sounds like the example was very helpful to you, so perhaps adding  
some examples to the wiki would help.  Although, probably much better  
would be having a camtasia + video type of tutorial since it could  
also visually show the process and make it more accessible. In  
general, the Fluid wiki has an awful lot of text, which I think could  
be enhanced with more visuals. Of course, I am more of a visual  
learner than a textual learner, so I will always learn better that way.

But glad you are a convert -- for the moment at least!


On Nov 2, 2008, at 10:59 AM, Nathan Pearson wrote:

> Thanks for sharing this John -- neat stuff.
> Another method to this (I'm sure there are others) is to use task  
> analysis to map behavior by stripping away the "system" context and  
> emphasizing the non-virtual world.
> Start by imagining a time when everything was done with paper forms,  
> before computers were invented.  Now walk each user profile (what  
> you call marketing personas) through the tasks needed to accomplish  
> a goal while asking the question "what would it take to motivate  
> this person to migrate their offline behavior to an online system?"
> The emphasis being on "motivation".
> In the end, you derive groupings of users who have different  
> motivations.  Some are motivated by convenience, others by  
> socializing, etc.  Then tie those factors to your persona models to  
> drive design choices.
> Of course, this approach is stretched when dealing with things like  
> "building a site" and other purely virtual activities.  But you  
> typically can employ a reasonable offline analogy to approximate the  
> concept.
> ---
> But to your point about being skeptical of personas -- there may be  
> reason for this beyond not understanding process.  Personas, IMO,  
> are scalpels used as lead indicators.  In other words, they're great  
> for fine-grained detail and innovation, but when it comes to getting  
> the general shape of your product together or cleaning up what you  
> already have, they tend to be marginally beneficial.
> For example, what amount of persona work is required to know if a  
> site should have a title or not?  Or that a site will require users  
> to be added to it?  Or that a site concept is at all relevant?   
> Can't the market and system logic generally guide us through  
> answering these questions?
> In terms of the usability of these features, can't heuristics and  
> some usability testing get us on track?  And aren't these options  
> far more efficient than deep, time consuming, and expensive user  
> research?
> To clarify, so my colleagues don't think I'm a complete trader,  
> personas are great when it comes to innovation or working through  
> some detailed nuance with user behavior.  But is that what's needed  
> for Sakai today or can we benefit from lag indicators (as opposed to  
> lead indicators like personas) to help us close the gap between  
> where Sakai is and where it should have been by now w/rt the  
> original product vision?
> More over, is any investment in design worth while if this community  
> is unwilling to stick through a disciplined implementation effort  
> where teams are committed to quality, attention to detail, and a  
> common, reasonably scoped design spec?
> Nathan
> On Sun, Nov 2, 2008 at 8:52 AM, John Norman <john at>  
> wrote:
> Those who have spoken with me about personas in user centred design
> will know that I have been a bit of a sceptic. Nevertheless, we are
> about to start paying a commercial company to help us with UCD! They
> are called Flow Interactive (
> The reason for this post is that in the kick off meeting, they shared
> something that was far more persuasive than anything I have read on
> the Fluid wiki to date so I wanted to share this insight as I
> understand it.
> So here is the big idea: Design personas are different to marketing
> personas. A design persona is not a description of a person, it is the
> result of analysis of *goals* and *behaviours* of users in a
> particular context. The analysis seems to involve identifying which
> goals and behaviours have high discriminating power in terms of design
> tradeoffs, describing them in terms of behavioural axes and plotting
> real user behaviours on those axes. Clusters of user plots one one
> axis become a single characteristic of a potential persona. Profiles
> of plots on different axes become design personas. They *express the
> user research* in terms of different behavioural profiles *that are
> relevant to design choices*.
> So for most of you this probably still sounds like gobbledegook and
> you are unimpressed that I have now joined the ranks of the speakers
> of UCD. But Flow gave me an example that really helped me understand
> the concept:
> They had a client who wanted some work done on a hotel booking site.
> The client told them the users of the site had 5 personas - the
> business traveller, the short-break weekender, the family with small
> children, the single holidaymaker, and - well lets just say the
> romantic short stay customer. These personas are valid marketing
> personas, with different communication channels, different price
> sensitivity and so on. Flow's user research phase discovered that from
> a site design perspective there were only 2 design personas - those
> who knew where they wanted to stay and those who didn't. That is, the
> marketing personas did not exhibit behavioural differences when it
> came to the factors that impact on the site design and the user
> behavioural differences that did impact on site design revealed a
> different clustering of users into 2 design personas - destination
> known and destination unknown.
> Now, this makes sense to me. The next test is to see if it works as
> well for some projected theoretical future (Academic Social
> Networking) as it does for some real-world goal seeking behaviours.
> Note that the slideshow linked at the bottom of the main Fluid
> personas page (
> ) includes a couple of pages (27/28) that appear to illustrate this
> concept, but the slides are not very explanatory.
> I hope this helps someone else find their way into this UCD stuff.
> John
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> -- 
> Nathan Pearson | UX Lead | Sakai Foundation
> E. me at
> M. 602.418.5092
> Y. npearson99 (Yahoo)
> S. npearson99 (Skype)
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Mara Hancock
Educational Technology Services Interim Director
University of California, Berkeley
Educational Technology Services
9 Dwinelle Hall, #2535
Berkeley, CA 94720

Desk: 510-643-9923
Mobile: 510-407-0543

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