PRODUCTHEAD: User personas or creepy caricatures?
talk show product manager
Posted on Monday, 26 April 2021
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Avoid waste by by first researching “shallow” user personas then progressively elaborating as needed
Product managers can and should conduct user research when demand outstrips the researchers available
Connect user personas to people’s actual goals for more emotional impact
Good interviewers listen, not talk
One of the first articles I read on user personas was ‘Persona Non Grata’ by Steve Portigal (PDF). He told the story of discovering what can be charitably described as an effigy of a user on his desk, left there for him by a colleague. And understandably, it totally creeped him out.
Thankfully, that particular way of portraying users hasn’t caught on but, as Portigal goes on to argue, it represented the main problems he saw with user personas: distanced, over-generalised, dehumanising caricatures — and more often than not, based on outdated or non-existent user research.
User research is not something you do in a burst once every couple of years. The desire to keep learning about the people you’re serving should be part of the fabric of any organisation that serves people in some form. Static user personas make the mistake of assuming that the people using your products are similarly static.
User personas should be a shorthand for the accumulated research you’ve done to understand not just what your users do, but why they do it. They only work as a shorthand for the team if the team is already familiar with what you’ve learned and shared about your users. In other words, the whole team should be participating in user research on an ongoing basis.
So this week, I’ve pulled together some good content to help you make your user personas more representative of real people and less like creepy caricatures.
Speak to you soon,
what to think about this week
As agile methodologies developed and became mainstream, the tension between big upfront design and emergent design has been a source of many agree to disagree discussions.
I am not abandoning user-centered design principles by stating that there are times when you should not develop (full) personas. I’m contextualizing the value of personas relative to other sources of value in the product development process.
[SCOTT SEHLHORST / TYNER BLAIN]
Researchers often have concerns about what will happen when “other people” go out and do work with users. But the demand for research far outweighs the supply of researchers, and everyone wins when more people are enabled to do research themselves.
Steve Portigal describes how to be more effective in the three main elements of user research: planning, conducting, and acting on research.
[STEVE PORTIGAL / MIND THE PRODUCT]
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Creating real-world value is a multi-step process involving many players. And it’s exhausting prefacing every conversation by (re)defining terms: “for this user story, the customer is the sys admin who configures our CAD software, not the architect sketching out buildings. See personas 4 and 7.”
Wasted energy. So let’s abandon the words ‘customer’ and ‘user’ entirely, and be more explicit about who/what we mean.
The goal of interviewing users is to learn about everything that might influence how the users might use what you’re creating. Good interviewing is a skill you develop with practice. The great myth is that you need to be a good talker. Conducting a good interview is actually about shutting up. This can be very hard, especially when you’re enthusiastic about the topic.
[ERIKA HALL / A LIST APART]
User personas can be a valuable visual reminder for your teams about the people relying on your product. More often than not, user personas instead end up being just a laborious way to decorate the walls. Are you making these common mistakes?
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Here’s another question I was asked recently:
If you’re concerned about buyer needs and their objectives, how closely aligned do you suggest product organisations should be with marketing and with the persona development to ensure they are creating a solution that does meet those needs in the market?
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Because I tend to help organisations build up their product team from scratch, I’m often involved in the interviewing and hiring process, so I’d like to share with you my product leader’s guide to interviewing product managers.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
Imagine you’ve just been told that you’ll be a member of the team responsible for the first manned mission to Mars.
Now imagine someone asks you how much the mission’s going to cost. The whole thing. There and back. By close of business on Thursday.
[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]
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