Are personas a thing of the past? I recently gave a presentation to the Toronto Content Strategy Meetup Group on Connecting Content to the Customer Experience. Afterwards, someone mentioned that she was happy to hear someone talk about personas because at her company, they had decided that personas were over, period.
In spite of some criticisms of personas (that they’re not all inclusive, that they’re artificial, fictitious, and not scientific, that personas can’t talk back), I believe that using personas is more beneficial than not using personas when it comes to connecting content to people.
Jared Spool points out (in a 2007 blog post which is still relevant, perhaps even more so with so-called smart technologies on the rise), “If you create a design without using personas, I’ll promise you the sun will continue to rise on schedule, without variation. The universe will remain intact. However, how do you know you’re actually meeting the needs of your users?”
Personas are hard workers
Unless you’re designing or writing exclusively for yourself, your team, or your company, you can’t really represent your customer. You are not the customer. Your organization and your team are not the customer. Even if you are also a customer of the organization you work for, you bring the organization’s biases to the table. You can’t help it. Personas will help to keep you honest, and the best personas are based on research.
Imagine shadowing members of a call centre team to learn what they really do. You’re listening in on the phone as Sharon looks up information online, asks her colleagues, and refers to the sticky notes all over her desk as she looks for answers for her customers. When you interact with the people who are going to be using your content, you can develop great personas that reflect their needs. Your approach changes from “this doesn’t make sense to me” to “this doesn’t make sense to Sharon, the call centre employee because…”
Personas tell a story
Done well, a persona contains everything you’ve learned from your research. They tell a story about the people using your product, and include a face and a name that help you to remember who you’re writing for. Shared with everyone on the team, personas keep everyone on the same page.
Uninformed personas are still better than none
Sadly, using uninformed personas may lead organizations to think they are customer-centric when in fact, they haven’t engaged with any real people at all. If you don’t or can’t do the field work, you can still create personas based on best practices from other similar organizations, or based on information you gather from peer reviews, your sales or support teams.
Real world stories are always better, but even without adequate field research, personas still help you to make the shift from thinking about users to thinking about people. And, that’s who your content is for.