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Personas

"real fictional people"

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What is it?

A persona is a fictional "stand-in" for an actual user that serves to drive the interactive decision making for interface design projects. Personas are not real people - they are archetypal, theoretical constructs - but they should always be considered so during a design process.

Characteristics

Personas come in two flavours:

  • Primary persona - this is the archetype, the single most important person, for whom a site should be designed. The primary persona should always "emerge" from the set of secondary personas: it should not be created from scratch.
  • Secondary personas - typically between three and seven of these - are generated from the ethnographic research first, before the primary persona.

Personas - along with process flows, use cases and scenarios and specifications of content types - should serve to guide the interactive and graphic design of web pages.

What it's for?

A set of personas, once they have been generated, represent the key behaviours, attitudes, skill levels, goals, and workflows of the audience for a site or application.

When to use

Personas emerge from a qualitative data capture exercise - typically conducted during either the Discovery or Definition phases of a project - where user behaviour based on anecdotal evidence and observed patterns emerge from web-centric ethnographic research (principally focus groups) and subsequent analysis.

So, what are personas again?
Personas are not real people - they are fictiional constructs - but they should always be considered as representing real people throughout the design process. Other things to consider about personas include:

  • Fictional utility - personas are not simply "made up". Instead, they should emerge organically as a direct result of the investigative process and the data thus captured
  • Imaginary, not woolly - although personas are imaginary, they are archetypes not caricatures, and should be defined with realism, rigor and precision
  • Realism - names and personal details for personas should be created to put contextual flesh on the archetypal bones
  • Definition - personas (especially secondary personas) should in the first instance be differentiated and identified by their goals
  • Persona-centric design - interfaces should be designed and built to very specifically satisfy the needs and goals of the primary persona

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