An alternative approach to personas

Personas are a great way to help visualise the people you are designing for. However, sometimes the traditional approach can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately there is an alternative.

I am a visual person, so when I’m working on a site I find it incredibly useful to picture the person I’m designing for. That is where personas come in. They make the user real and that to me is invaluable.

That said, some personas can get a bit wordy for me. They go into so much depth about the persons likes and dislikes, their internet experience and family situation, that they loose their impact. They stop being an easy way to keep the user in the front of my mind.

That is why I fell in love with this alternative approach to personas. Instead of lots of text they consist of two images. One image of the person, and one image of a cross section of their possessions. It is amazing just how much a persons possessions say about them. It is enough to get a sense of who you are designing for.

Jackie Diptych

I am not suggesting these personas replace more detailed versions, as the additional information they provide is invaluable. However, these are a nice compliment and one I may well consider on my next project.

So what do you think? Would you use this approach? Does it tell you enough about the person?

  • Edwin Waelbers

    How do you know she’s Tic-Tac keeping in her purse? 

    Just a wild guess? Or did you measure this one? How?

    And what’s the impact of possessing Tic-Tac on the interface?

    Can I see if she’s a nerd or is she more a computer illiterate person?
    Is she an internet power user or not?

    How frequently is she using the website? And what about comparable sites?
    Is she motivated using the website? Is she afraid? Why?

    And again, if you know it all, did you measure it or are you just using your imagination?

    Frankly, it’s not an alternative way to personas, it’s just a wrong approach.

    • Although the title of this article suggests it, I don’t think Paul is suggesting you replace persona creation entirely, but merely enhance the persona creation process with the above. I suppose it depends on the project, but I think the idea of possessions can make a difference. I think you can tell a lot, for example, the 2 smartphones (maybe an ipod…) suggest that she would be reasonably tech savvy, the trend in the colours give an impression of her character, the camera keyring suggests she may be artistic also. I agree that this would not be enough to build up a full picture, but i don’t think it should be dismissed altogether.

  • I like it. I think it helps humanize the process. It also speaks to collaborators who internalize things better when they can see a visual. 

    One of my favorite speakers, Leisa Reichelt, talks about that the best way to use personas is to make sure everyone on your team knows their names and that the whole group refers to them by name throughout the project.

    I think this visual would help in that process. Make it more real for some folks.

  • Neil Allison

    I guess it all comes down to how the stakeholder and/or development group engage with them. Personas are pretty worthless if everyone doesn’t have them in their mind as they collaborate/provide feedback/enagage/whatever.

    I like the idea but am more of a detail person myself. That and I find getting one good image per persona to be a big enough pain :)

  • Excellent, what you put out there is a couple of new discoveries for me.