Persona Philosophy: Avoid BS Personas

Personas have become almost taboo in some UX circles. And it’s not because they’re not useful, it’s because they’re not useful when they’re done hastily, with a lack of real data and based on a lot of assumptions. Each time a marketing group sits in a room and thinks about who their target audience is, and then distills that into a fake human being made of stock photography and overly descriptive bio statements, a nail is hammered into the coffin for personas. This is what undermines their credibility.

When personas are based on assumptions and perceptions (probably loosely resembling your friend) they end up turning out shallow and useless. Kind of like this:

Design Researcher-3

or like this:

Screenshot 2014-03-31 21.52.42

These can be interesting conversation starters, but they are very surface level and certainly shouldn’t be used to make feature decisions, or to create use cases or scenarios.

Real Personas:

My favorite way to create useful, well researched personas is using a method publicized by Bolt|Peters in 2011 called Avoiding BS Personas.

The idea behind No BS Personas is gathering rich data about motivations, reality and patterns. Rigorous research and synthesis goes into these personas and at the end, you should have a set of real user types that you can use to define and prioritize your roadmap.

Check out this talk where Jill Christ, UX Researcher at talks about the process they took to create these helpful personas:

Persona Research and Design from SB UX on Vimeo.

The results of the persona exercise done by Bolt|Peters for are so impactful, relevant and helpful for everyone – Engineers, Product Managers, UX People and Management. In order to have meaningful personas and not waste time during this exercise, I believe it should be done right.

Right means:

Screenshot 2014-04-13 13.31.43

Check out this slide deck for a summary:


About calliewheeler

Callie is an enthusiastic proponent of user centered design and usability research and discovery. Her passions lie in social entrepreneurship and experience design.

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