The Pragmatic Persona

Personas can be used in more than one way. Sometimes the writing of a persona description helps frame the discussion about who the users actually are. In this instance, there might not be a lot of data behind the persona description, but the discussions about the descriptions can initiate that further data needs to be recorded. Sometimes there is no need to gather further data.

I will in the following report from a case where the goal was to do rapid prototypes and test these with users. We did not have any data except an initial description of the users described by the customers. In these descriptions, the focus was on age and use of technology.

As the prototypes were centred around going out and exploring the town, we took a Danish segment description Conzoom and looked at all the segments which enjoyed an evening out and were below the age of 49. This created a picture that we were actually dealing with two different categories: the young ones between 19 and 29 (students or with low incomes, who lived in rented flats in the city center or close by) and a group between the age of 30 and 49 (singles or couples who had had children late in life, with a very high income, who lived in owned estates close to the city center). This made us create Katja and Jan. We used the situations for Katja and Jan when we created scenarios for the prototype, their situations when we created tasks for the tests, and the descriptions in the process of recruiting users.

When doing the tests our assumptions about the users were confirmed, their attitude towards the service and their demands were distinctively different and fitted our descriptions. The users were so Katja and Jan, and for a couple of days, we became Katja and Jan spotters. During lunch or going out we constantly looked for Katjas’ and Jans’.

After the tests, we were able to refine the design and within a very short time span we had created a prototype that envisions the idea behind the service, is based on solid data, and has a lot more value during arguments with developers and managers than it would have had without the Katjas and Jans.

From the vague ideas about the users and a technical approach, we managed to create an initial user-centred design process that jumped several steps in the personas process (it included step 1, 2, 5, 6, 9). The process was pragmatic, but still added a lot of value. We now have an idea about what we do not know and in a further process, it becomes easier to refine the descriptions with more data.

Katja, age 25


 Katja, left, and her girlfriends having a party

Katja studies philosophy. She has a job in a small clothes shop with special design approximately 10 hours a week. She shares a flat in a cheap area near the city centre of Stuttgart with a friend. Katja loves going out, she meets friends at cafés and bars and loves to go to concerts, often small and cheap places.

Katja used to have a quite old mobile, but one night at a bar, it fell into the toilet and didn’t survive. She got her new GPS enabled phone from her parents at Christmas.

Jan, age 35

 Marion took this photo with her mobile phone, at one of their nights out.

Jan is a sales manager. He met Marion five years ago and they have got two children age 2 and 4. Marion is slightly older than Jan and knows what she wants. They bought a house in a nice area outside Frankfurt three years ago when Jan was promoted. Jan has a very busy day and many meetings in town.

Marion and Jan enjoy a night out once in a while. They know it is important to prioritize the relationship and once a month or every other month they have a carefully planned night out. Jan has a new mobile phone. He appreciates the values it signals over functionality.

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