Co-design with personas

The persona method is aimed at talking about the users and representing users in the design process. I (and some of my students9 have experimented with having users present in the initial design process and let users act as personas for innovation. I gave a talk about this in Chicago, Sept 2011. These are my slides from the talk at UX Masterclass in Chicago lene nielsen – codesign with personas

 Why co-design with personas

Including users in large participatory innovation projects together with professional innovators such as designers, people from marketing, engineers etc puts a strain on the user that might not like to be the focus of attention. With point of departure in two cases, one from business and a student project, I will illustrate and discuss the use of personas as a mean to get users involved in innovation, address their needs, and at the same time be a platform that gives all participants equal involvement.
I aim to present a novel way of using role-playing, immersion, and personas. Two workshops are described and analysed in an attempt to explain one of the ways in which innovation and user participation are addressed and oriented towards acting out the future.

A persona is a fictitious user described with basis in data. The personas method is recognised in IT development within the private sector, but has spread to other areas such as marketing and product development. An example of how the method is used in marketing is the Japanese beer company Asahi Breweries that used personas to strategise the future of its Super Dry beer brand (Browne, Temkin & Geller, 2008). The most common use of personas is for a design team to use the user description to understand and engage in the user’s world in order to create new interaction forms or products that correlate with the users’ needs and contexts. In this use of personas actual users are present in the data, but not in the design process.
The workshops described here are based on 10 Steps to Personas (Nielsen, 2007). Key to the 10 steps are scenarios, that are stories describing the persona’s interaction with an interface or product. As a story, the scenario has a main character, a setting, a goal, it has actions that lead to the goal, and it has obstacles that hinder the way to the goal (Madsen & Nielsen, 2009).
The two cases show how users 1) are able to act as personas and be as creative as professional designers 2) use their understanding of the area in focus to create scenarios both from the perspective of personas that are similar to them, but also from personas that are different from them, because they are familiar with different behaviours within the given design area.

A professional case
Arla Foods amba wanted to innovate within the, until then unknown area of canteens. For the purpose of creating new products from user knowledge an innovation process was created that consisted of: Scientific data gathering. User data gathering – 4 dynamic focus groups, each video filmed. Data analysis. From the analysis a documentary film lasting 30 minutes and two personas were produced. An innovation workshop lasting two days.
The workshop had the following course of events: Introduction to data. A design game using the documentary and focusing on pain points. Presentation of findings in the game. Participatory innovation from personas and scenarios. Presentation and ranking of best ideas.
The participants that innovated were canteen managers, concept developers, persons from marketing, and engineers. All groups had at least one person from each category. Even though the canteen managers came on the second day of the workshop, they entered the groups without hesitation and got engaged in the creative process. It was easy for them to relate to the persona descriptions and they felt on equal foot with the designers.

A student case
The aim of the innovation session was to develop a tool that could support communication between soccer trainers, kids, and parents. Prior to the session, data was gathered from observations and focus groups. From this two personas that had different behaviour and media use were created as well as a number of scenarios that varied in situation and context. The participant was asked to go through all the scenarios from the point of view of both personas, with the intention of creating novel solutions.
The participant, a mother to a child who played soccer, had no problem in switching between the two personas even though only one resembled herself. She was able to drawn on her knowledge of other parents and their preferences and behaviour, but when she acted as the persona that resembled her-self, she often commented on the likeness, how she herself would react, and her own needs.

Browne, J., Temkin, B. D., Geller, S. 2008. Design Persona Best Practices From Japan. Examining How Four Organizations Successfully Use Design Personas. In Forrester Report, September 16, 2008

Madsen S. & Nielsen L. 2009. Using Storytelling to Improve Scenarios. In Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Information Systems, Barcelona, Spain, February (pp. 25-27).

Medler, B. & Magerko, B. The Implications of Improvisational Acting and Role-Playing on Design Methodologies. CHI 2010: Dance, Dust, and Drama: Designing Design April 10–15, 2010, Atlanta, GA, USA (pp. 483-492)

Nielsen, L. 2007. Ten Steps to Personas,

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