The only two Personas you really need. Why designing for extremes allows us to use personas like a tool, not a trophy.
After years of slaving over personas driven by qualitative data, spending weeks in windowless “war rooms”, amidst a forest of post-its, I’ve begun to question: “What is the point of making Personas?”
Does the benefit outweigh the effort it takes to create them? Are they the best way to get a team to think about the people they are designing products for? I wonder if my client will use them if they will quickly become irrelevant if these carefully crafted personas will become a fleeting deliverable rather than a cherished tool.
When I think about the last time I used a persona to actually design something…I made it up on the spot, sketched it on a scrap of copy paper, thought through my designs from my persona’s perspective, and then made adjustments to my designs. I relied on what I’ve seen users do in the field on other projects, and created a temporary lens through which to view my designs. It wasn’t fancy or official, but it worked pretty well. We should choose the right tool for the job at hand.
Personas have been placed on a pedestal. A shiny leave-behind to keep at the end of an engagement with a design consultancy; the stamp of UX approval. But the purpose of a persona is to be a tool, not a trophy.
A classic example of this is the Oxo Good Grips Story. Sam Farber set out to design a more comfortable vegetable peeler for his arthritic wife, Betsey in their garage. Turns out everyone wanted more comfortable, ergonomically designed kitchen tools and Oxo quickly grew to become a household name.
The nerd is either your most discerning user or your competitors’ most loyal user. They are the ones doing all the research to find the best products and services. They are very knowledgeable in their area of interest and willing to try new things. Most importantly, their friends and family call them for recommendations. Your goal is to be the company they think of first.
Most of us operate on the recommendations of people we trust. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool we have.
When you design for the Nerd you are really designing for the social network surrounding them. Their impact is exponential. Their network will pass along a recommendation to others: “Oh my uncle knows a lot about computers and he recommended this one to me, you should get one too.”
They are the best users you could possibly talk to in a research setting. They tend to be more articulate about what they like and dislike when compared to your average customer.
When you design for the Nerd
Struggles with tech
The Newb: Once you’ve addressed the needs of the Nerd, it’s time to design for the Newb. The Newb has a hard time with new things, particularly technology. To a technology legend like you, it may not always be obvious where the potential pitfalls lie. But the Newb is pretty good at finding them. We all have someone in our lives who call us for tech support; design it for them.
Designing for the Newb is really about designing for usability. If it’s so easy the Newb can use it (without help) then you’ve designed something most people can use. This concept is in keeping with the principles of Universal design, although perhaps a little less delicately put. If you design for the person who struggles the most with your product, it will ultimately benefit everyone.
Universal design also takes into consideration accessibility and inclusion, so keep those in mind as well. Have you considered how someone with impaired vision would use your product? How people of different backgrounds might experience your product differently? Designing for the Newb is just a quick way to remember to design inclusively. The goal is to make a product everyone can enjoy using.
When you design for the Newb:
The order of who you design for first and second is really important. You design for the Nerd first, and then you design for the Newb without breaking the flow for the Nerd. The Nerd is the primary persona, they set the direction, help you find the core use case, what makes your company uniquely positioned to serve them. So you must start with the Nerd. The Newb just helps you make that core use case accessible to the majority.
It’s worth noting that the personas described here are behavioral, not demographics. A behavioral persona is a fictional person who embodies an observed behavior or a set of related behaviors amongst your users. A behavioral persona will help to illustrate the motivations behind those behaviors and describe the common problems or issues users who exhibit these behaviors face with your product. They are nuanced and insightful. They do not represent all users but rather the extreme or specific cases.
A demographic persona is usually a genericized representation of user segments. They often have an age range like 18–26, an assigned gender and nationality and a made-up name and backstory. This practice is dangerously close to stereotyping groups of people. Peoples’ demographics are rarely relevant to their behaviors related to a product or service.