At the UX Book Club the other day, I misheard someone and wondered about making “Project Personas.” Short-lived, project-based, personas that keep the attention of the team for the duration of the project.
I think that UX personas can be a very useful tool for making better software. They can be hard to keep using every day, though, especially for teams who are new to the idea. I’ve run personas workshops with a handful of clients. I’ve written before about my UX personas process and why I think personas are useful (My favourite thing about them is using them for making decisions and defending decisions.) We spend two half-days doing that process as a workshop. On the first day we do the research and sketch the first version of the personas. On the second day we revise and share them.
When I’ve come back to clients after a few weeks or months way the personas are sometimes gone, or peeling slowly off the wall, looking a bit neglected. I want to find a way to improve my follow-up so that I can help people keep using the personas. Part of that might be making them more appealing and obviously useful. A different approach could be to try Project Personas. First we need to look at Proto Personas.
Leah Buhley’s excellent book UX Team of One (which I wrote a brief review of) includes a framework for making Proto-Personas. How I make personas matches quite well with her description. She notes that they’re great for when the team:
- is talking about users in non-specific ways;
- needs a nudge for be more user-centered.
Personas don’t have to be huge and complicated, or take weeks to make, to be useful. They just have to be enough to help the team make better decisions and be clear on the users’ goals and needs. These Proto Personas aren’t the same as full-on Personas, but they can still be very useful.
At the UX Book Club where we discussed Buhley’s book, we were talking about the difficulty of getting buy-in and interest to various UX deliverables, including personas. One thing that came up is how we humans get used to things quickly. You can make amazing personas and have them up in plain sight of the team, but after a few weeks people stop noticing them. We become habituated to them: the same thing, in the same spot, every day.
Then I misheard someone say “Project Personas” instead of “Proto Personas” and I thought “that could work well!” We could make small personas quickly and use them for the next few months on a particular project. At the end, we could take them down from the wall. At the start of the next project, we could make a new set of different personas. We could use a different design and put them up in a different (but still prominent!) place.