Posts tagged “personas”

Out and About: Steve in Sydney (1 of 2)

I got back last week from two weeks in Australia, traveling around as well as speaking at UX Australia and Service Design Melbourne. Here is the first of four posts with some of the highlights. All my pictures are making their way to Flickr, as well.

The diminutive is a common Australian form. Toasted sandwich becomes toastie. Football is footy. Breakfast is breaky/brekkie. Motorcycle gang member is bikie. Slot machine = pokie. Self-portrait is selfie. I saw this in advertising, building signage and the newspaper.

I’m certainly impressed to know that Sol Levy is such an esteemed tobacconist. What related line of business does he offer that requires one to be over 18 in order to take a trip down memory lane and reveal treasures? Some sort of vintage tobacco porn? The mind boggles.

The savory pie is an Australian dish, sold in all sorts of stores including the ubiquitous Pie Face, where their pies are decorated with, well you guessed it, faces.

Yet another example of personas (or the aesthetics of personas) turned into customer-facing messaging: “Hi, I’m James. I’m a freelance TV producer. But before you write me off as some sort of knob who owns a fancy European car, think again. I don’t even own a car! Instead, I just use GoGet Cars whenever I need one. So when I’m on a shoot and I’ve got expensive equipment to transport, I’ll use this van.”

I was astonished at how foreign I felt in Australia. Despite a common language, there are so many disconnects around vocabulary. This ad on the back of a bus reads “Grab an iinet Combo. It’s like a showbag for grown-ups.” Sure, I can read that, but what the heck are they talking about? Some Aussies clued me in that showbags are gift bags from the equivalent of state fairs. Whatever – that feeling of cluelessness was a particularly wonderful aspect of the whole trip.

Whether you say please or not, the option of opting out at the mailbox is something I’ve seen in Europe as well.

Prohibited clothing.

And more prohibitions.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Separating You and Me? 4.74 Degrees – In 2008, Microsoft found the number to be 6.6; it depends on how one defines a connection. Can we infer anything from Facebook having a looser definition than Facebook?

Adding a new chapter to the research that cemented the phrase “six degrees of separation” into the language, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan reported that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world was not six but 4.74. The original “six degrees” finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. The new research used a slightly bigger cohort: 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population.

Who Uses SpiderOak? – More Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise. Just because you have personas in your development process doesn’t mean you need to make that your marketing. It’s bad enough that you think and talk about your customers this way, at least have the good manners not to talk TO them this way.

Gavin the Geek – Gavin is a geek. He has been for as long as he can remember. Instead of playing with toy guns, he was ripping apart and rebuilding the Atari – a gift to his dad when he was a young boy. In his spare time, he builds servers for friends. In his professional time, he builds servers for friends. And then he gets to administer them all. Making sure they are all backed up, frequently, painlessly, and securely is crucial in maintaining his sanity. SpiderOak bounces into Gavin’s domain. Now, he can load SpiderOak on all of the servers, keep all the data secure, run everything from the command line, keep out of trouble, and never have to worry if, by chance, he didn’t build the server just right…

5 Ways to Think About Nuisance Fees [] – Some great deconstruction of the way we respond to different types of fees, pointing towards some design principles for the creation of fees. The examples in this article are consistent with what we’ve heard in a number of studies.

The discussion starts with a three-pronged test of whether the fee is reasonable: is it fair, is it disclosed and do you have a choice about paying it? Fairness is the least clear, but Robin Block, a retired actuary in Manhattan, argues that the fee must have some relationship to the actual cost of providing the item or service. By that definition, the 3 percent currency conversion fees that credit and debit card issuers levy are unfair. Ditto the $10 or so a day that rental car agencies charge for GPS devices that retail for $100. Bank of America’s effort to charge $5 a month for debit cards is an interesting case study in this context of cost, given that it said that it all but had to add the fee because of new rules that limited what it could charge merchants for accepting the cards.

Ambidextrous magazine shuts down – Although their website is not with this sad news, here’s the email I just got. You can see my contributions here, here, and here.

We know it’s been a while and you’ve maybe wondered what has been going on with us. The global financial crisis, revolutions, The New York Times now charging online… a lot has happened. And with the downturn and the state of publishing, it has been tough. We fought as long as we could and unfortunately must now close Ambidextrous. The magazine has been a labor of love, but it has unfortunately not been organizationally and financially sustainable. Since 2005, we’ve done our best to help designers share their stories and to build a movement around that. As a movement, Ambidextrous will live on, and we should have conversations about what great next steps are for fostering intellectual discussion and sharing in the design community. It’s the community that makes us hopeful and pushes us to find the next outlet, the next forum, the next thing for us to collaborate on. So keep in touch. Share your ideas. Let’s meet again soon.

Harley-Davidson Invites Cognitive Dissonance

Harley-Davidson is probably close on the heels of Apple as one of the brands most cited as an admirably authentic brand, with people who aren’t merely customers purchasing product, but rather fans evangelizing and incorporating/reflecting the brand into every aspect of their being…

…and employees/executives who walk the walk and talk the talk.

True cred all around. But Harley-Davidson is a bit of a schizophrenic brand. It’s impressive that the brand is able to credibly support two sets of core customers who seem like they would be at best uncomfortable with each other: hard-core lifestyle biker dudes and chicks (anti-establishment, subculture) and weekend-warrior gentlemen or gentlewomen hobbyists (well-to-do, mainstream).

Across from the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee sits a new high-end boutique hotel to draw motorcycle enthusiasts. The Iron Horse clearly caters to the income bracket of the weekend-warrior…

…but holds bike events there that celebrate and attract hard-core bikers. These pictures, courtesy of Stefanie Norvaisas, were taken at a recent “Bike Night” at the Iron Horse.

Then again, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe there’s more overlap between these two types of “users” than just looking at the extreme points of the scale would suggest. So often we think we have the customer figured out only to have those assumptions shaken up after a bit of fieldwork. It’s easier to pigeonhole and design for one imagined (probably exaggerated) type of customer, or persona. Harley-Davidson has shown that by celebrating the blurry lines between customer types a brand can invite strange but surprisingly comfortable bedfellows.

See Also:

  • Steve discusses Harley in Interactions magazine. Ships in the Night (Part I): Design without Research

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Famous user figures in the history of HCI [Pasta&Vinegar] – Marketing people, engineers and designers often rely on persona, i.e. fictional characters created to represent the different user types within targeted characteristics that might use a service or a product. In the history of human-computer interaction, some user figures have been so prominent that it is important to keep them in mind.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Product Is You, No. 12 – Rob Walker does a series of advertisements that reveal a customer segmentation and the associated characteristics. Similar vein to my postings about personas leaking outside the enterprise
  • Please vote for our SXSW panel "Culture Kicks Our Ass: How To Kick Back" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from Steve Portigal and D. P. Haine, of Obvious Design.

    We’ll explore the different cultural challenges that breakthrough products must overcome: emergent usage behaviors that are impossible to predict, a global customer base and cultural barriers inside the corporation that suffocate innovation. We’ll also share best practices for addressing each challenge.

  • Please vote for our SXSW panel "FAIL: When User Research Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from
    Steve Portigal, Portigal Consulting
    Nate Bolt, Bolt|Peters
    Dan Saffer, Kicker Studio
    Aviva Rosenstein,
    Mark Trammell, Digg

    Best practices for user research are not hard to come by, but experience is the ideal way to develop mastery. And with experience inevitably comes failure. Embarrassing, awkward, hilarious failure that gives the gift of self-improvement. We’ll share our own unvarnished examples and what they taught us.

  • Do programmers still buy printed books? | Zen and the Art of Programming – Likewise, when I’m holding a book or have it open on my desk, I’m in “book reading mode”, which makes it far easier to immerse myself in it. This means that I’m focused on the task and can proceed quickly. The only context switch that happens is between the book and the editor/shell, if it’s the kind of book that warrants typing along. If you are reading a book in a browser tab, it’s very easy to think, “I’ll just check my email for a second”, or introduce similar distractions. I’m sure I’m not alone in this respect.

    When I buy a physical copy of a book, I feel psychologically more obliged to at least try to get through it. Online I experience a paradox of choice of sort. With hundreds of interesting books available there in front of me, I’m more inclined to excessively multitask, and end up checking out different books while I should still be reading the current one.

    (Thanks @onwardparam and @chirag_mehta)

  • New study suggests people from different cultures read facial expressions differently – East Asian participants in the study focused mostly on the eyes, but those from the West scanned the whole face.
    They were more likely than Westerners to read the expression for "fear" as "surprise", and "disgust" as "anger".

    The researchers say the confusion arises because people from different cultural groups observe different parts of the face when interpreting expression.


ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Shudder: Ford is using "Invented characters" to get everyone on the same page – Antonella is the personification of a profile created from demographic research about the Fiesta’s target customer, said Moray Callum, executive director of Ford Americas design.

    Ford is using characters like Antonella to bring a human element to the dry statistical research drawn from polls and interviews. Based on psychological profiles, these characters are a more modern version of the “theme boards” that designers once covered with snapshots and swatches of material to inspire a design. They are also like avatars, those invented characters used in online games and forums to symbolize a participant’s personality.

    “Personalizing gives context to the information we have. Sometimes the target demographics are difficult to relate to by, say, a 35-year-old male designer.

    “We found in the past that if they didn’t understand the buyer, designers would just go off and design something for themselves,” he added.

  • All of the highbrow talent lavished on lowbrow fare – Frank Bruni riffs on shifting trends in food and tastes as informed (or exacerbated) by the Internet's power to bestow a laser-like focus on the details of the details. Cupcakes, donuts, hot dogs, hamburgers, but what does it all mean?

Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise

Yesterday’s NYT article about Ford using personas raised one of my big concerns about the process, where a design process artifact becomes (inappropriately) a marketing artifact.

The designers imagined her life in detail in a video, “A Day in the Life of Natasha.” Several human models were screen-tested before one, who looks vaguely like Audrey Hepburn, was chosen to appear in the video. The video was also convenient for explaining the car to the press and public.

Here’s an egregious example of persona-think gone mad: In the “Intel Process Personalities” contest, they put forth a number of personas
intel1intel2 and asked online readers “What kind of PC junkie are you?” and “What superhero powers would your ideal notebook PC have?” People submitted their answers online and a six were chosen to be profiled in followup advertising. Here’s one:


Five other real people are similarly profiled in the 3-page ad.

It’s just disturbing to see corporations decide that there are 6 mutually exclusive customer types and ask people then to identify themselves as a Frequent Flyer, a Cafe King, or (yecccchhhh) The Multimedia Monkey. I don’t aspire to be any of those characters. While I may have a set of needs, behaviors, and preferences that align me with other folks, it’s audacious of the company to set up categories and ask me to fit myself into them. And when it’s as ham-fistedly awkward as this (i.e., The Blogger is involved in “posting timely twitters updates”) it’s even more insulting.

Now, this is marketing, not user research, but it’s bringing in user research as semiotics in a way that devalues the real work of researchers and participants. “What superhero powers would your ideal notebook PC have?” is a great question in participatory design, but smug as part of a contest.

Kudos to Intel to using real people in these profiles (admittedly, I assumed they were fake until I read the fine print) but shame on Intel for exposing their patronizing “segmentation” and offering goods in exchange for people identifying themselves within those caricatures.

For more anti-persona ranting, we’re happy to pass along the now-classic interactions column Persona Non Grata upon request.

New Forrester Study on Personas

Last year I gave a talk at an IDSA event where I described the practice of personas as user-centered bullshit. In January I expanded that into Persona Non Grata, my first column for interactions magazine. More recently, I was interviewed about the topic by Forrester Research.

Vidya Drego at Forrester has now issued a report – How To Get The Most From Design Personas – although given her brief, much of our conversation around the limitations and risks of personas, as well as alternatives, does not appear prominently in this document.

Major McCheese

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion recently around personas. Part of what’s really being talked about is how to tell an effective story. As in, one party has information they want to impart to another in a way that is impactful, memorable, makes a good working tool, and can be internalized and passed along to others.

Stefan Nadelman’s animated short, Food Fight, which I discovered over at Drawn, is a virtuosic example of telling a story through alternate means. Nadelman’s film presents a history of major armed conflicts since WWII, using food to represent the conflicting nations. It’s hilarious, touching and thought-provoking, and it made me want a Big Mac.

Food Fight relies on a set of shared reference points to tell its story, and I think it’s useful to keep in mind that the more we use proxies to convey information, the more we are relying on all of the communicating parties having the same set of reference points. That’s why it’s so important in a design process that any type of information vessel be treated not as a static artifact, but as a material that we can work with to clarify interpretations and surface assumptions.


In my recent column Persona Non Grata I point to some of the cultural problems inside organizations that personas can create, or mask. And what happens when your personas become your marketing?

We’ve recently been experimenting with search marketing on Yahoo, MSFT, and Google. Today I received a shiny booklet from Yahoo, with a note from Sharon Goodsense, Yahoo! Search Marketing Specialist (“and remember, we’re always here to help you.”)

And I’m referred to as Bashful Beginner.

Yahoo’s search marketing management interface is so completely useless that all I ever do is click and click and click until I get some result; with no mental model being built that would help me next time. I have no idea what most of the information they are providing is about or how I can use it. So maybe this book will help me, but the first two pages are the most patronizing and fake thing I can imagine. I can’t believe they went to the trouble to come up with these fake characters to represent the company I’m doing business with; it’s offensive to take my money for a service, give me an unusable product, and then hand me a cartoon character who talks down to me; if I can’t call this person for help with my problems, because they don’t exist. It’s the least transparent thing a company should do. Yahoo got off the cluetrain a while ago, I guess.

At Dell We Love All Customers. Even the Ones Best Buy Doesn’t.

It’s been widely reported that Best Buy has created personas for their most profitable customers and taken steps to focus their efforts on attracting and keeping those customers and indeed rejecting other customers. Perhaps an effective strategy, but questionable PR.

Dell goes on the attack today, with a full-page ad that reads, in part

At Dell We Love All Customers. Even the Ones Best Buy Doesn’t.

On November 8, The Wall Street Journal reported that Best Buy is planning to shun up to 20% of its current customer base.

You read that correctly. Shun. As in actively resist. They’ve reportedly decided that as many as 100 million of its 500 million store visits each year are “undesirable.” To quote a Best Buy exectutive as reported in the article: “They can wreak enormous economic havoc.” Well, we would like to officially welcome each and everyone on of those customers to Dell. All of you. Come to right now and we’ll give you…[etc.]


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