Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Personas, 37Signals, and large organizations

Inspired by Joshua Porter's post, I've been doing a lot of research on personas. Yesterday I posted about it. Today, after some more thought, I left a comment on Joshua's blog. It includes some of the thoughts from the previous post, but I think it's still worth posting here:

"So far I've also been doing what Jake suggests. In doing research on personas I ran across Jason Fried's post. He suggests the same: "So if you can’t design something for yourself, design something for someone you know. Get that person or people involved in your project early on. Basing your decisions on a matrix of personality traits isn’t what I’d recommend if you really want to build a great product."

I haven't used personas, so I'm not really in the position to argue strongly for or against them. I think Terry Bleizeffer's response to Jason's post is interesting. While Terry isn't a big fan of personas, she does clarify some crucial points. To me the most interesting is: "For most organizations, it's just not feasible for every person in the organization to talk to real people and have the skills to successfully interpret what they actually mean and not just what they actually say. For the people who do talk to people and do have those skills, we need a way of communicating the results of those discussions to the rest of the team. Personas are one way to do that."

The guys at 37Signals have an ideal situation. They are small. I think more (especially web related) companies should be like them because it gives them the flexibility to do stuff like... design without personas. But for big organizations with lots of stakeholders in a project, the designers need a way to communicate with the rest of the stakeholders why a certain design decision makes sense. The problem is that the engineers say "well, people really want feature x" and the designers argue that "according to our research, people want feature y" but there is no common ground to communicate WHO "people" are. Different "people" want different things and a line has to be drawn about which "people" the product is really for. Not every stakeholder (decision maker) can be in touch with real people , so personas are a way for those who are in touch with real people (and who have the skill required to interpret their research) to communicate to the other stakeholders who these people are, what they want, and why specific decisions should or should not be made. Again, I have no experience with large organizations or personas so I can't say if the above observations are true in practice.

My latest project is great because the target market is a person who is living with me: my mom. I hope the projects I take on in the future will be similar."