Personas and user dimension scales have been becoming increasingly popular with designers since 1999 when Alan Cooper popularized them in his book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Today, they are extending their influence into the realm of marketing, which makes perfect sense because marketers should enable communication between design teams and the user community. To this end, I’ll share what I’ve learned about creating personas and user dimension scales.
Personas are fictitious characters, or archetypes, that represent user types that might use a product or service. These are useful as design targets, meaning they serve as a means to considering how different personas might respond differently to a particular design. Ideally personas are based on research, they are not just invented based on anecdotal experience with your users.
Personas are useful not only to infer how users might respond to features or experiences, but also to help validate design concepts. Obviously, this will not replace actual testing with real users, but it might help head off issues before you get there. Another key benefit of personas is that they enable designers to have empathy with potential users because they feel like real people.
Here’s a personas overview diagram to keep on hand while your creating them:
Personas are not without their critics. Some people feel that they’re not scientific enough to represent your audience and can therefore be misleading. I don’t disagree with this, but I think the real value in creating them stems from the process of thinking deeply about how users react differently to products and services. Another potential issue to watch out for is letting the personas get in the way of user engagement. In other words, creating personas does not mean that you can stop engaging with users. Personas are a moving target that must be updated regularlyÂ through engagement. For those interested in learning more about this, and some research that has been done on the effectiveness of personas, visit Frank Long’s research paper.
User Dimension Scales
Personas are useful to understand your user community. User dimension scales are a way of plotting your personas across a variety of user dimensions. As you can see in the diagram below, there are five dimensions listed with three personas listed on each dimension. Going through this exercise can help highlight where personas are similar or different.
I hope this comes in handy and please comment if I’ve missed anything important.
This week in the Twitterverse:
- UNDERSTAND/FIX THE WORLD
- SOME FUN
Have a great weekend.
First off, thanks to everyone who made it out to the SFAMA event last night at Adaptive Path. We had a great turn out for our panelists Robert Scoble of Rackspace/Building 43, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester , Kevin Marks of Google and Mark Silva of Real Branding.
The conversation was wide ranging, but there were a couple of things that jumped out for me. I’ll highlight those quickly below:
As social media changes marketing and the web experience in general, there are still some social phenomena that we just can’t kick. Namely, it’s still possible to use the media to perpetuate falsehoods through repetition. Here’s a funny site that coins the term Wikiality. In other words, just because we can talk back and start conversations does not mean we’re heading to a more accurate representation of reality.
Listening â‰ Innovation
Jeremiah commented that using social media to listen to communities can be misleading because they’re basing their input on past experience rather than what’s next. To make things worse, listening to social media quickly turns into listening to those with the loudest voices rather than those with the best ideas and can become a popularity contest.I think he’s put his finger on a real challenge for social media moving forward. How can social media be applied to strike a balance between community voice, business interest, and innovation?
This get’s back to the Henry Ford’s famous quote, “â€œIf I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.â€ That said, I think it can be, and is being, done by companies like Proctor and Gamble who have developed a user-research program that addresses these concerns through the use of ethnography and other research methodologies in combination with social media.
Stop Asking For “Viral” Campaigns
Kevin made a great comment about how the term “viral” is a very poor choice to describe marketing campaigns. While it’s true that not all viruses cause disease, they are generally associated with doing so. Thus, Kevin proposed thinking about other biological metaphors to describe what we’re trying to do. For example, he suggested the metaphor of a seed within a tasty fruit. We carry the fruit with us so that we can eat it on our journeys and then transplant the seed elsewhere, by discarding it, thus spreading the population of the fruit in question. The metaphore that resonates best with me is that of the meme (which I talk about in this post)
Filtering Content With Profiles
Robert introduced the issue of filtering the content we consume through our network, rather than by using metrics. Kevin added fuel to this fire by talking about the way Technorati enables this. That said, I wonder if a hybrid approach won’t provide the best solution. Metrics are good for some kinds of filtering and not others. There are some companies out there, like the folks at RiseSmart, that are trying to combine people with algorithms to provide more relevant search.
The Top 100 Are Always Changing
Kevin brought up a good point that makes perfect sense, but that I’d never really thought about before. He said that the top 100 bloggers on Technorati are always changing, thus drawing attention to the fact that there is some consistent rate of change, or flow, between the long tail and the head. In other words, it’s not like those people at the top will be there forever. Though, I’m not sure I’ve really wrapped my head around what the effect of this really is. Perhaps it just prevents the consolidation of power?
Evolution Of Social Media
Several panelists talked about the evolution of social media and the fact that some of the original top bloggers are moving towards lifestreaming, Robert being one example. One effect of this is that we’re uploading more content than before. Kevin pointed out that the social media expereince may involve more uploading that downloading. My concern is that more content leads to more noise, which leads to more filtering, which may ultimately lead to more frustration unless filtering can keep up. We’ve seen this happen with the traditional broadcast approach to media where brands cranked up their megaphones so loudly that we can’t hear anything and we’ve lost a sense of trust. I hope that’s not where we’re headed.
Brands Need To Act Like People
Amen. Mark talked about this and I think pretty much everyone agrees that brands need act more like people. That doesn’t necessarily mean more transparency, but it does mean interacting in a human way. On the flip side, perhaps companies need to be held accountable in a more human way for their actions.
Louis Gray also did a nice live summary of the event.
Thanks for reading!
Over the years, I’ve helped several companies identify partners for a variety of projects from manufacturing to creative services and I’ve managed many of those partners and service providers after they were selected. This post is based on that experience, and is intended to share some of what I’ve learned about the request for information (RFI) process.
I’ll discuss the RFI process in relation to a recent project I did with a Bay Area scientific device company, Wafergen Biosciences, for the development of their new SmartChip system. In my role, I worked closely with the project lead to identify a service provider who could take on an industrial and user-interface design challenge associated with the project.
Why do an RFI?
The RFI process has two goals, the first of which is to educate yourself, and your company, so you can make a strategic decision about partners and service providers. Certainly, there are times when you’ll already have solid candidates for a project in your network but even in this case, the RFI process can help you understand key points of negotiation, estimate fair pricing thresholds, learn about market trends, and understand contemporary capability sets.
The second goal is to make sure you get the right information from your potential partners and service providers. Often, these companies will have a wide range of services , which means that a general capabilities presentation won’t give you insight into the practice area you’re interested in. I’ve also found that the RFI process can help help support internal alignment around project goals, which in turn results in a more highly developed request for proposals (RFP) …. I’ll write another post about RFP’s soon.
In Wafergen’s case, we needed a firm that could handle both an industrial design and a user-interface design project. This significantly narrows the field, because many firms specialize in one area only. Which brings me to the topic of to find candidates to particiate in your RFI.
An RFI for your RFI?
The projects I’ve worked on have been primarily for private companies, so I’ve never had the requirement of publicly posting an RFI. Assuming this is not the case, you’ll want to make the RFI process as lightweight as possible. Thus, it’s important to start with some research on your own to find firms to participate in the process. In my case, the scope of my engagement with Wafergen would only allow me to consider 10 firms in the RFI phase.
I took a hybrid approach to identifying the firms to participate. First, I reached out to my personal network through e-mail and LinkedIn. I then reached out to the internal team at Wafergen. Finally, I used Core77′s Design Directory to turn up some additional candidates. At this point, I’d probably looked at 30 websites, which I narrowed down to ten with the help of the Wfergen project lead.
3 key points:
- Make sure you get a variety of firms to support a wider understanding of the field while allowing key points of differentiation to rise to the surface.
- Don’t limit yourself to firms that you already know (that’s nepotistic and lazy).
- Spend some time looking online to see what people say about candidates, rather than just looking at their websites.
A basic RFI outline
The structure of an RFI will vary a bit depending on the application, but here’s a general structure to get you started:
- A Statement of Purpose – why are you looking for help? (clearly stated goals)
- Response Guidelines
- when do you want a response? (participation criteria)
- in what format? (it may help to explain how the proposal will be reviewed)
- and, to whom? (contact information)
- General Questions
- what are the key points around which you’ll make a decision? For example, firm size, number of locations, range of services, business history, portfolio samples, case studies, etc (make sure that your questions will actually have an impact on your decision).
- request specific capability information related to your project (deliverable formats, software required, etc)
- provide an area for candidates to include some information that may not be directly within the scope of the RFI but which they think is relevant.
- clearly state how your selection process will proceed.
- identify how many firms will move onto the RFP process.
- provide a contact should the candidate have additional questions about the process.
- Fine Print
- if your RFI requires that you disclose sensitive information, make sure to get an non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed before sending the RFI.
3 things to look out for
- The way that candidates respond to the RFI is usually indicative of their overall performance. Thus, if they’re too busy to be bothered, send you a canned response, or don’t respond on deadline proceed with caution. For example, In my Wafergen research I came across a firm whose answering service had no option for talking with an account manager, office manager, or salesperson. Ultimately, I had to leave a message with the accounting department to get someone to call me back!
- Watch out for candidates that don’t disclose partnerships that they may require to meet your project requirements.
- Be careful about having prolonged conversations with candidates, as this may give them an unfair advantage in the process. The idea is to give them enough information in the RFI to reply with what you’ll need to move to the next step.
3 project management tips
- Start a spreadsheet with all the candidates listed as you’re working your way through the process. It’s too easy to confuse candidates, contacts, and assets otherwise. For the Wafergen project, I used Google Docs to manage the process because I wanted the project team to be able to watch the process unfold, review candidates, and provide feedback.
- The way you handle the RFI process also sends a message to the candidate, so be professional, courteous, and respectful of the fact that they’re investing in the process at this point without getting paid. At the end of the process this means following up with the candidates that won’t be included in the RFP process.
- Start writing your RFP as you go through the RFI process. This will allow you to incorporate what you learn into the RFP while preparing you to smoothly move forward with the approved candidates.
This week in the Twitterverse:
- UNDERSTAND/FIX THE WORLD
- SOME FUN
Have a great weekend.