is a customer experience expert and President of Adlin, Inc. Tamara is
formerly a Senior Usability Specialist for Amazon.com and is currently
a blogger, author, trainer and speaker specializing in using personas
in user experience design. Make sure to check out Tamara's website, blog and interviews with user experience luminaries at UX Pioneers.
What Are Personas?
Wikipedia defines personas as:
Personas are fictitious characters that are created to
represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that
might use a site or product.
Tamara’s Cheat Sheet to Personas
- Personas are an organizational pattern language.
Just as software developers are use design patterns to unify
communication while constructing software, personas bring consistency
and specificity to who really is "the user". When done right personas
drive out false assumptions and give people throughout an organization
a way to clearly define the people for whom they designing their
product or service.
- Personas help prioritize work. Some features may
be more popular to develop than others, but when you are asking if
"Mary Jo" would really use that feature teams can begin to recognize
whether or not that latest feature is necessary to meet business
- Personas de-personalize and de-politicize topics.
Instead of telling Data Head Dan that reporting isn’t important right
now, you can say that "Mary Jo" first needs to be able to use the
system before you can spend time crafting administrative reports.
- Personas provide a way to transcend "department speak".
Developers communicate different from management and marketing – well
we all know about marketing! Using personas allows everyone in the
organization to communicate about aspects of the product or service
with specificity and clarity.
- Personas require you to know where you are going.
Before you can bring your personas to life you must first know what the
organization’s goals are. Personas exist to serve the aspirations of
the company - if you don’t know what the objectives are then personas
- Personas need to be relevant to everyone. Once
created if the personas don’t make sense to entire groups of people
then they are ignored. Stop this problem before it happens my making
sure everyone involved can answer, "How will using this persona make my
- Personas are not an exact science. Even if you
don’t execute flawlessly against your persona chances are you will have
solved many people’s problems just in trying.
- Build personas based on goals not categorization.
Rather than create persona identity based on a category (small business
vs. enterprise) craft personas based on the goals people have.
Goal-based development will transcend awkwardly designed categories.
- Start small. Resist the temptation to make your
first attempt at using personas a widely publicized event. You only get
one shot at a first impression and it may take some time to learn to
use them right.
- Personas tend not to die, but rather evolve. Just as rarely to businesses remove offerings, personas will grow with the organization based on the stated goals.
Tamara’s work is peppered with colorful metaphors that help drive her points home. Here are a few we discuss in our interview:
- Corporate underpants - when your org chart shows up in the primary navigation of your website
- Let them pee - give people what they really want and then you'll find they are probably amenable to listen to whatever you want to present
- Barnacle-based design - piecemeal additions to a good product or website eventually creating large and less-valuable version of what's intended
Software Developers and Their Illicit Brethren
Tamara notes that there are only two industries that call their customers "users". Read Nerd Nirvana’s post on Software Developers vs. Drug Dealers.
Books Mentioned in the Show
The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Bed and bumper music in the show is provided by: