Sticky Personas

Ernie_bert_jim_frankYears ago, Alan Cooper pioneered the concept of personas, which are basically fictitious people who represent the customer.  They are stand-ins that are used to create empathy for the real people.  They are created by amalgamating different characteristics of potential customers into one pretend person.  Personas are very useful for decision making, especially for the question, “Who do we optimize this interface for?”  More details on personas here.

Most personas that I have seen are “generic”.  I mean that the name of the persona is Bob or Nancy or Jill.  Their pictures come from stock photos.

The problem with this approach is that the names are clearly fake and the people have no built in frame of reference.  Generic makes them inherently non-sticky.  A little over a year ago, I had worked on a new approach to personas that was meant to be more sticky.  I used Muppet characters.  I made two fictitious companies, one called Electric Mayhem, which had 50 employees and another called Sesame, Inc, which had 5,000 employees.  Each company had Muppet character employees, for which I described their job responsibilities, goals and points of view.  The language of the Muppets provided cultural references that people could understand even before I started describing them.

Gonzo, marketing director, was out there and would try anything.  Miss Piggy, field sales, was sweet until you messed up her sale, then KARATE CHOP!  Sam the Eagle is conservative and doesn’t want to try new things.  Each character brought a cultural reference and a memorable image.  I had an image of Kermit in a suit, so he became the CMO in a  large organization.

This didn’t imply a ton of behavior out of the box.  Besides being conservative, Sam the Eagle could have any job and have any goals that didn’t conflict with his Muppet character.  However, the imagery was fun and the names were sticky.  It was much easier to remember Bert and Ernie, the sales guys, versus the randomly named Alice and Chuck. The point of Personas is that they should become real parts of your development effort.  They are the customer.  Not some nameless faceless “user”, but Bert.  Bert is our customer and we love Bert.

Of course, you don’t have to use Muppets.  You can use any caricatures.  You can use super heroes, television stars, historical figures, ancient gods, cartoon characters, movie characters, etc.  Anything that has a culture reference and clear imagery.  It is critical that the persona has a clear memorable image so you can tap into the brains ability to remember images better than words.

By using Sticky Personas, I believe you will find it easier and more fun to incorporate them into your development process.  Give it a try.

NoteI love the Muppets, however a co-worker didn’t grow up with them, so the references didn’t make sense.  Also, I chose this picture because I wanted to demonstrate how personas are only as good as what you put into them.  It’s you, not the personas that make the magic.

2 Replies to “Sticky Personas”

  1. I think the idea of using muppets is better for image consistency throughout an app more so than for personalities that the individual muppets had to offer. I grew up with them and I couldn’t really tell you much more than kermit and piggy.

    But, I think because they are strong, memorable characters, it’s easy to follow their responsibilities through the vision of the software you choose to paint.

    When we are building software for a specific client, we like to borrow personas from the target client itself. Meaning, we take people from the actual company and incorporate them into the software demos; this way, there is a little a leap of faith as possible when the clients review.

    Of course, that only works when you have *already* been hired 🙂

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