Week 3 – Benefits and Detriments of Personas

Cooper, Alan. “Designing for Pleasure.” In The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, 123-47. Indianapolis: Sams Publishing, 2004.

In “Designing for Pleasure,” Alan Cooper explains what personas are, why they exists, and how they are most effective.  Cooper summarizes his positive opinion of personas repeatedly by stating that “trying to please too many different points of view can kill an otherwise good product” (125).  His point is that eliminating “the elastic user” and replacing such a nebulous creature with a specific entity enables designers to focus the personas as more effective design tools (125-126).  Giving a persona a name, job, car, family, and goals increases the ability of the design team to be precise in their purpose and goals of the project.

One benefit of personas is that they establish a common understanding between all members of the design team in terms of what the user ultimately wants.  Creating personas helps narrow the scope of the target audience to a manageable three or four “characters” who are representative of the group; from that tiny sample, designers can focus on which “character” is the primary persona – the person “who must be satisfied” (137).

However, relying heavily on personas raises concerns as well.  Cooper is quick to emphasize how programmers are generally reluctant to make the shift from referencing “the user” to referencing a character such as “Rosemary;” the concept of personas is something which is often lost on a programmer.  Therefore, problems could arise if the friction between the design team and the programmers continues throughout the development of the product.  A programmer could develop a product for his or her own idea of “the user” whereas employees from the design team could have something else in mind.  When there is a lack of cohesiveness between different aspects of the team as a whole, there is a danger of producing an ineffective final result.  Additionally, relying on personas can be dangerous if a team selects the “wrong” persona as the primary target; the result could be a drop in sales or negative feedback from users.  Personas are most effective when they are carefully designed and adjusted before implementation and when all members of the team are on-board with the purpose and objective at hand.

Cooper notes that he is “shooting for believability, not diversity” in terms of how he designs his personas.  What problems do you foresee as a result of this mindset, especially in an age where being politically correct is often an unstated norm of the workforce?


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