Personas have been around for a really long time. I first heard them about the same time as I heard about timeboxing and iterative development… think last century. But they never really did much for me back then. The picture they painted of the user wasn’t vivid enough to be useful.

And I suspect the lack of usefullness is what made the user of personas fade from use in most projects.

But I’ve discovered they are very useful if they are constructed in a way that is very vivid and only contain attributes that drive functional choices in your application. For example, take the fictional character, Manager Maria. An overview of Manager Maria tells us little bit about her and sets up a pattern of application use that can really help figure out which features she cares about and why. Imagine Manager Maria something like:

Maria is a busy executive who interacts with the application between meetings. She is impatient and often not focused on her task, completing activities in haste.

Just from that description we are starting to get some idea on how she is going to interact with our app. Now to flesh out the ideas, based on her overview Maria will:

  • Stick to the quickest workflow through the application

  • Use shortcut keys

  • Fill in the minimum number of fields to get a result

  • Make mistakes in her efforts to get things completed quickly

  • Require fast responses and may repeat an action if the application takes too long to respond

  • Often be called to a meeting midway through a task

See how that description of a person brings up application functionality, test cases and other goodness for your app design process? Yeah, that is super useful isn’t it? Glad you agree.

To integrate this sort of persona building exercise into your app design process I start off with my stock persona deliverable. I then engage a group in a room with a white board and I use to build more specific personas based on the target market of the application.

The result is a great set of personas that drive what my app should do in specific situations based on my expected audiences. Or should I say personas?