First- and second-order utility of personas

Wan to share an observation about first- and second-order utility of personas. What do these terms mean?

first-order utility: personas help the designer to understand people (i.e., they help the designer do their job better)
second-order utility: the benefit to the users via the use of personas (e.g., new features, better usability)

These two can be in conflict.

Consider the following example: designers use an inaccurate persona that is still empathetic but reports the wrong needs, i.e., those not actually corresponding to what people want. The designer obtains first-order utility from the persona as it helps them to create the feature the persona wants; but this does not bring second-order utility because the actual users do not find value in the developed feature.

This example highlights the difficulty of measuring personas’ value — designers might perceive them useful and gain empathetic understandings from them, but this does not automatically mean benefits for the end-user. Therefore, measuring persona users’ perceptions has a limitation of not actually measuring the value for end-users.