Is More Better?: Research Concerning the Impact of Multiple Photos on Perception of Persona Profiles

Background: We investigate if and how more photos than a single headshot can heighten the level of information provided by persona profiles. We conduct eye-tracking experiments and qualitative interviews with variations in the photos: a single headshot, a headshot and images of the persona in different contexts, and a headshot with pictures of different people representing key persona attributes. We conduct the within-subject experimental study with 29 participants. The participants were selected to reflect the staff working with news content on a daily basis and formed a diverse pool of individuals originating from 19 different countries (e.g., Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Syria, UK, USA, etc.).

Major Findings:

1) more contextual photos significantly improve the information end users derive from a persona but at the same time increases cognitive load (confusion) of how to interpret multiple photos together.

2) choice of pictures causes various interpretations of the persona that are biased by the end users’ experiences and preconceptions 3) the headshot and contextual photos seem to support cultural assumptions and simplistic explanations for the persona’s interest

Take-away: When using personas within the workplace, organizations should supplement personas with actual usage data to potentially avert possible stereotyping by those using the personas.

Detailed Findings: Our foundation for evaluating these three persona profiles is that one photo (typically a headshot) is standard practice in persona profiles. The use of contextual photos is also not uncommon in persona descriptions as it is assumed that contextual photos convey additional valuable information about the personas that a single headshot photo does not. Using the photos of multiple people that all have the key attributes of the personas but were different in other attributes is an effort to overcome any biases or stereotyping engendered by a photo of a single individual.

We postulate that there is a tradeoff between informativeness and perceptional bias when increasing the number of information elements in persona profiles. Determining the optimum calls for awareness of how the information is perceived by the end users. The three treatments are shown in Figure 1, with the trade-offs in Figure 2.

photos used in persona study and confusion chart

Salminen, J., Nielsen, L., An, J., Jung, S.G., Kwak, H., and Jansen, B. J. (2018) Is More Better?”: Impact of Multiple Photos on Perception of Persona Profiles. ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI2018), Montréal, Canada, 21-26 April, Paper No. 317.

Author: Jim Jansen

Dr. Jansen is a Principal Scientist in the social computing group of the Qatar Computing Research Institute, and a professor with the College of Science and Engineering, Hamad bin Khalifa University, and an adjunct professor with the College of Information Sciences and Technology at The Pennsylvania State University. He is a graduate of West Point and has a Ph.D. in computer science from Texas A&M University, along with master degrees from Texas A&M (computer science) and Troy State (international relations). Dr. Jim Jansen served in the U.S. Army as an Infantry enlisted soldier and communication commissioned officer.