Should UX designers use personas?

The question in the title was asked in Quora.

Mike Donahue wrote a nice answer, most of which I agree with:

“Building on what Jakob Persson has said, it’s not even just a matter the right reason to use personas. You also need to know if the persona you use is worth using.

  • Is it built using accurate, unbiased research methods
  • Does it contain actionable details, and as Jakob points out, those are behavior details. It’s rare that demographic details provide significant insight into how to shape the experience.

I have seen agencies deliver these overblown personas with so many useless details that made it harder to make decisions than easier. The best personas are concise and focus on what the persona is trying to accomplish.

On a personal note, I have largely moved away from personas in favor of Job To Be Done (JTBD) Stories because they focus on the outcome (goals) people are trying to achieve rather than details like how old they are. For example, if a person wants to drill hole the fact they’re 25 or 50 has little impact on the solution.”

Just to complement Mike’s answer, from my point of view, personas still have plenty to offer for design. Often, there’s too high empasis on redundant information, age in particular (like in Mike’s answer, “I don’t need to know if they’re 25 or 50”).

I would argue against this information not being relevant in a sense that age — and other personified information like name, picture, gender, etc. — are essential for humanizing the user segment.

The humanization is not an end point in itself, of course, but it is required for an increased level of empathy.

There’s a difference between designing for a “busy single mom trying to accomplish grocery buying faster” (JTPD approach) or for “Mary, 25 year-old single mom from Chicago that wants to save more time in grocery shopping to take care of her elderly mom” (persona approach).

So, I’d say that in general personas can not only help designers focus on the user (Lene Nielsen’s point) but also add more purpose and motivation for the designer’s job. Like, “Hey, I’m doing this for real people.”

That, in itself, is a powerful thing.

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