Representing users as personas
Many projects conduct a user analysis resulting in a large set of users and their characteristics. This information is grouped in user profiles and is used to evaluate the validity and need for diverse aspects of the project. Unfortunately many of the user profiles I have seen are often vague, contradictory and very often of little use to the project team.
Alan Cooper (1999) has introduced personas into the design work. Personas are descriptions of imaginary persons that include information about goals, personal relationships, background, work and system related expectations.
Figure 3 - Full-scale personas
Usually we construct 2-3 personas based on a high-level user analysis, using full size laminated photographs of people and writing the persona characteristics on the photographs. This approach lets us add and remove detail as time goes by - the lamination allowing us to wipe away characteristics that need to be amended. The persona photographs are hung on the wall in our project environment and in workshops. This leads the team to believe that they know the personas and as the project progresses, our team members refer to what the personas would say or do in given situations, e.g. "Simon would never bother to fill out any of the optional fields". Above all, the use of personas has helped our teams to focus, eliminating many of the endless discussions of what the "user" would want, expect or need. Our users are few and have names.