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Personas are like statues

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Immobile. Static. Fluff. Over simplified. Minimalistic. Artificial. Plastic. At least that’s how I feel about them. There I said it.

Anthropological ideas of situated action suggest that the complexity of human activity varies from situation to situation. Personas in this respect by showcasing a unified image fail to capture a more complex range of possible activities which can be very inspirational. The form of representation is often a few textual paragraphs and a picture which is questionable at its effectiveness in developing empathy. If the aim of such a design activities is to inspire team members then I would say that more powerful methods of context mapping exist which look beyond the boundaries of a person into the environment. These empathy encouraging methods can also be strengthened with the use of video which Jacob Buur has been exploring thoroughly in Denmark. Furthermore even richer empathy can be achieved by means of team participation when designers join ranks with users in eliciting their latent needs through design research. Given the choice between uniform personas and more granular, video based, participatory scenarios my preferential vote is cast on the latter.

There has also been quite some interesting debate on this topic elsewhere with voices from both sides:

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