Thinking About Sketching and Personas

Posted on: February 3, 2009

I recently attended a UX book club in Los Angeles. As part of the worldwide UX book club movement, we read Bill Buxton’s “Sketching User Experiences”. About 20 people showed up for the discussion, which made it really interactive and great. There was certainly discussion about the book itself, with the main insight (for me) coming from the understanding that sketching is like having a conversation, the conversation is the most important part, not the final product. Sketching is a way to think through a problem by utilizing different mental processes, so the final sketch does not matter, rather the insights that you gained from the *act* of sketching does. This makes a lot of sense to my academic side, because discussions were always a big way to surface the questions and inconsistencies I didn’t know existed. I have certainly participated in a lot of class discussions where the act of talking about something truly helped me “get it”, whereas reading the same thing in textbook would never have given me that “ah ha!” moment.

Aside from the sketching takeaway, something that really struck me in our book club conversation revolved around the purpose of personas. I am not sure how we got around to talking about personas (I think I brought it up!), but one seriously insightful individual said the following (I want to call if out for emphasis):

Personas are a way to enable a shared reality with your team

Take a minute to absorb that… Personas are a communication tool for a shared reality. Their purpose is to enable everyone to empathize with your persona and understand them on some level, with the hope that everyone has a similar enough understanding that we are all working towards the same goal.

My biggest beef with personas coming to the meeting was that there was very little buy-in, but how can there be buy-in when I created the personas in a vacuum and then presented them to the team? The team has no stake in the persona, it is just another piece of paper to them. They didn’t invest the time to observe, digest, analyze and write-up the data. They can’t see through the personas eyes as I do, because they have not breathed and lived it like I have. In my experience, the team often takes on look at it and then forgets about it. Which brings me to the question – can a persona adequately communicate a shared reality if the rest of the team was not invovled in its creation?

I am coming to realize that this is not possible, and that the entire team needs to be involved in persona creation (which includes data collection). Then the persona needs to be created as a team (nice whiteboard exercise there!), so that everyone already shares the reality before the formal document is created, and the document is just there as a nice reminder – a solidified form of our shared reality if you will.

Bringing this entire conversation full circle, it seems to me that the *act* of persona creation is the important aspect here, because creating the persona is how one achieves the shared reality with the team, the actual artifact is less significant.


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Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
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• Strategy and Vision Development
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• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

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