Personas: A Necessary Tool?

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While designers and marketers rely heavily on developing mock personas of people, is the process flawed?

Developing personas start the design process when design thinkers and marketers prepare a new solution for specific users. The process prompts researchers to examine future users or customers by creating a user profile. By developing fake personas, developers can better understand who their product or service should target.

Developing a persona requires comprehensive research into the user and analyzes how users will use a product or service. The persona explores the users’ basic demographics, including name, profile photo, and quota. Researchers also dig deeper into the users’ motivations, behavior, goals, needs, influencers, and relationships to other potential users.

Testing Personas

In the last post I wrote, I explored the different emotional experiences Vimeo and YouTube create for users. This week, I dig deeper to create a mockup persona for users who might use’s services.

Personas include a name, photo, and key demographics.

Thanks to a handy worksheet provided by Ben Ralph, the persona process developed with ease. However, I found myself quite uncomfortable about generalizing information about people, and the act of stereotyping during this exercise caused me to take pause. More questions raised as I continued this exercise. Is this truly the best practice? How thoughtful are persona’s? What issues could arise from this method?

Motivation and Behaviors explored in a persona.

Personas and Bias

I started wondering, “could the assumptions I am making about potential users of Vimeo create a bias towards my research?” Then I started to wonder if my research included bias, what dire effect could that have on my product or design? Is it possible that instead of helping, persona’s actually feed into divisive practices? Could I inadvertently increase racial unrest in my design?

While I’ve written about persona’s in the past, I’m beginning to think differently about their usage. Marguerite Moore, strategist at the higher education think tank Simpson Scarborough, changes my opinion about persona’s completely. In her article, Marguerite argues persona’s embolden racial stereotyping and embeds a designer’s implicit bias into services and products. Her feedback focuses on the usage of persona’s in higher education.

Any time you segment groups, you’re creating generalizations, and those generalizations always have the potential to perpetuate stereotypes.

Margeurite Moore, Simpson Scarborough

Marguerite brings up good points and questions the need for photos and names of people in personas. By naming and identifying a fictional person with a photo, the designer immediately creates implicit bias, something embedded into everyone.

Overcoming implicit bias can be difficult, especially when people are unaware of their own biases. I also agree with Marguerite’s analysis that persona’s over generalize individual people. How accurate can personas truly be if they oversimplify a large swath of people?

I understand the value persona’s bring to design and marketing, however, I think it’s time to reevaluate these practices, and develop a more authentic approach to better understanding our audiences.

About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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