Had a chat with a researcher this week, and one of the topics we discussed was how to use personas in a design process. We ended up talking a lot on why their team wanted to look into personas in the first place, and we realized that even though personas are by no ways a new method, there are still quite a lot of confusion about what they can do or cannot do.

One goal for using personas could be to aggregate research. That is, the research team goes out, does a bunch of studies and aggregates what they have learned about the users into a condensed, easy to digest and use format. The idea being that in this case the team doesn’t need to either do the same research again, or refer to longer study report when talking about goals, motivations, mental models of their intended audience. It’s a shorthand, that allows team members to think about while doing other activities. This is helpful when the team in general doesn’t have much knowledge about the users, for example in certain B2B applications. Depending on the target audience, this might be also the case when jobs to be done would serve the team better, when the individual user tasks or behaviors cannot be easily synthetised into one artifact.

The other goal for personas would be to align the team. That is the team gets together, does a workshop to create pragmatic or hypothetical personas based on their prior knowledge. After this the team can start learning about their target audience and validate some of their assumptions, thus making sure the knowledge about the users within each team members head will be upgraded at the same time (assumes the research is not done on a separate track from other team activities). This is helpful if the team has already some information about the users, plus getting aligned is more important than getting things right (in an agile setting this is probably preferred).