I started reading The Persona Lifecycle by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin over the past week, all 700 plus pages. The book provides a detailed overview of how to use personas, though mostly focused on interactive applications such as web design and software. I cannot review the whole book here, largely because of its length, but also because it does not seem like a book the authors designed for people to read through. It is more like a nicely woven set of concepts, practical insights, and toolkits around the topic of personas. In addition, it provides five original contributions, as individual chapters, by well-known authorities in user centered design.
Pruitt and Adler provide an informative view of how to develop and use personas to design experiences with interactive applications, and provide a solid discussion of what it means to manage a lifecycle of personas. The latter point is one of the most important ones made in the book in my view. It emphasizes the importance of time in how designers use personas. Take the following quote as an example of the emphasis:
…personas should be more than a collection of facts. Personas should be compelling stories that unfold over time in the minds of your product team. We believe that successful personas and persona efforts are built progressively. Just as we get to know people in our lives, we must get to know personas (and the data they contain) by developing a relationship with them (page 37).
Before someone raises the point that this is nothing more than a question of reusing personas, let me note that the issue does not just involve addressing the different uses made of a persona over time, as much as how different designers and product developers come to understand the persona over time. The insight applies to the initial development as well as the lifecycle of personas. Consider this point in relation to marketing.
Pruitt and Adler contend that market segmentation analyses provide a strong “data backbone” for personas. In fact, they instruct that, “a segmentation analysis is probably the first data source you should look for.” Market segmentation is a strategy for making meaningful, useful distinctions between customers from the population of potential customers for a business. Robert Barlow-Busch explores the point in-depth in his contribution to The Persona Lifecycle in Chapter 11, “Marketing versus Design Personas.” Barlow-Busch offers an original view on the relation of personas to market segments.
A segmentation model forms the very underpinning of marketing strategy and communications, as it provides the means by which you identify customers, even prescribing the language by which you refer to them. That is exactly what a persona does for designers (page 605).
Barlow-Busch points out that whereas design personas focus on the goals of people in specific contexts using a product/service, marketing segmentation focuses on predicting how human behavior relates to purchasing a product/service. As he notes, the two concepts allow answers to two different information challenges. Used together, the concepts of market segments and personas help ensure we make the right products for the right people.
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