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Personas

 Personas are a tool for sharing our understanding of our expected users, as a starting point for design.

Whether we are designing a jet plane or a learning activity, we are ultimately designing it for people – pilots and passengers in the first case, teachers and learners in the second. In order to fit the needs and constraints of these people, we need to have a model of the actors playing a role in our innovation. One popular way of representing such models, adapted from software development, is called “personas”.

Nielsen (2013) notes:

The persona method has developed from being a method for IT system development to being used in many other contexts, including development of products, marketing, planning of communication, and service design. [..] Common understanding is that the persona is a description of a fictitious person, but whether this description is based on assumptions or data is not clear, and opinions also differ on what the persona description should cover.

Why use personas? Alan Cooper explains:

Whenever I hear the phrase “the user,” it sounds to me like “the elastic user.” The elastic user must bend and stretch and adapt to the needs of the moment. However, our goal is to design software that will bend and stretch and adapt to the user’s needs. […] Designing for the elastic user gives the developer license to code as he pleases while paying lip service to “the user.” Real users are not elastic.[…]

In our design process, we never refer to “the user.” Instead, we refer to a very specific individual: a persona.

Nielsen (2013) describes the role personas in the design process:

In the design process, we begin to imagine how the product is to work and look before any sketch is made or any features described. If the design team members have a number of persona descriptions in front of them while designing, the personas will help them maintain the perspective of the users. The moment the designers begin to imagine how a possible product is to be used by a persona, ideas will emerge. Thus, I maintain that the actual purpose of the method is not the persona descriptions, but the ability to imagine the product. In the following, I designate these product ideas as scenarios. It is in scenarios that you can imagine how the product is going to work and be used, in what context it will be used, and the specific construction of the product. And it is during the work with developing scenarios that the product ideas emerge and are described. The persona descriptions are thus a means to develop specific and precise descriptions of products.

Cooper provides some guidelines for authoring personas:

Be Specific: The more specific we make our personas, the more effective they are as design tools. That’s because personas lose elasticity as they become specific. For example, we […] don’t just let Emilee drive to work. We give her a dark-blue 1991 Toyota Camry, with a gray plastic kid’s seat strapped into the back and an ugly scrape on the rear bumper.  This distinctive specificity is very powerful as a design and communications tool. Consequently, all of our personas are articulated with singular detail and precision. As we isolate Emilee with specific, idiosyncratic detail, a remarkable thing happens: She becomes a real person in the minds of the designers and programmers. […]

Giving the persona a name is one of the most important parts of successfully defining one. A persona without a name is simply not useful. Without a name, a persona will never be a concrete individual in anyone’s mind. […]

To make each persona more real to everyone involved in the product creation, I like to put faces to the names and give each persona an image.  […]

Precision, Not Accuracy As a design tool, it is more important that a persona be precise than accurate. That is, it is more important to define the persona in great and specific detail than that the persona be the precisely correct one. This truth is surprising because it is the antithesis of the goal of interaction design, in which accuracy is always more important than precision. […]

Cooper concludes:

Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent Goal-Directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem. They make it clear exactly what the user’s goals are, so we can see what the product must do – and can get away with not doing.

Links to extended descriptions:

Cooper, A. (1999), The Inmates are Running the Asylum – Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, SAMS publishing

Nielsen, L. (2013), Personas , The Interaction Design Foundation , Aarhus, Denmark. http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/personas.html

Authors are invited to think of their readers as a single person. The same concept applies to e-learning at the OU.

I love this Quaker ad for its simplicity.

When trying to think of students as an audience or cohort I fail; when I think of them as a person, perhaps this person, and give them a name, I start to understand what may or may not work for them. This thinking is, to complicate it, often represented as ‘Technographics’ (See Forrester Research). The OU use ‘Personas’, amalgams of real people who represent a ‘type’.

 

Is this an advert or the planning one step behind the big idea?

I favour simpllicty, but can take it too far. In a recent presentation I used this image of a smorgasbord but hadn’t a clue what I’d replaced.

Smorgasbord

This was the complexity behind the simple idea that there is a ‘smorgasbord’ of choice when it comes to social media, from the kit you use (smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop – PC or MAC), to the software and platform choices you make. The smorgasbord also represents personal choice, this idea of increasing ‘personalisaton’ of kit and Apps.

 

 


Blogging a dead horse – why blogging is like playing a Tuba at a football match and other such analogies

The more I read, the more I research, the more I listen and the more I gush to others about blogging, the more I feel that it is like …‘trying to flog a dead horse to make it pull a load’.

Not the act of blogging, but the actions required to convert people.

People (students) don’t see there value; to read a few well written, apposite blogs, fine. A person that in this environment has something to offering pertaining to their course. Or for entertainment. (Stephen Fry’s Tweats form a micro-blog after all), micro only in the sense that you are restricted by character count per entry. If these parameters are like a letter-box then Stephen Fry is posting plenty himself and garnering a gargantuan response).

I have in front of me ‘Exploring students’ understand of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education’. It was a conference item at ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association Technologies Conference, 4-6 September, Nottingham, UK.

One of its Six authors is Grainne Conole, an OU senior academic, a blogging practitioner and evangelical online chatter-box and good-egg. She wants us all to blog, and understands the magic of a comment … she likes to make new friends and understands the reciprocal nature of reading and leaving salient comments. It’s T.L.C. online.

I just clicked away and posted this in her blog:

I’m faced with the dilemma of having to split my professional, student and blogging personas; I recently joined the Open University Business School. This three-way split has me locking down one diary and ‘friends’ gathered over a decade and tripping over the other two selves, starting afresh with contacts and what I blog wearing my professional hat. I am certain such possible conflicts of interest occur for anyone working in online media communications – broadcasting on behalf of your employer; indeed, my contacts in senior PR and Media roles of various organisations have the weakest of online profiles, even though two of them are published authors.

On the other hand just as I really got going in Facebook to connect with my brother and his family in South Africa and organise my mother’s 80th, I find that living away from home during the week I come online to have some sense of what my family are up to – just a shame our dog doesn’t blog, ‘stick chasing across the South Downs’ would do it.

Currently reading your 2007 paper ‘Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education’. Are Learning Designers (and those who work with them) ‘flogging a dead horse?’ The analogy I’m about to use in my OU student blog is that I am starting to feel like a Tuba player at a football match – no one is interested, they’re watching the game. Maybe if I could network with the other instrument players in the crowd we could have a jam-session. As another paper on blogging discovered ‘birds of a feather flock together’, we do this and find kindred spirits. The problem in OU student blogging platforms is that we are overly pigeonholed, not just by course, but by module and tutor group (and sub-groups within these).

I liken the Internet to a digital ocean; currently blogging as an OU student is like blogging in fish tank, in a warehouse full of fish tanks. And every so often someone kindly comes along and divides us up even more, creating barriers, rather than opportunities. Please can we just all be tipped into the same ocean?

I then went off to Facebook, via my external blog My Mind Bursts.

I only sat down to transfer notes from a pad … and am yet to transcribe a single word of it.

I was going to say, anything short of writing directly into ‘the white box’ that you are presented with on your chosen blog platform or platforms snacks of something else: a repository, a writer’s journal, a student’s e-portfolio that they leave open … keep forgetting in the lecture hall, that they photocopy and leave on benches outside the refectory.

Reading ‘Everything is miscellaneous’ David Weinberger I find a like mind a) the idea of miscellany, that each page, each asset, whether ostensibly part of something (like this) is like an autumn leave scattered on the forest floor. These leaves never compost down and those that are tagged stay on the top of the pile, those that people find or are guided too most often, stay on the top of the pile … and did it not long ago reach the stage where the leaves on the forest floor are so deep that they have buried the trees?

I put a slightly inept first draft phrase into Yammer the OU Personnel ‘Twitter-like’ feed about dandelions and pomegranates. I’ve used the dandelion metaphor many times, the pomegranate too, but had never put them together.

My thinking was this, if the seed is this blog entry, or a Tweat or even a message in Facebook i.e. an idea, thought, asset or message, a seed if you were scattered to the wind to find its own fortune then developing social media for an institution, whilst the asset, these words, are still a seed, they are coming from a pomegranate, not a dandelion. The reason being that understandably if you are expressing the views of others, collectively or individually, you cannot just hold you thoughts up to the wind and blow. The opening of the pomegranate is, as it were, the necessary processes and procedures. This analogy falls apart though if you have an image of Jamie Oliver holding a pomegranate half in one hand while smashing it with a wooden rolling pin with the other … the OU are not smashing me on the head to extract words like nasal mucus. Rather, at first at least, I will extract them myself with tweezers.

All this and my 16 pages of notes on blogging handwritten into a Shorthand Pad remain unused.

To overcome my reluctance to write-up what I feel I have already expressed I realise I could just photograph my notepad … in fact, I’ll do this and just see how folk manage with my handwriting.

 

 

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