7 Persona Mistakes

Man in hood without face putting hand out to say stopMany UX, Design, and Marketing professionals create and/or use personas. Personas have become so common that some would say that they are over-used.

Should we let go of personas? Should we stop using them?

One of the reasons that personas may be looked down on these days in some design circles is because people are making mistakes in how they create or use them. Below I’ve outlined some of the common mistakes I see around personas when I’m called in for consulting on a client project. And after discussing the mistakes, I offer a suggestion for an alternate tool in your Target Audience Toolbox. First, the mistakes:

  1. Irrelevant information — a persona should only contain information that is relevant and useful to how the persona is going to be used. If you are creating a persona for Zoe, a potential customer opening up a bank account, then it’s probably not important to include how many cats Zoe owns. Don’t conflate trying to make Zoe realistic with what you really need to know and remember about Zoe.
  2. Information that belongs elsewhere —  One of the most important tools to use during design are scenarios — quick small stories of how your target audience will do the most important and/or frequent tasks when your new service or product is available for them to use. Scenarios are so important, that they need to be on their own. Don’t try to include scenarios in your personas. It makes the persona too complicated, and doesn’t do justice to the scenarios.
  3. Too many personas — If you feel you must segment  your target audience into 7 different slots (and I may argue with you about that need), that doesn’t mean you have to create 7 scenarios. You can’t optimize your product or service for 7 different personas at the same time, so don’t even try. Pick the most important 2 or at most 3 and create personas for them. Which brings us to the next mistake…
  4. Using standard “Enterprise” personas — There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating lots of personas that different projects and teams can peruse and pull from to create their project personas as needed. But don’t forget the important step of reviewing and customizing persona before you use it. Enterprise personas should be a starting point. Some aspects of the personas may have changed over time, or not be exactly the same as what is needed for your project.
  5. Not validating personas — There are two basic ways to create personas: a) interview a representative set of real people in your target audience, analyze the data, and then create personas or b) create a persona based from internal data and interviews with internal staff, and then go interview real people to validate the persona. If you do b) you can’t skip the validation step. If you skip it you are essentially creating your product or service for pretend people that might not be like your real target audience.
  6. Creating your personas because it seems to be Step X in your process — Don’t create personas just because it’s listed as a “must do” in your process document. Decide ahead of time why you are creating them and who will use them.
  7. Personas that are basically the same –
    How do you decide whether or not persona A is different enough from persona B that you actually need two different personas?  You look at the critical variables that you have decided on and see if they vary.

Which leads us to the tool you need to have BEFORE  you create personas, and might be the tool you use INSTEAD of personas

When I teach about user research there is a step before I teach personas and that is identifying user groups. A persona is a fictional representation of a user group.

Let’s say that you are designing a banking app. Who is the target audience? You decide that you have three different target audiences. One is people who are already customers of your bank and are used to banking online. Another is people who are already customers of your bank, but are not used to banking online, and the third group is people who are not current customers, but are used to banking online, perhaps with one of your competitors.

The next question to ask is how these groups differ. What are the important criteria that distinguishes one from another? Is it whether or not they are current customers? Is it their familiarity with online banking? Is it something else? Where they live? What their native language is? How old they are? Based on the research you have (hopefully) done, you determine which variables are the important ones that distinguish one group from another.

Let’s say that when you look at your information you decide that whether or not they are a current customer won’t make any difference. That two of the user groups vary only on that one criteria, and your research tells  you that criteria is not that big a deal in terms of using your new app. In that case you can combine those two user groups into one.

A persona then is just a representative fictional person that summarizes one user group. And the persona would summarize them only on the variables that you think are important (i.e., no cats in this case).

But this also means that maybe you don’t need a persona. Here’s a secret — after creating a lot of personas throughout my career I’m going to confess that I don’t use them when I’m designing. I’ve created the user groups first and that’s what I work off of. I only create personas if a) the client asks me for them or b) we need to share this information out to others, such as stakeholders, developers, and so on. In my experience personas are more approachable than “User Group Tables” to people who are not used to them.

In summary, go ahead and use personas, but try and avoid making these mistakes. And if the  personas are just for you, consider using the prequel — the User Group Table — instead.

(If you are interested in learning more you may want to check out our User Research online video course, or our entire UX Certificate Curriculum.)

Why Scenarios Lead To Great Design

Logo for HumanTech podcastIn this podcast episode we give examples of how to create design scenarios and discuss why scenarios are critical to designing a great user experience.


Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Mistakes People Make With Personas, And Why You Should Care

Logo for HumanTech podcastCreating personas before you design a product seems quaint and old-fashioned these days. In this Human Tech podcast episode we get UX-nerdy and talk about why we still think personas can be useful, how they help you design, and the mistakes that people make when they create personas.


Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

The ROI of User Experience

Logo for HumanTech podcastHow do you know if the work you are doing to improve the user experience of your product is worth the time and the effort? One of our most popular webinar topics is how to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of User Experience. So we decided to talk about it on this latest episode of the Human Tech podcast


HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Different Processes For Designing Stuff

Logo for HumanTech podcastYou’d think there would be agreement on the best process to follow if you are going to design a digital product. But there’s not. In this podcast episode we go “into the weeds” a bit and talk about four popular methods for doing design, and their pros and cons: Lean UX, Design Thinking, Agile, and User-Centered Design (UCD).  If you are an experienced designer I bet you have some opinions on which process is the best, and perhaps some strong disagreements on what we say about each.


HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Why We Still Love User Testing

Logo for HumanTech podcastUser Testing as a way to get feedback from people about a product is still going strong. In this episode Susan quizzes Guthrie about the what and how of user testing, and talks about some of her fun and more memorable moments of the hundreds of tests she’s conducted.


HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Obstacles To User Experience Success

Have you ever been the User Experience point person on a product team and found yourself explaining over and over again what it is you are actually doing? Working with a team that doesn’t “get” user experience is one of the obstacles to creating a great user experience.

I talk about that obstacle plus a few more, as well as what to do about them, in this video. It’s one lesson in my latest course course called “An Introduction To User Experience”. And the entire course is FREE.

Even if you are an experienced UX professional you might enjoy this video and the whole course.

In the video I talk about three obstacles:

  • Working with a team that doesn’t “get” what UX is
  • Being a UX team of One
  • Not having a high level advocate in the organization

What do you think? Have you experienced these obstacles? More? Others?

If you know someone who needs to learn about UX, what it is and why it’s important, point them to the free course on our TeamW Courses page!

New In-Person Courses

Picture of colored pencilsThere is something about September that makes us all want to sharpen our pencils and learn something new. And so we are very excited to announce the launch of 4 brand new in-person classes that we are offering in Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, Edgar WI, and Washington DC. I’m teaching some of them, but we also have some of the BEST and most experienced instructors teaching some as well.

One-day courses:

  • Don’t Guess: Test! The Why, What, and How of User Testing (Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington DC)
  • How to Design Intuitive and Usable Products Through User Research (St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington DC)
  • The Science of Persuasive and Engaging Design (Chicago and San Francisco) (

3-day Workshop:  Weinschenk Behavioral Science Workshop (Edgar, WI)

You can see a list of all the courses, dates, instructors, and locations at the Weinschenk Institute website, and link to detailed outlines.

To celebrate the course launch I’m writing a series of blog posts to highlight each course.

So here are 3 reasons why I’m excited about the Don’t Guess: Test! The Why, What, and How of User Testing course:

1) We’re partnering with UserTesting.com and they are going to provide us with FREE tests to use in the class, as well as giving every participant 3 FREE User Test Coupons to use after the class when you go back to your office to apply what you’ve learned.

2) With the free in-class test, you will conduct an actual user test during the course. You will decide what to test, who to test, write the test scenario and tasks, conduct the test, and watch the video.

3) Always wondered what to test? In this course you will learn how to write a usability specification and use that to guide you in deciding who to test, what to test, and what the success criteria should be. And you can use these usability specifications not only in user testing, but also in design.

The “Don’t Guess: Test!” course is intensive, hands-on interactive, and fun.

Text me at 847-909-5946 or send me an email at susan@theteamw.com by September 30, 2013, and I will give you a code to use during registration that will get you 25% off the course fee.

In the next post I’ll talk about the How to Design Intuitive and Usable Products Through User Research course.

Is UX a “Rose by any other name?”

roseI’m going to be somewhat honest here: I’m no “spring chicken”. I don’t know if I’m prepared to tell you exactly how old I am, but here’s a story that will give you some hints: When I was in graduate school I had to file a formal appeal with the dean of the graduate school in order to get approval to create and submit my dissertation on a computer rather than typing on a typewriter. That hadn’t been done before and they weren’t sure it would be allowed (they did allow it).

Suffice it to say that I’ve had a long career in my “field”. But even after all this time I, and many others, are still struggling with what the field is, what it is called, and how to describe what we do. You’d think we’d have had it figured out by now, but we apparently haven’t.

So what is it that I do anyway? I use psychology and brain science to predict and direct behavior. A lot of my history has to do with designing the interactions between people and technology. Because I’ve been in the field so long I pre-date the term “user experience”. In fact, I pre-date many terms, including: usability, user friendly, user-centered design. The term I, and many others, tend  to use most often is “user experience” but many object to the term “user”.  And ask 10 “user experience professionals” what they do and they will tell you 10 different things.

Jim Jacoby has a post at the admci website with a great video of Peter Merholz speaking at a conference about what user experience really is, and what the work really is. I don’t agree with everything Peter says, but it is a thought-provoking video, and it got me thinking not only what user experience people do, but about the term “user experience”.

I’d like to use a different term to describe what I do, but I’m not sure what that would be.

Customer experience doesn’t work because a lot of the experiences I am designing aren’t for customers. They might be for employees, or visitors. Is a museum visitor really a “customer”? I know the employees at Wal-Mart aren’t “customers”. And people going to their government website to do self-service are not really customers either. I’ve designed for all of these audiences, so “customer” doesn’t really work.

Then I thought perhaps I’d just describe it as “Experience Design” or “Behavioral Design”. But that brings us into the thorny area of what “design” means. Is it visual design? Interaction design? And sometimes I’m not even designing. I’m evaluating, or strategizing what the experience should or should not be. But the terms “Experience Strategy” or “Behavorial Strategy” seem just as bad as “User Experience”.

A rose by any other name is still a rose?

What do you think? How do you describe and name it?

 

 

What’s The Best Way To Train User Experience Professionals?

 

Woman standing in front of a blackboard with question marks

What’s the best way to get knowledge and skills to be a user experience professional? Can you learn it all on the job? Is there a role for education and classes? If there is, what kind of classes?

Should you try and get a college degree? (There are very few undergraduate schools, that actually have a degree in user experience. Some have some classes, and maybe a concentration, but few have a degree. Should you get an undergraduate degree in something else — anything related — and then get a master’s in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction).

What about short courses? Should you take a week or two of training from a vendor? Or take some online training classes?

I’ve been thinking about this question for many years. I’ve offered “industry training” (i.e., a week-long class), and I’ve offered mentoring programs. I recently taught a semester long class as an Adjunct Professor at University of Wisconsin. And the Weinschenk Institute has online video courses you can take to learn about user experience and user-centered-design topics.

So when my colleague Jim Jacoby (founder of Manifest Digital in Chicago) told me the other day that his new venture was The School for Digital Craftsmanship, I asked him to tell me more. And then after he told me about the user experience/user-centered design “school” he has started, I suggested we do a podcast interview about it.

Below you will find the 23 minute podcast interview.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link

Here are some of the topics we cover:

  • How a shortage of user experience/user-centered design professionals in his agency led him to start the School for Digital Craftsmanship
  • The idea of a “trade” school education for the field, that combines classroom study with practical experience
  • The first flagship courses that start this July (2013). They are 10 weeks long and meet a few nights a week, starting in Chicago and St. Louis.
  • What the application process is like, and what the experience will be like to attend.

As of this writing there are 12 spots still open for the classes starting in July, so if you are interested go to the School’s website: admci.org for more information.

What do you think? What’s the best way for people to get the education they need to do UX/UCD work?