Daily Archives: December 20, 2011

Universal Principle of Design: Personas

Nancy Duarte encourages presenters to think like designers in her book, Slide:ology (this book changed my entire pedagogy–I found it by accident and chose it over a traditional public speaking textbook for my class, and I have never made a better decision in my educational career). One concept that I thought was entirely the realm of content and that I emphasize as important in the content-development area of class is the creation of audience needs maps or personas, which Duarte discusses in Chapter 1 of Slide:ology.

Duarte's Presentation Ecosystem divides the presentation creation process into three key areas: content, visual story, and delivery.

Perusing through my go to text for design, Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler, I ran across the principle of personas, a technique which designers employ to help them make decisions about how user-friendly a design’s features, functions, and aesthetic elements. This design principle indicates that it is best to create detailed profiles of typical user types, who then serve to represent a subgroup of users. This is preferable, in design, to creating something that is generally acceptable to everyone; that is, personas move us away from homogenized, one size fits all design. Personas at their best come in threes (which is awesome because I love threes), are detailed enough to include a name, photograph, description, and details about specific habits and behaviors. Designers even go so far as to role play with these personas, experiencing a product, service, site, or structure from the perspective of this representational user.

Persona created for RemindMe, RWhite*'s Participatory Design Study

According to UPD, using personas, “clarifies user needs and behaviors and is an effective means of creating empathy for the user perspective”. Students and teachers alike often resist this very useful design habit, believing that it is impossible or inappropriate to create generalizations about audience groups. I ask them to use Duarte’s seven questions about audience (which correspond with the types of questions designers might ask themselves about user personas) to create in depth visualizations of their target audiences.

Duarte's take on persona, the audience needs map. Download it, use it, love it.

To me, this act moves the speaker one step closer to shared meaning, empathy, Burke’s identification, and true Duarte-style resonance. The authors of UPD suggest that three primary and four secondary, concise and accessible personas be developed early on in the design process using interviews and market research. Combining these seven questions, the design purpose of personals, and some well-structured survey questions will help you design a presentation that truly meets your audience’s needs.

Note: In an effort to not only ask students and colleagues to do as I say but also do as I do, I’m in the process of creating audience personas for my typical audience: teachers and students. Check back for the results of this latest tweak tomorrow!  

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