The Territory is not the Map: Personas and Storytelling

Thanks to @whitneyhess I went off to learn about Ad-Hoc personas in an ad-hoc way – by listening to 3 (free) minutes of a webinar coming up from Tamara Adlin.

What impressed me most about her pitch was that we ALL have personas or mental models of our users already. And, as Socrates exhorts us, the unexamined persona is not worth having.

Personas can help us guide our products, choose pathways in development, and as Liz Bacon helped me see at #ixd10, we can use these personas to build out detailed scenarios of usage. Personas and scenarios can guide us from strategy through to development, depending on how detailed we want to go. From establishing a shared language and model to building requirements and affordances.

I just presented some of these ideas to my team (who weren’t as lucky to go to Interaction10!) and what I heard was some frustration…Do we have to get bogged down in terminology, language and process? Can we just design?  

When I do a Google search of “California” I get lots of images. Emotional impressions, Vistas, Maps and Shapes.

When we design or tell the story of the design, the real challenge is always jumping from this overarching, thematic view (the “big picture") down to the emotional qualities of the product or service. Maybe.

Some Designers just want to design. I like to think about the themes and the big picture to make sure we all know where we are on the map and where we’re going. Both are important.

What I got out of today is that my team is not homogenous. Some of us have more tolerance for context and themes. Some of us are wary and want to limit the “time wasted” on this aspect and get to real solutions first. And we all have varying mental models of what sorts of people we are designing for. Finding this balance INTERNALLY is going to be a challenge, let alone with the client!

I don’t know how to do this…but with my team, we manage to hammer it out eventually.


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