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Inspiration: The primary purpose of a persona...

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The primary purpose of a persona is so that you won't design for yourself, or for your boss, or that loud, annoying client.—Alan Cooper.

I hear it from developers, product managers, product marketers, executives. When writing anything from a press release to a programming module, most folks write for their parents. Or their friends. Or themselves.

That's the value of personas. They remind you that you are not the target customer, nor are your colleagues, your leaders, or your families.

My first encounter with the term persona was in Cooper's The Inmates Are Running the Asylum yet I'd been using the concept for years without this handy label. "Actors" is a similar concept from UML; so is "audience profiles" from the world of marketing.

But it seems the persona concept is under attack from some quarters.

I've heard "personas don't work for us" and "we don't use personas; we write for ourselves."

Invariably when I pursue these concerns, I learn their personas are fictional biographies of theoretical people; they are not based on real people. These "bad" personas are not written based on personal experience with buyers and users of their products. These personas were written by marketing people working with HR and sales people. They're out of sync with real people with real problems. One marketing team created about 40 personas based on the job descriptions in their HR systems... ignoring that technical team members working at a vendor are materially different from those in internal IT.

When writing, you're goal is to communicate. Writing doesn't have to be simple as long as it's clear to the reader. If your reader knows XML, you can write about classes and inheritance. If not, not. Know who you're writing for before you start writing.

Do you have personas in your product playbook?


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