(Lazarus – Original 09/11/2005)
Here is the first part of a discussion I had with Don Norman about his recently published articles on the use of personas and activity-based design…
How does (or should) the thesis of your article, if accepted, affect a group’s use of personas as a design tool? Should we forget about them (except as a communication tool) and concentrate on activities as the driving forces behind product design?
Don: Well, we got along quite well without personas before they became popular. I do not think they are important for the intelligent, observant, designer. As I an d you) said, I think they are useful mainly in communicating the decisions to other people.
I think the emphasis on activities is the key.
Is there perhaps too much growing faith in the power of personas at the expense of in-depth understanding of activities and their associated problems?
Don: Absolutely. The persona still says nothing about how to design.
Is a focus on activities perhaps too mechanistic, and blind to all the nuanced subjectivities of experience that contribute to a product’s success or failure, that are better captured between the lines of a persona narrative? (sorry for the awkward sentence, but I could think of how to better phrase it) .
Any single prescription runs the risk of being accepted mechanically. But if you have only average designers, then mechanical solutions are apt to be pretty good — better than they might produce otherwise.
Is a persona centered design approach even a user centered design approach? Or are many of us simply seduced by ease and economy of them compared with studying actual people?
Don: If you don’t study real people, then you can’t produce sensible personas! A persona is, after all, a distillation of the knowledge gathered about numerous individuals.
What is a comfortable balance between understanding people and activities in terms of designing better products? Your articles hint at an answer here.
Don: In no way can you understand activities without understanding people. An activity is the set of actions ( perceptions, thoughts, decisions, and actions) made within t he context of a set of goals. One cannot separate activities from people. Activities are goal-driven, and goals exist only in the heads of people. A major support need is to handle changing goals, and interrupted goal-driven activity — and this involves people.
Does this help at all?
Thanks for writing, and for the useful set of questions.