Design Thinking Gumbo: Personas. Should we use them or not? with Niesha Ford
April 7, 2021, 6 – 7 pm
A virtual workshop exploring how and when to use personas, and when to use other tools.
- Personas are commonly used in the design thinking process to understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals.
- But are personas always the best tool for every situation?
- During this virtual workshop, find out how and when to use personas and when to consider other methods.
- Slide deck.
- Video and transcript below.
About the Presenters
Workshop presenter Niesha Ford is a second-year graduate student at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
- She has a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry and is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
- Niesha works with multiple organizations in the greater New Orleans area, committed to causes such as: providing services for people experiencing homelessness, encouraging positive racial perspectives, and working with historically marginalized groups to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic.
- Her interest in design thinking arose during various meetings on her current working group regarding racial perspectives, where she and her team were charged with designing ideas to combat health disparities during COVID-19. As a graduate assistant, Niesha hosts the design thinking breakfast series and has led a workshop for undergraduate students.
Lesley-Ann Noel, Ph.D. is an Afro-Trinidadian design educator, based in New Orleans. In my work, I focus on equity, social justice and the experiences of people who are often excluded from design research. My doctoral research focused on emancipatory design thinking at a rural primary school in Trinidad and Tobago. I also attempt to promote a greater critical awareness among designers and design students. Deep empathy is a key theme in my classes, where students build relationships across difference before collaborating on design with community partners. My research also highlights the work of designers outside of Europe and North America. My identity is shaped by my ethnic background as an Afro-Trinidadian; my experience as a daughter, sister and mother; and my lived experiences in Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA.
All right, okay so Dr. Noel, would you like to get us started?
Yes, so welcome everybody, this is design thinking thinking gumbo and today we are focusing on personas but i’ll tell you a little bit about design thinking gumbo. It is a program that we’ve created to give people a taste of design research methods. We are here in New Orleans and gumbo is a dish that people eat in New Orleans, it’s dish where we have a large mix of ingredients, so you can think of this program like that that we are giving you a taste of all of these different ingredients about design research.
So we’ve done introduce people to lots of ways of thinking about research in creative ways over the entire academic year. And today, I mean i’m just gonna i’m a little lost for words Niesha, I’m just gonna hand it over to Niesha, who is a very capable, design thinking, one of our design thinking graduate assistants and she’s going to lead us through the gumbo today.
So Niesha over to you.
Alright, so I’m just going to introduce myself before I kind of get started with sharing my presentation, for today. So hello everyone i’m kind of like Dr. Noel said, my name is Niesha Ford, i’m a second year masters student at Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and if you attended any of our other programs at the Taylor Center you know that i’m also the host of the design thinking breakfast and I also did a workshop like this last year on cultural probes.
But today we’re going to be talking about personas. All right, can everybody see my screen?
So like I said I am Niesha Ford and I do design thinking breakfast. So for today we’re going to talk about personas. So what are personas, who uses personas, we’re going to talk about how to create a persona, we’re going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of using using personas, then we’re going to do an activity and then we’re going to have a discussion and debrief.
Okay, so what is a persona? So a persona is an imaginary person you designed for typically built around demographic information that is supposed to create a reliable and realistic representation of your key audience. So when we’re thinking about a persona if you were to make an effective one.
It should do one or more of the following: so represent a major user group for your design of focus, express and focus on the major needs and expectations of your user group, give a clear picture of the users expectations and how they’re likely to use your design product or service, and then it’s supposed to also describe real people with backgrounds, goals ,and values.
So, in short, a persona is a snapshot of your out of your ideal user or customer group and it’s based on user research.
So who uses personas? Designers, businesses, marketers, sales people, engineers; really anyone who wants to understand customers and market products or services to people on use personas.
Thinking about thinking about this from a company’s viewpoint, having a well researched, analytical, and data driven persona, is hugely beneficial to a company’s product development sales strategy and marketing and marketing campaigns, because it ensures that companies initiatives such as marketing or product development are done with the user in mind. And are considering how the user will use and engage with the product or service, but keeping this in mind, it shows how personas can be used by various businesses from a coffee shop to high tech industry such as Apple or even Spotify.
So this is a very, like bare bones like simplistic diagram, of how to build a persona but the first thing that you’re going to do is collect data about your target users, and that can be done through observation sending out surveys, interviewing current users, skimming online threads to find key insights, and more.
Second, is to interpret the data with your team and explore patterns in the users behavior , this will help you to be able to visualize and understand exactly who your users are as well as what they’re doing feeling thinking and saying.
And lastly, it’s to build the persona this helps us empathize with our personas by making us think of them more as real people, because our goal at the end of building a persona is really to be able to answer the question: who are we designing for.
So this is a little diagram that I made on, it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of using personas, because I think we have to understand that, although personas are beneficial, they do come with you know some bad and you know, sometimes really ugly things about them.
So why should we use personas? Well personas help to focus decisions by adding a layer of real world, considering real word sorry will real work, I’m so sorry real world consideration to the conversation. They also offer a quick and inexpensive way to test throughout the development process. In addition they can help shorten research process time and they’re a great way to gain a view into the lives and perspectives of your users and really understand the question, who are we designing for.
So the bad of personas; personas are not a one a one size fits all deal. They should be used with a specific and well defined goal in mind. For personas to be useful, the data captured in the persona should reflect the goal for that persona and the scope of work it’s meant to impact.
And we also know that personal characteristics, do not always influence your behavior. So, for example, just because someone’s lazy doesn’t mean that they don’t get anything done. And then, lastly, for the bad different people under the same persona can behave completely differently, especially when confronted with a product or service,
And then, when we’re looking at kind of the ugliness of personas on they can be really harmful if they kind of lead to stereotyping of a certain group. And although there is a strong correlation between a persona and a behavior of, i’m sorry and i’ll and, although there can be a strong correlation between a persona and behavior of a real person, it does not always imply that such will exist in reality.
So again, this is not to say that we shouldn’t use personas, but it is important to understand these drawbacks, when we are designing personas.
So that is the end of my lecture. I’m going to stop sharing my screen um because now we are going to transition into Miro and i’m going to put the link for that in the chat. Does anyone have any questions before we transition?
Where are people from? I’m disrupting your session.
Let people put in the chat where they where they’re joining us from.
Awesome, I’m loving all these different places
Okay, so i’m going to drop in the chat the link now. Hopefully doesn’t get lost and then we’re going to transition into Mural.
All right, I see people starting to come in so i’m actually going to share my screen again. So, once you get into Mural on if you could go to this area that says “let’s get to know mural” it should be on the left side.
I’m going to give everyone a minute to get there. I see alot of people are popping in.
All right, so it looks like quite a few people are there. So this activity is going to serve two purposes: one it’s a really quick icebreaker, kind of like what Lesley was doing, but also it’s going to make sure that everybody kind of has one skill out of this workshop and it looks like some of you guys already are jumping, jumping the gun.
But it’s really to make sure that everyone knows how to create sticky notes, and so the instructions are for you to create a sticky note and write your name and where you’re from. Seems like a lot of you guys are already getting ahead, but if you need help, creating a sticky note, you can do so by kind of going over here, where it says “text” clicking here and dragging a sticky note on to the board.
And then, once the sticky notes on the board, you can just tap it and start typing. Another way that I do it is I kind of Double Click or I right click on my tab or my mouse, and then you should get an add sticky note icon.
And if anyone needs help with that or needs me to repeat that just let me know and yeah i’m going to give everyone a minute to kind of, do what they did in the chat on the mural board before we get started in our first activity.
I’m actually going to ask two people to share where they’re from.
So does anyone want to share where they’re from? And their name?
Some people are still writing, so I’ll give everyone a few more seconds, if you don’t want to share yet.
We have some interesting, really interesting places. It’s not that everybody’s place is not interesting, but some places are more interesting than others, maybe you could call them out Niesha?
Okay um let’s see what I see okay so, all right, I see Venezuela, South Korea, Seattle San Francisco, New Orleans, Richmond, Egypt wow.
Wow, yeah, people all over the place.
New Orleans, Miami, Japan.
Well let’s get started with our first activity.
Okay, so for our first activity, we will be working in Mural, and these are your instructions.
So you are design consultants at company ABC corporation and COVID-19 just hit, and you are getting requests for home office designs. Your company created a persona for your team and put it in each of your breakout rooms. So, in your breakout room as a consultation team design the ideal home office space for your persona by writing the characteristics of the home office space on sticky notes. So, for example, if you get the persona Iggy the influencer, you may write on the sticky note because Iggy’s an influencer he may want a selfie light attached to his desk.
Does that make sense?
So i’m going to zoom out so everybody can see the breakout rooms, and i’m going to stop sharing, so I can open the breakout rooms, but as I’m doing that, please let me know if you have a question. You may also need to zoom out so you can get to your room and kind of move around the board, but I’m going to stop sharing.
And then i’m going to create the breakout rooms.
So just to repeat, I suppose, what you’re saying, then when we go into the breakout rooms, we have to look at who the persona is, and then we have to try to imagine, as a group, what are the best criteria for the space there home work space, yes?
Yes, so you’re going to read your persona, and then yeah, based on what you can gather from that information imagine what the best home work space would be for that persona.
All right. Bare with me.
Alright, if anyone needs anything, please call me into the room i’m bout to open up the breakout rooms.
If you see a sign that the hostess muted you it’s just that we’re managing feedback.
Okay hello, everyone is back, I did not realize, I was muted, I was talking to the first group that came back.
Interpreter Vince Wilson
Excuse me, I don’t see either of the interpreters on screen, am I missing something?
You need to pin them over.
Interpreter Vince Wilson:
All right, are they on screen now? I can’t tell them i’m sharing my screen, okay perfect.
Okay, so does any, would any group, like to volunteer to share what they’ve kind of the characteristics, they came up with for their persona?
Yes, I would.
Okay, which group, are you in?
I was in group one.
Okay awesome all right.
Interpreter Vince Wilson
I had a persona who was named Mark, but not me, just another Mark, is going to be working from home full time, the coronavirus pandemic unfortunately required that, we were given, as a team we partnered on our listing of characteristics and trying to come up with a home office space, and what that would look like.
So, what we would try to create is a space in the room, which has a very large work surface because he required three monitors or three computer screens, and so that would allow him easy access to work. Also, we listed, we’d like Mark to have the ability to stand and move around to access his workspace.
Also, a chair, but instead of sitting all the time, he would need to be able to stand up and and work, standing as well, so that work surface would need to be adjustable in height. Additionally, we suggested a whiteboard, so that would allow him the possibility of posting some ideas. And also a window we suggested, which seems to be a great option that way he’ll have the option to look outside get some sunlight, you know and see the progression of the day and plants, also in his workspace, which would bring the outdoors in. That’s all we got to I guess at that point.
Right awesome alright i’m going to zoom out, is there any other group, maybe group two looks like, or group three? Both looks like they got a lot of stuff down.
No pressure, no pressure.
Alright well if no other group wants to share, thank you so much Mark for sharing for group one.
We’re actually going to transition to the second activity, but before we do that, I just wanted to kind of give a little bit of a plug for the Taylor Center.
So in an ideal scenario we could be using something like this worksheet, to help us get as much detail as possible when we’re doing interviews. This sheet really explores different ways of getting information from people during open interviews and it helps facilitate what the interviewer is doing. Unfortunately, due to time, and you know that this is a very small workshop, we will not be using this worksheet during this workshop, because it is very time consuming, but we will be doing some interviewing.
So I will plug this workshop a link to the Taylor Center where you can download this worksheet if you’re interested in using it in the future.
But for the second activity, we will be doing some interviewing um, and your assignment, for your second activity is going to be fairly similar to the first activity, except this time one person in your group, is now the client of your company and the rest of the group is the consultation team.
So the consultation team will interview the client, and based on what the client says come up with an ideal home office space for the client. Just like last time, one person should in the team should be writing down the characteristics of the space on the sticky notes provided, and you can always add more.
In the groups, you will see that I did put four questions for you to kind of get started. Those questions were inspired by the worksheet that I just talked about, um you’re going to go into the same breakout rooms, do you have any questions before you go?
I’m going to see matt against you can see the rooms.
Right i’ll stop sharing my screen and I’m going to open up the rooms again.
Hello, welcome back. This time I’m not muted so I can actually talk to you guys.
We came back so quickly.
Welcome back, I think that’s everybody. Okay so just like last time oops wait, let me, alright alright so just like last time i’m going to ask groups to share out.
All right, well group one went last time, so can we get group two, to go this time?
Anybody? Group two?
I can share.
Okay, thank you.
You’re welcome. Yeah that went by really fast. Yeah, so we learned, I don’t know about to like disclosure, so we learned about a UX designer works remotely in the same time zone, does like 9 to 5 work, and one of the in working from home, one of the main considerations that was coming up was having better lighting.
So, I noticed that they may way wear a baseball hat indoors and so that would mean that, ideally, they would have like good enough lighting costs of for their face and, just like in terms of the space, and good or ergonomics. Another interesting thing that came up was like this question of how to separate, as we’re doing a lot of digital work, how to separate personal and work and your digital space so maybe having an external storage, for that.
Alright Thank you so much for sharing. I’m actually going to ask one more group to share.
All right, i’m going to group five you guys look like you have a lot of stuff down here, and someone from group five share?
I don’t know who was in group five.
Shaymaa, do you want to do you want to talk?
Yeah sure I can go ahead um. So. We you know, we kind of design, a space, i’m trying to get to my Mural board, so sorry. Yes, so um it’s a very interesting he’s a student and he’s working in an innovative lab to bring this Wi-Fi to the neighborhood, so he needs like an Internet, he works seven hours. We plan like Dell monitor and like a natural light. Also like to have five minute break between each hour.
So I need that calm and quiet space, windows, he’s walking from a PC so maybe, getting a larger or like you know so that’s what we were discussing.
Mhmm, awesome. Thanks. And we have time, i’m going to say we have time for one more group. Let’s see , I guess any group can go so group, three, four or one whoever wants to.
I can share okay.
Okay, What group were you in?
i’m in group three
Alright, group three.
So we had a really nice interview with our persona. We did not get very far in our design aspect, but one thing that I noticed from our conversation, just from everything that we asked him kind of discussed and our person shared, how easy, how easy it is for things that people say to inspire a design for an office.
So I mean I could tell that he was specifically thinking about you know things that might be relevant to an office, but not always. So, a very interesting piece that I noticed was he loves to work in coffee shops, how can we incorporate that into our design office space for this person who, yeah like might really want to enjoy kind of that community experience, but in their home office.
Another really big thing that stood out was the focus on fitness and so how we could incorporate like more reminders for water, for healthy snacks, and then also maybe there’s a fitness option in his office, so we got really excited about designing the office, we didn’t get very far in that part of it, but it was pretty fun to do.
Awesome, sounds like you guys had some great ideas.
All right, well, thank you so much for sharing. I do want to be cognizant of time and I do want to get to our last activity on, so the last activity, oops actually I have it hidden from you guys. Alright, so the last activity is this pros and cons board.
So if you kind of scroll over to the right, in Mural, your see a little pros and cons huge board.
For this activity we’re going to stay in our group, I mean stay in this big room and I really would just like for everybody to write at least one pro and one con for personas.
And one pro and one con that they had from doing the interviews in their group. And you can write more if you want, you can like you know, it doesn’t have to be like a bullet point, it can be like a paragraph, however, you want to do this. But i’m just going to give kind of everyone a few minutes, just to kind of self reflect and kind of self debrief and then we’re going to talk as a group.
I’m going to stop sharing briefly and then I will share again.
Okay looks like most people are finishing up so i’m going to share my screen again and, just like Oh, people are still going but i’m just like last time does anyone kind of want to share their one pro and one con for personas?
I can share.
Yeah I think I put it in the chat, but I think that with personas there’s opportunity to communicate information asynchronously and to other people who might not be able to attend interviews. But I think it has to be in the context of knowing what the personas trying to achieve, and then, with the kind of have that is that it can be very flattening, to someone or to a group of people if you’re just ideating off of the persona itself, it’s very difficult to, to keep that in mind
Thank you for sharing. um does anyone else, want to share their pro and con for personas before we move on to the interview?
I can share.
um so I I kind of like I like that you can hone in to somebody very more specifics. As, then you get an idea as to more specifically, how they all the things they do day to day, you can kind of extrapolate that from some of the things.
And he cons are similar as, like you don’t get a big enough sample size like you get a very micro view, which is good and bad I guess what i’m saying so. So sometimes you need a bigger scope of, the picture of the person or that type of person or that marketing. So it’s good and bad, having so much detail.
Yeah, thank you. Okay, does anyone want to share their pro and con of doing the interview ? When you were, when one person was the client and the rest of you were the design consultants?
I can go ahead on that one um I thought the pro was well, I was the person being interviewed. I felt like I got to put myself in the shoes of Mark, like you know get to know this person as a human instead of like a worker doing task. But I think the cons of it were kind of related to that, where I was projecting what I thought they might do based on my own personal experience.
Mmm, thats interesting. All right does anyone else, want to share one more pro and one more con?
If no one else wants to share, we can also just open it up to just talk about in general, how we felt about the two different activities.
I can share. I guess a con, now I’m ususally pro interview, and I was surprised and I guess I should not have been because I knew what, I knew everyone that was surprised at how long it took us to get to the design phase. We just ran out of time, and we, we got some design stuff down, but it took a really long time with the interview, and so I guess that’s that’s one of the cons, you know that it, takes longer we got to the design phase much faster with the persona, even though I don’t have the design that we created would have been any good. I think that we probably would do better design, this time around, but it took longer, which may not be a con but, it’s just it’s a different time frame.
Yeah that’s true. Does anyone have anything else to share I know we have five minutes left but does anyone, have anything else they kind of want to share, about doing the two different activities, you know.
You guys talked a lot about the differences, you know between, you know, when you were doing the persona activity versus interviewing, but kind of anything else?
And kind of going off of what Lesley said, you know interviews do take a long time, is there any way that we could combine having a persona and doing interviews ? If we were at a company and didn’t have enough time to do interviews?
Interpreter Vince Wilson
Possibly. You could use interview, surveys in lieu of person to person interviews ,that might help you to reduce the overall time that you would spend.
Yeah that’s a good idea. That’s a really good idea.
Does anyone else have another idea?
I guess there’s also observation. Like the more I guess like typical anthropological approach that i’ve seen in some parts of some approaches to design. So that can also be faster, because you can focus on what it is you’re looking for, yeah try to record like people’s behavior or her actions in a space.
Mhmh, thanks for sharing um one thing that we kind of thought about or one thing I thought about when we were create when I was creating this workshop was using interviews maybe like one or a few, to create the persona so maybe interviewing people to then create a persona that you could use.
But, yeah thank you, thank you everyone for sharing and again we have three minutes left, so I do want to make sure I get those links to you all that I said I would give to you. So i’m going to drop those in the chat but, again, thank you for coming to my workshop, and I hope you, you know got to see how helpful personas could be especially when looking at them, side by side with interviewing, but also how you know we kind of have to be a little bit cautious when we’re using personas.
So yeah thanks, if you guys have any questions or just want to chat while i’m putting the links in the chat i’m happy, i’m happy to talk to the guys.
Question for you all. It’s pretty fabulous Mural, how long did it take you to put it together?
Um that’s a good question. I did it in a, you know, like over like the course of a couple weeks, but I guess, if I had to add in maybe like about eight hours.
Thanks for noticing my Mural.
So I just added the critical worksheets and interviewing that I told you guys about and i’m also going to put in the links for our upcoming DT Gumbo which is going to be hosted by Dr. Shaymaa Abdalal next Wednesday and then i’m going to also put in the chat our DT Breakfast if you want to see me again, at the end of this month.
And that’s our last day DT Breakfast for the Semester, so please come out and chat with us for DT breakfast, we may have, we have DT gumbo next Wednesday and we may have another one before the end of the semester so as you all sign up for the for our mailing list to find out about other events that we have going on and just pop in and chat and, come on, hang out with us a few more times you put the end of semester.
Alright well. Thank you.
So much. thank you, thank you.
Interpreter Vince Wilson
Thank you bye that was fun.
Interpreter Vince Wilson
and your interpreters will be dropping up, so thank you so much appreciate you providing the service.
About the Series
Design Thinking (DT) Gumbo is a series of one-hour workshops on a variety of methods that can be used in design research.
- Each workshop will introduce a method, share examples of its use in other settings, and include space for participants to practice the method together.
- Think of these methods as ingredients to make your design thinking work much more rich and flavorful. Try out the different ingredients and see which ones appeal the most to your palate.
- This semester all of our method workshops will focus on understanding people’s experience of the coronavirus pandemic.
- DT Gumbo is a project of the design thinking program of the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University.
- All workshops are co-facilitated by Lesley-Ann Noel and a Taylor Center Design Thinking Graduate Assistant.