• Crafting a Design Persona

    Posted on June 02, 2015

    Every product has a personality—whether it was deliberately designed to or not. Reddit is quirky, hyperactive, and sometimes sarcastic. Amazon is like a salesperson with an eidetic memory and amazing talent for statistics.

    Unlike a user persona, which characterizes your users’ goals, motivations, and desires, a design persona characterizes how your product should communicate and ultimately build rapport with your users. Both are articulated in terms of a fictional character, but they are used to solve different design problems. A user persona helps you understand your users’ existing relationship to your product, whereas a design persona helps you understand how your product can build a relationship with your users.

    In this article, I’ll show you how we came to think of our product as less of an “it” and more of a “someone” with an engaging, yet consistent, voice. I’ll also show how our design persona has become a continual source of product ideas.

    The persona party

    One of the most difficult aspects of creating a design persona (and arguably the most important) is to think of your product less like a collection of algorithms and more like a person. To achieve the right mindset, I asked our designers to imagine a fictitious “persona party” attended by all of our user personas, our key content creators, and, of course, our design persona.

    We then used scenarios to brainstorm our design persona’s potential reactions. For example: “Someone wanders up to you and asks, ‘Do you think I’ll need an umbrella today?’ How do you respond?”

    For each reaction, we debated how desirable it was and how true it was to our persona. For example, we realized that WU frequently displays graphs and tables of rich weather data, similar to the example response of “Don’t say a word, just point at a graph.” We decided that it would be much more approachable, friendly, and desirable to provide concise explanations of weather forecasts in addition to the detailed graphs and tables. However, several designers were quick to point out that WU shouldn’t be too friendly—for example, it would be off-putting and distracting to tell a joke when users are looking for the forecast.

    Responses in context

    We realized that people (and design personas) behave differently, and may assume a different identity, depending on who they are talking to and the context of the conversation. For example, your doctor may be dominant and unaffiliative while discussing medical treatments with you, but will become submissive and affiliative while discussing Thanksgiving dinner plans with their grandmother. We are never just one spot on a personality map; our design persona should act differently depending on the context, too.

    We decided that rather than picking a single spot on the personality map, we would draw out multiple points and context zones. For example, you can see that during “Severe Weather,” we want WU to sound and act like an authority. However, when we have a system failure and end up in the “Apology Zone,” we want to be conciliatory and apologetic.