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Be Specific

The more specific we make our personas, the more effective they are as design tools. That's because personas lose elasticity as they become specific. For example, we don't just say that Emilee uses business software. We say that Emilee uses WordPerfect version 5.1 to write letters to Gramma. We don't just let Emilee drive to work. We give her a dark-blue 1991 Toyota Camry, with a gray plastic kid's seat strapped into the back and an ugly scrape on the rear bumper. We don't just let Emilee go to work. We give her a job as a new-accounts clerk in a beige cubicle at Global Airways in Memphis, Tennessee. This distinctive specificity is very powerful as a design and communications tool. Consequently, all of our personas are articulated with singular detail and precision.

As we isolate Emilee with specific, idiosyncratic detail, a remarkable thing happens: She becomes a real person in the minds of the designers and programmers. We can refer to her by name, and she assumes a tangible solidity that puts all of our design assumptions in perspective. As she loses her elasticity, we can identify her skills, her motivations, and what she wants to achieve. Armed with this knowledge, we can then examine her in light of the software's subject area to see whether she is really an archetypal user. After a designer has some experience, he can usually synthesize a valid persona on the first try.


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