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Published on November 17th, 2007 | by Rahel Bailie


The Value of Personas

A post on the new Rockley blog got me thinking about personas. If I’ve learned anything over the past number of years as a consultant, it’s not to gloss over steps just because the digital thinkers consider it “the fluffy stuff.” The step of creating personas is one of those steps. Clients, particularly engineers and software developers, resist this mightily. It feels like English composition class. The theory isn’t conclusive. It’s not binary. They really don’t want to pay for it. But how else do you know (if it’s a website) who you’re pitching to? How do you know (if it’s an application) how your users will really use your software? Let me explain.
A friend of mine – a very smart guy and an extremely astute businessman – recently called me to ask me to critique the redesign of his company’s new website design. As I started going through the site, I could only say that from my perspective, I found certain things helpful and certain things lacking. But as I wasn’t the audience, I didn’t think my comments would be particularly helpful to him. We’re in complementary markets, so I asked what types of users would come to the site, what would motivate them to keep looking through the site contents, and what they needed to get out of the content to be convinced to take the next logical step (whether that be making a purchase, filling out a form, contacting the office, etc.). My friend had to admit that he didn’t really know because while he had a general idea of want he wanted to say, and to whom, he’d mostly skipped that step.
The funny thing is that even as the clients refer to the various personas by name (“No, no, Tony would never do that with the product!” or “But we saw that Carol navigates the site like this, not like that.”), they continue to dismiss the worth of having created them. I’ve come to accept this as part of the “butch bravado,“ – you know, the guys who just need to bite into a bullet while having their wounds dressed – and my part in the bargain is to pretend to go along with the deception. (“Yep, golly gee. It did slow us down, and isn’t it a drag that Tony isn’t using the product the way you want him to?”) They get to complain (a little bit) about the bill for the personas, and I won’t rub it in about how much money they’re saving by not developing (and redoing) all those features users will complain about, or recreating that site that the users will skip through but not actually read.
And my friend? Ah yes. I recommended The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, by Stever Mulder and Ziv Yaar. He’s biting the bullet and doing the work, and will have a far more effective website for it.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

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