1st Person-a

The use of personas for user experience design is widely regarded as a best practice and widely adopted in tech world.  Designing for an archetype customer yields more usable and effective interfaces than other methods.  In my memory, Alan Cooper labeled it and defined it as most of us use it in his excellent and far ahead of its time 1999 book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum.  I would propose that a very special persona, the 1st Persona, should be a part of the personas used in design.  This is the persona of your company, your interface, your brand, your perfect sales representative and/or account manager that you want interacting with your customers.  Your customers are going to interact with every interface, app, email, and system message as if it were a person anyway.  And whether they try to or not, your designers and developers are going to build personality into your interface either deliberately or as a fall out property.  If you accept and understand that and give customers someone that is consistent with your good brand, it will take you further.  Your 1st Persona.  You can start to think of customer interaction with your systems as interaction between two personas, and you will more consistently design the outcome you are trying to.

We have known for a long time that customers treat interfaces like people.  In the early days of the web when bandwidth made interactions painfully slow, customers would faithfully wait for a response for about 10 seconds before they started moving to other tabs in the browser and multi-tasking, giving you their full attention if you were demonstrating the same responsiveness to them.  Customers get frustrated by interfaces, laugh at their jokes, and even attribute virtue or lack thereof to honest open source projects and evil loan applications.  We use the same Influence methods in Marketing and design of interfaces that we train sales people to use, because people will attribute emotional intent to your interface.  So we tell customers the interface likes them, it is glad to see them again, it politely thanks them for submitting information or buying . . . as if.  We tell them the interface or computer is doing work for them and they feel obligated to repay the gift just as they would with a car salesman who tells you they are going to fight their manager and get you a better price on your car.  Universally, we steal human interactions and build them into our interfaces to facilitate conversion, engagement, and usage already.

So why wouldn’t we define the personality of that person so that everyone working at our company can make the most consistent effective interaction possible?  Can you imagine walking into a department store and getting a completely different style and approach every time you speak with a different department?  You would feel like you were working with commissioned people with no values other than taking your money.  Are you more likely to buy there or at a store with values consistent with what you want that you can trust you will find universally?  Think Nordstrom maybe.

It is ok that it is not possible to build all aspects of the complete persona we can describe.  The important part is being consistent where we do build.  And just as people are understanding of the limitations of different people that they are interacting with, people will be understanding of your interfaces and their limitations.  And likewise they will appreciate that your interface has some superpowers like incredibly fast, capable, and accurate calculations, that a real person could not do.  Take advantage of this when you define your 1st Persona.  If they would benefit from being amazing at doing the math of compound interest right in their heads instantly, then make them a math savant.  If your interface would benefit from having perfect memory and recall forever, then consider emphasizing that aspect of its personality.

So what should your 1st Persona be?  Your ultimate brand ambassador.  Think of a combination perhaps of your perfect sales person and account manager if you can make that one consistent person.  Wether you have people selling or not doesn’t matter.  You would want them to be effective and persuasive, but you don’t want them to come off as a snake oil sales person standing on a soap box in the street, and you probably don’t want a classic used car sales person archetype either.  Look to your brand, look to your perfect account manager once you have made a sale.  Again, wether you have people as account managers or not, IF you had a perfect account manager, what would this person be like?  How would they interact with your customers to support your mission, long term strategy, and success?

It’s time to accept that we have all been designing robots with personalities for a long time, most of them with very bad personalities and frequently inconsistent with each other as well as your brand and the people that work with customers at your company.  It is time to get deliberate about designing better ones with an intentional 1st Persona.

  • Nick Myers

    Totally agree with this perspective. The products people fall in love with all have some kind of personality. Some obvious, some less apparent. It’s very difficult to do though and takes time to build over time. Often, the personalities of the founders or makers are evident in the product because they’ve ultimately crafted it that way (intentionally or unintentionally).

    • Methinks unintentional is frequent : ) Thanks Nick

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Paul helps companies find balance between what the user needs, the business wants and what resources allow. A keen eye for young companies with huge potential, Paul focuses on mentoring across product, engineering and marketing efforts.


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