In user-centered design and marketing, personas are widely used to represent the goals and needs of different user-groups. Personas are fundamentally similar to models or moulds: they help designers to shape services and interactions within the boundaries of user-behaviour and habit.
Traditionally, personas are built by collecting and synthesising qualitative (interviews, focus-groups) and quantitative (surveys, analytics) data on your user-base : behaviours, patterns, goals, skills but also the context in which users deal with your tools and interface. All this constitutes a portrait of your user that will be essential throughout the design process.
As with every tool, personas have advantages and limits. One of the main problems is that personas are generally quite static. They are good « safety-nets » to build your services without relying on a non-existent fantasy client, but they also tend to restrict innovation. They’re not perfect to work with on future services, to build the products that will be necessary in five years time. Users evolve and develop new habits.
To be able to work on future services, you have to bring your personas along. But that’s just not possible by working solely on the users. You have to bring the whole environment forward, imaging what it’s like to live and work in five years time.
While at Plein Sens I worked on a method to work on prospective personas. It was a one day long workshop organised with product managers and designers from a telecommunications company.
Prior to the workshop we defined (with a sociologist) the main trends that will affect users in the future on subjects such as the economy, society, personal life, technology, work and urbanisation. Then the personas were « processed » by the group through this near-future story in order to describe the principal evolutions that will affect them. A main persona was then defined and its experience storyboarded through a typical day, five years in the future.