Personas and Innovation

In preparation for my talk at the Euro IA conference this year, I’m re-reading Diffusion of Innovations by Evertt Rogers. I came across this statement and immediately thought of personas:

One of the most distinctive problems in the diffusion of innovations is that the participants are usually quite heterophilous. A change agent, for instance, is more technically competent than his or her clients. This difference frequently leads to ineffective communication as the two individuals do not speak the same language. (p. 19)

Personas are a way for designers to conceptually deal with a hetergenous target group. They build the necessary empathy for the user to allow us designers to “communicate” effectively with them through our designs. They also help focus our attention. But in light of the above quote, personas may also lead to solutions that are more readily adopted by the target population. Why? Because the use of personas in design results in more satisfaction for the users they represent. As Alan Cooper says in The Inmates Are Running The Asylum:

The broader a target you aim for, the more certainty you have of missing the bull’s-eye. If you want to achieve a product-satisfaction level of 50%, you cannot do it by making a large population 50% happy with your products. You can only accomplish it by singling out 50% of the people and striving to make them 100% happy. It goes further than that. You can create an even bigger success by targeting 10% of your market and working to make them 100% estatic. It might seem counterintuitive, but designing for a single user is the most effective way to satisfy a broad population.

So if a common goal of innovators is to have a target population actually adopt the innovation at hand, personas are a tool that help meet that goal. Now, that might sound obvious but it’s good to have an explicit reasoning that marries the concept of innovation adoption and personas. You can throw on to your pile of arguments for using personas.

And vice-versa: when developing an innovation or innovation programme be sure to use personas to focus your attention. This means that personas should represent dimensions such as adoption rate in the persona description (e.g., early adoptors or laggards?).  Focusing on both ends of the spectrum at the same time may be more harmful than helpful in many cases.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

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