Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

What about Personas?

As we were going over Personas in my Interaction Design course at UMSI, I began seeing some articles on the topic that I wanted to share to the class.

Kill your Personas (Links to an external site.) – Microsoft Design

Stop obsessing over user personas (Links to an external site.) – UX Collective

The discussion we had on personas also correlate to an issue I’m having with the MacLean et al., reading. While I overall found Design Space Analysis highly informative and useful for the design process, I’m hung up on QOC as argument based. As interdisciplinary as Design Thinking is, when we justify our decisions through arguing for our rationale rather than proof, we end up in effect making excuses for what we did based on our own internal logic.

Models are only useful until they aren’t. Models, analogies, metaphors and the like, are kind of like stents that force a communication channel open to cram more information through than that channel could withstand otherwise. The experts who develop the models have a better understanding of that model’s limits and drawbacks than the person who is introduced to the concept through the model. So we need to really hone our instincts so we know when to break our own rules. A good recent example of this is the information processing model we spent the first half of the semester in 588 learning. Everything about vision, perception, attention and memory that we just learned in that class was related through this model. But that’s not what our brains look like, how do we know where that model breaks down? How many generations removed are we from the experts that developed it?

Despite what the rationalists think, logic occurs inside the individual. It’s good that we abstract data to create personas as noted from the readings. But as discussed in the articles above, we tend to ascribe erroneous details to these personas that come from our internal logic rather than the data. Ultimately I think this results in a holistic thinking that’s rather hollow. As Sapolsky notes in his tome (Links to an external site.) on human behavior, rationalism is most often rationalizing away violence as just part of human nature. We aren’t wired for [this], we didn’t evolve for [that]. Neither are we a ‘tabula rasa’ or a clean slate. We are born with an array of biological behavioral propensities that are cultivated through environmental inputs and our reaction to them.

The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that the words we use, shape our perceptions of the world. We can only think in terms of the words we know how to think in. When we enter a design process as non-experts we are looking to the user research to drive insight that give us a sense of holistic expertise. When we justify based on arguing rationale rather than proof, we employ rationalism, which essentially holds that whoever wins the argument is right, or at least closer to the truth than those who lost. As they say, history is written by the victors.

I say all of this because I have a growing concern that the interdisciplinary approach is starting to appear somewhat shallow and self-congratulatory. Like Dr. Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, we were “so preoccupied with whether or not we could, we didn’t stop to think whether or not we should.” Businesses scrutinize every penny and I see a future of tight deadlines and budgetary concerns where we fudge user research and employ our own inner logic to advocate for our own crappy designs while we post inspirationals on Instagram, repeating that saying, “You are not your user.”

But maybe we should be.

Featured Photo by Juliana Barquero on Unsplash


“Chapter 5: Structured Findings” in Saffer, D. (2010). Designing for interaction: Creating innovative applications and devices (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

MacLean, A., Young, R. M., Bellotti, V. M. E., & Moran, T. P. (1991). Questions, options, and criteria: Elements of design space analysis. Human-Computer Interaction, 6(3-4), 201-220. (through section 2)

Case Study:  (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

“Chapter 5: Picking the Right Tool” in Warfel, T. Z. (2009).  Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide.  Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media.

Chapters 6 – 11 in Warfel, T. Z. (2009).  Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide.  Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media.

GUI Prototyping Tools:

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