Joe six pack is not a useful archetype

A good persona (or user archetype) is based on research and is specific, memorable and includes actionable information. Often, I’ve seen people give them descriptive names that leverage often-heard phrases, like “Nora the newbie” or “Joe Helpdesk.”

The term “Joe Six Pack” has frequently been used in the 2008 presidential campaign. This is a good example of how using “soundbite” names for your persona work against your need for a specific design target that keeps everyone on the team focused on the same idea.

In NPR’s Morning Edition program “York Voters Untangle Rhetoric On Race” Renee Montagne, Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris asked 15 voters from York Pennsylvania what they thought of when they heard the term “Joe Six Pack.” The got a variety of responses:

Mohammad Khan, an immigrant from Bangladesh, owns a diner with a giant American flag painted on the building. “Joe Six-Pack is people just like me — work every day, pay their taxes.”

“When I think Joe Six-Pack, I think of the hunter and his gun and his dog, and that’s a definite white man out in the countryside,” says Blanche Hake, a retired teacher who is white.

Margie Orr, who’s black, says “The others are lazy. They don’t work as hard, so that’s where the Joe Six-Pack comes in. He’s a hard-working white man.”

When someone hears the name “Nora the newbie” or “Joe Helpdesk” they draw on past experience to imagine someone they know, or project the context of other times they’ve used the term into your persona. As a result, when a group work together to design something for such a persona (whether it’s a Web site or tax policy), they each have different (often unvoiced) assumptions about who this person is and what their needs are. By using a more realistic persona name, and describing the behavioral characteristics you want to emphasize, you make it easier for everyone in the group to imagine the same person.

For some ideas about to create more specific (and useful) archetypes, check out:

Getting from Research to Personas: Harnessing the Power of Data
Perfecting Your Personas
Taking Personas Too Far
Does your persona eat twinkies?

Lane Halley

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