The Spirit of Halloween Personas

So we had loads of fun doing our Halloween personas this year. Seems like a lot of folks enjoyed reading them, too. Being the nerds that we know can sometimes be, we’d like to share a few of the headier thoughts we talked about while going through the exercise.

About the presentation

A few folks asked about this presentation format. Is this really the way we document personas? Can it be this simple? We document them in the ways that work best for our clients, so they take many forms, but yes, this presentation is one we’re using lately for an “overview” slide in a presentation deck. Since we want to get the team into an intentional stance when looking at the overview, we like to have a big image that registers as believable. The information contained on the right is the minimum amount of reminders about who they are and what we need to keep in mind as we do goal-directed design: A telling quote, goals listed that embody the voice of the persona, a name, and a role. Of course we had a little fun with the format with Destro and Metansiptah that we might not ordinarily have, but half the fun of this exercise was in picking which rules to break.

Tiny Monsters

About the content

The idea was short and full of promise, but the execution proved more difficult for a number of reasons.

Personas aren’t individuals

The first thing that came up was a reminder about the essential nature of personas. When first thinking about which monsters to do, I offered to do Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, but Jenea was sharp enough to catch the mismatch: Personas aren’t individuals. They’re archetypes that represent large populations. You can’t just do Dr. Frankenstein. He’s not a persona. He’s a…umm…person. So adhering to this principle excluded many monsters we might have done which are individuals. For example, there’s only one Creature from the Black Lagoon, so “horrible sea creature” seemed to not fit, even though we <3 the Creature and had a team chomping at the bit to go with him.

Personas are based on research

Personas are best when based on research. Since we couldn’t get first-hand research for fictional creatures, we looked to the next best thing: domain research. To do this we looked at web resources (thank you, Wikipedia), a few books from our shelves, and every related movie and story that came to mind. This gave us the range of “individuals” from which we drew. It was, as you can imagine, some fun research.

We try to avoid cartoonishness

That the modeled users were fictional created another problem: How to avoid making them too cartoonish? Yes, we created them for a larf, but we didn’t want them to be cereal-box versions of the monsters. Cartoonish personas are much more easily disregarded as design tools or market segments, rather than engaging, intentional agents with real needs and challenges. So we tried to make sure that our vampires weren’t “Drac McVampires” whose main goal was to “Zuk your bloot!” but instead had at least a little more realism to them. (The delightful goals for the Zombie Who Looks like an Undead Crispin Glover were a deliberate exception.)

Personas often are created with a target technology in mind

We typically steer goals so that they’re useful in the context of the design problem at hand. For instance, everyone (living) has a goal of “Enjoy unhindered breathing” but it’s so generic that it’s not useful in most contexts. Without a target technology in mind (maybe we’ll try that next year) our monster’s goals couldn’t really lean toward any particular way, and so had to be more about characterization.

Personas have life goals

We distinguish between types of goals, and one category is life goals, which are those things the persona wants to accomplish in his or her lifetime. It proved a little challenging for the undead personas. What is a life goal when there’s potentially no end of it in sight?

Do the undead have life goals?

How do we handle anti-social goals?

One of the most challenging aspects of these spooks and monsters was their clearly anti-social goals. Yes, Alexi in wolf form would want to “rip deep into pulsing viscera” but we as designers certainly don’t want to help him do that. Perhaps another article can be devoted to handling this in the real-world, but when thinking about how to help them, we tried hard not to become horrible accomplices. That helped with some of the humor, too, as we obviously dodged the obvious.

Turns out they may be ideal

We were ultimately surprised at some of the promise of these personas. It started as a joke to say that our ghost Juan couldn’t touch physical objects, but we realized that we can in fact handle that with gestural and voice input mechanisms. Would Juan be an ideal persona for such an interfaceless system? Or in another example, both Alexi our werewolf and Romulus our sasquatch valued staying out of the public eye. Would they be a useful stand-in for people concerned about the looming threat of ubiquitous surveillance? Of course we wouldn’t suggest either for a real client, but designing for the most extremely-constrained persona can sometimes result in the best design.

Hoping you and yours had a happy Halloween!

We’re thinkers as part of being designers, and any exercise that gives us a new perspective on the tools and methods we use is a worthwhile one. But our main point in doing this was to have a bit of fun and help celebrate one of our favorite holidays. So now that the holiday is past we can get back to work. And since it’s late and dark here in the Cooper offices, we’ll just turn back to our computers and…wait. What was that sound?

Chris Noessel

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