Thu, January 30, 2003

Personas and Personality

I recently ran across a simple and thought-provoking comment while looking at some design documents for an open source project.

Target users have personality types. What may be simple for one, may not be for others.

I’ve used personas as a design technique for a number of products. A persona is a precise description of a stereotypical target user of a product. (For more details, see The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. He and other designers in his company have written about using personas.) A persona defines a fictitious person and the person’s goals. Although a persona is based on actual users and an understanding of their goals, a persona is not a description of an actual person—real people have idiosyncrasies and varying skills that may skew design decisions. A well-defined and precise persona can help the designer make decisions that reflect user needs. The persona also helps the designer step outside his own view-point and see through the eyes of another.

What intrigued me most was the mention of personality types. During college freshman orientation we were required to take the Myers-briggs test as well as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), a practice that I’m sad to say has been discontinued, probably because of limited time and money. These personality assessment tools can be quite useful in pointing out distinctive goals, motivations, and behavioral preferences. It certainly helped me to better understand myself and my friends.

As a designer, I know that my personality type affects my perception and influences my design. I wonder if identifying a Myers-briggs Type for each persona would be valuable. With just 16 possibilities, but significant behavior and perception differences, it would be easy to add. A very simple 4 question test can be used to identify your personality type and these same questions could be helpful in assessing and creating personas. The Myers-briggs types also lend themselves to brief summaries.

I wonder how much our personality types are relevant to our use of a software product. For a communication product, it would seem quite relevant. I wonder if there’s an ideal personality type to design for. Perhaps you need the design to work for two completely opposite types. I’ll have to experiment with this.