A persona is an imaginary profile of someone who might be a user of a website, service or resource. Persona are used in user-centred design to help designers and developers to think about how they meet the complex needs of real people in everyday contexts, rather than designing for ‘ideal’ use-cases, or simply designing based on the structure of raw data.
Aid information could be used by many different people, in very diverse contexts. Data on aid projects might be useful by a researcher in a University connected to the latest technology and high-speed Internet; by an official in an African capital city with shared Internet access but high levels of awareness of how aid flows work; or by a citizen accessing content via a mobile phone and with low awareness of aid systems and structures. Taking the first steps towards understanding the needs of these different groups can be difficult. Common assumptions about appropriate technologies might need to be challenged and often there will be no one-size-fits-all application that infomediaries can build to make aid information accessible.
That’s why we’ve started to put together a collection of personae – researching and creating imagined profiles of potential uses of aid information. They’re helping us to think about the sorts of applications and tools aidinfo labs should be working on, but we also want to open then up as a resource for others working with aid information.
Access our open persona profiles
We’ll be adding complete persona profiles to the aidinfo labs site in the People section, although you are likely to find a lot more that are currently in development in the Google Documents we’re using to draft them. You will find a list in this document.
We see these profiles as in perpetual beta, always open to be improved, so the blog post version are snapshots of a more dynamic process.
How can you use a persona?
There are many ways you can use these persona as you think about your use of aid information. You could read through a number of them and select some that you think represent the sorts of users that you are aiming to create tools and technologies for. They can then be used to ask key questions like:
- How would this user discover and make use of my application?
- What us the most important way to get information to this user?
- Who are the other infomediaries that an application or resource might need to support to reach this user?
- How can I find out more about the needs of this user?
You can use them to help generate user stories, narratives about how these people would use the technologies and infomediary tools you are developing.
You can use them to spark your own more in-depth research about user-needs.
Just one step towards user-centred design
Not everyone likes persona-based approaches to design. Steve Portigal has written forcefully of the risk that personas can be“misused to maintain a ‘safe’ distance from the people we design for, manifesting contempt over understanding, and creating the facade of user-centeredness”. On aidinfo labs we want persona to be a first step to creating more direct connections between data-driven developers, and the people who want to use aid information to make a difference, not a replacement for those direct connections.
Help shape our personae and the open personae project
All the personae are currently being put together using simple open google documents that anyone can edit and develop. In this document you will find details of how you can contribute, and here’s a template you can save a copy of to create your own persona. Share the results with email@example.com to have them included in our library.
You can also add comments to existing persona to ask questions or ask for clarifications about the profiles – helping us to make them as life-like as possible.
We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the idea of developing a larger project linking persona, as a first step in user-centered design, with others opportunities to better engage users. Right now we’re focussed on getting personae together that can help us in our own thinking, but we think there is potential to take an open personae project further.