Persona Development What/How Thoughts

From time to time it’s fun to think things through using the “what/how analysis.” This can be summarised by the statement “One man’s ‘what?’ is another man’s ‘how?’” and it can be applied to lots of things in order to work out where you are in a set of processes and how, or whether, some things have a natural relationship or hierarchy to describe.

I’ve been trying to apply this technique to the process of persona development, because in particular this seems to me to cut the designer off at the point where they actually need to design the end product (the UI of the system in most cases). In short, I wanted to know whether performing a thought experiment like this would reveal whether modelling users necessarily supports the design of a better system for them or not.

The what/how analysis would paint this picture of the development process of, say, a website as follows:

  1. CEO: What do we need to do? We need to increase profits.
  2. Marketing Manager: How do we need to do that? We need to develop our brand.
  3. Programme Manager: How do we do that? We need to launch a website that supports the brand.

and so on until it gets to somebody saying “We need to create an effective web site.

  • Designer: How do we do that? We need to understand our audience.

As this point, the designer is committing to a UCD process. The next step has to be something like “We need to model our users” or “We need to research the users’ needs” and other similar activities in the persona development process.

The trouble is that I can’t think of an intellectually satisfying what/how link between “We need to model our users in huge detail” and “We need to design the UI.” That is to say I can’t do so if the persona model contains data on what shoes they buy, what papers they read and what what they think about DIY. Why is the huge detail necessary? Only a rather simple understanding of the audience (their age, sex, typical activities relating to the target activity, etc.) seems to make a natural link with UI development itself.

I’m probably being far too intellectual about this, or more likely being stupid and missing some obvious point and will be quietly deleting this post out of a hideous realisation of sophomoric angst.