UIE Virtual Seminar with Tamara Adlin: Ad-Hoc Personas

User Interface Engineering (UIE) hosts wonderful virtual seminars every month on a variety of UX-related topics. This month was no exception. Tamara Adlin, a user experience consultant based in Seattle, WA, put together a smart and practical presentation titled, The Power of Ad Hoc Personas: Truly Practical Methods to Get Your Organization On the Same Page.

The essence of Tamara’s 90-minute virtual seminar is that an inability to do user research should not prevent you from focusing key stakeholders on who their users really are. Some techniques that she discusses are ad-hoc (or non-data driven) personas, user stories, and feature prioritization.

Read my Twitter notes on the presentation and follow along with the slides below. Enjoy!



  • So excited! RT @UIE: Tamara Adlin’s virtual seminar on Ad Hoc Personas starts [at 1:30 ET]. Follow along at #uievs http://j.mp/bUPmsA
  • Get a 20% discount on @tamaraadlin‘s new book: http://www.elsevierdirect.com/product.jsp?isbn=9780123814180 Use code: 98704
  • “Swoop and poop” or “Seagull Management” = when executives fly over the project and crap all over it, then fly away
  • Cute! @tamaraadlin‘s dad does the illustrations for her book covers
  • Personas are a valuable part of the process whether you’re working on the inside or the outside of an organization, big or small
  • “Myth: If you don’t have data, personas are worthless.” @tamaraadlin intends to debunk that myth today
  • Persona rules – Rule 1: If you don’t have clear goals, don’t bother. Rule 2: The execs *must* be involved from the start.
  • Ad-hoc personas are the same as data-driven personas except they’re created in direct collaboration with high-level stakeholders…
  • Rule 3: You *must* align personas with goals. Rule 4: Use @tamaraadlin‘s magical persona template.
  • Ad-hoc personas can (and should) be created before you collect any more data about your users or customers…
  • @tamaraadlin believes that companies are suffering from a lack of data, but rather from a lack of *focus*
  • Unlike data-drive personas, ad-hoc personas are a focus and communication tool first, and a product design tool second.
  • Why care? Personas are already floating around your org, and they’re probably wrong. Personas can solve unclear business objectives
  • Collecting more data is expensive and often not very helpful. Ad-hoc personas can be created quickly and inexpensively
  • And chances are you’re not sending people to the moon. Not everything has to be super-complex. Ad-hoc personas solve basic problems
  • “Most companies are so confused, the last thing they need is more data.” — @tamaraadlin Too much data can be paralyzing for an org
  • “Disorganized assumptions are like ghosts; they will haunt your project.” Use ad-hoc personas to bring clarity and focus to your org
  • When developing rich experiences across multiple channels w a large team, few ppl have the same users in mind when making decisions
  • Hidden personas wreak havoc on products. People are making small compromises that end up becoming huge problems for lots of people
  • “Barnacle-based” design happens. Over the years, you add more features and clog up the works of something that was once well designed
  • “Corporate underpants” = when your site or product IA mimics your organizations internal structure. HA!
  • Shared, prioritized, well-communicated personas align the whole team — inside and out. Even without data, the picture is much better
  • Marketing vs. design personas: marketing drives eyeballs to your product, product design moves those eyeballs around once they arrive
  • Rule 1: If you don’t have clear goals, the persona effort won’t work. Dirty little secret: no one knows what the company’s goals are
  • Identify top three measurable biz objectives for company/project. “What does success look like from a business perspective?”
  • Write down your guesses for the goals and make sure you get them approved by the execs before you move forward with the project
  • “Increase revenue” and “decrease costs” are not clear, measurable goals. “Increase revenue by X% through online tools” is however
  • Woah, this is going a bit fast. Hard for me to keep up. @tamaraadlin is giving great advice for how to set up these meetings w/ execs
  • “Never do anything without sticky notes”- @tamaraadlin Get everyone in the room to write all their goals on post-its, then categorize
  • Let execs use their own language, then help them adapt it to “I want/I need” statements. This is hard, but will be a major sea change
  • Find patterns across the user goals. (You’re doing all this together in a room) Put like items together, and there are your personas
  • Ad-hoc personas = testable hypotheses. Now you have a place to start gathering more data. That’s pretty smart, actually.
  • Ad-hoc personas are less about getting to the write answers, and more about getting the biz execs sharing how they’re thinking
  • “You’ve gotta get the scribbles out before you can draw.” — @tamaraadlin‘s dad. Get the old ways of thinking out first to get to new
  • As business goals change, previously developed personas can still hang around but you might need to re-prioritize them accordingly
  • @tamaraadlin refers to your boss’s boss and your boss’s boss’s boss as “grand boss” and “great grand boss”. Too funny
  • @tamaraadlin is answering my question about why we should call these ad-hoc “personas” instead of “target audiences”…
  • She says if you’re planning data-driven personas, it’s good not to give ad-hoc personas names/titles in case you need to revise them
  • But calling them “target audiences” might create a turf war with marketing, so instead consider calling them “sketch personas”
  • @tamaraadlin talking about the technique she uses for getting execs to prioritize ad-hoc personas using a points system
  • Fill in the blank: “If we don’t make ________ ridiculously happy, we’ve failed.” That really gets people talking
  • @tamaraadlin persona template elements: alliterative, descriptive name; photo; weighted score/priority; category-admin, end user, etc
  • …key quote; meet the persona (2-3 paragraphs); persona’s main questions (in their terms); how we’ll answer (in org’s terms)…
  • …lastly, “Oh, by the way” what we (the org) can do for her that she wouldn’t even think to ask for. This loose structure is helpful
  • @tamaraadlin just hit on the salient point from Paola Antonelli’s Interaction10 talk: UX is about the stories people tell themselves
  • Persona-weighted feature matrix: weight=priority. Score: 2 = persona will love this feature, 1 = sure, it’s fine, expected…
  • 0 = doesn’t affect the persona. -1 persona will hate this. Take each feature and plot it against each persona, then score & add up
  • @tamaraadlin‘s Persona-weighted feature matrix: http://img.skitch.com/20100218-rmr7hu556bhj9ca6mxhhs1w6d8.jpg
  • A great example of plotting personas on a grid to clarify & get buy-in: http://bit.ly/czgtnV
  • Last link is particularly useful for communicating with development
  • You have the feature priorities, based on persona priorities, based on business or brand goals, which were approved by the executives
  • “Personas are the characters. Now tell the stories.” This is similar to scenarios and use cases, but focus on end-to-end stories…
  • Not just little snippets of the experience. Users see it as one experience and you need to understand it and plan for it that way too
  • This webinar is about way more than ad-hoc personas. It’s really a project definition work session tutorial
  • Data is great, but it’s not the only tool in the toolbox. Ad-hoc personas get execs on same page, & help us design a story of the exp
  • This story crosses functional areas, product descriptions, politics, etc. Personas get you out of yr own heads, talking to each other
  • Your execs aren’t hiding their goals from you…they don’t even really know them! They’re your #1 user — guide them thru the process
  • Rule 5: Use tools that *force* people to use the personas. Rule 6: Create stories, not solutions. (missed those two before)
  • @tamaraadlin‘s new book is available for pre-order now. Essential Personal Lifecycle: Your Guide to Building & Using Personas
  • Again, you can get a 20% discount off of the book at http://www.elsevierdirect.com/product.jsp?isbn=9780123814180 use code: 98704
  • I wasn’t able to capture this before. Check out how persona prioritization works using point system: http://bit.ly/9lAK5J
  • Personas tend to be evergreen because users’ goals don’t change that much over time – @tamaraadlin. But their behaviors do, no?
  • If exec team can’t agree on the priority of the personas, how are you ever going to design a product they believe in?
  • “If any of these steps feels terribly difficult, something went wrong in the step before it.” — @tamaraadlin I love that!
  • Haha, @tamaraadlin says that many of us listening think the idea of not bringing in users to talk to is heresy. She’s right, I do :)
  • Add the upcoming @uie virtual seminars to your calendar! 3/10 Folksonomies with Stephanie Lemieux. 3/31 Prototyping with @zakiwarfel
  • 4/22 Web Form Design with @lukewdesign. Learn more about them all at http://www.uie.com/virtual_seminars
  • Check out @UIE‘s Web App Masters Tour! http://uietour.com San Diego, Minneapolis, Philly, Seattle. So many great names on the lineup
  • That’s all folks, hope you enjoyed the tweets! :)

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