January 16, 2010

Bulk view

Lightweight personas for ideation workshops

One of the techniques we use to help a group generate ideas in Innovation Discovery workshops is to create light-weight personas. Anchoring the brainstorming using a name, a face, and a story makes it easier for people to generate and later evaluate concrete ideas. The personas also give the group a common vocabulary for talking about different audience segments. For example, if the group defined John as a middle-aged professional concerned about healthcare issues, people can then ask, ďWhat would John think about this?Ē during other sessions.

The persona ideation exercise is great for sparking energy and getting people to stand up. It can be used in different places, and it can become a running theme.

  • Beginning of workshop -Defining personas – talking about characteristics and challenges: Who are the target segments? What are the gaps? Whatís the worst-case scenario?
  • During the workshop – Brainstorming: How can we apply the ideas discussed in the previous session and other ideas we generate to build an ideal scenario for each of these personas?
  • End of the workshop – Evaluating and summarizing: Which of the parts of the ideal scenario can be implemented easily, and which take more effort? Which potential initiatives serve which personas, and how well?

Structure of the session:

Goal: Concrete vision, ideas for initiatives

Input: Light-weight personas which we flesh out with the help of the clients during the workshop session.

Output: Scenarios for each of the personas, and possible summary of key initiatives to explore in the next session.


  1. Identify a few persona types that reflect the clientís target audiences, with the planning teamís help. Ex: entrepreneur, parent, student, and so on.
  2. Look for pictures through Flickr Advanced Search (check all the checkboxes related to Creative Commons so that you can search for commercial-use modifiable photos). Stock photography sites such as sxc.hu and stockxpert.com are also useful, although I prefer to use Flickr because the people and situations look more real than posed. Put the pictures into a presentation, one slide per picture, with proper photo credits. If possible, crop the picture so that only one person is in it, and scale it up so that it fills the slide.
  3. Review the pictures and select which ones will be used. Aim for a diverse mix that represents the target audience well in terms of ages, professions, races, etc.
  4. Give the personas nicknames for reference. Use names that are easy to remember and spell. Alliteration is fun to use and makes names more memorable (ex: Bob the baker). Label the final slides with the nicknames in a large font, so that the names can be read from a distance. Adjust the photo contrast if necessary.
  5. Print full-colour copies of the pictures with names. You can post these next to easel sheets taped to the walls for brainstorming. If you have access to a poster printer, you can print large sheets of paper with the picture and the name at the top of the page.
  6. Finalize your persona presentation. Your presentation can be as simple as flipping through all of those pictures one by one, or you can show them all together if thereís space on the slide.

During a break before the session:

  1. Tape up 1-2 easel sheets per persona. Spread these around the room, making sure that thereís enough space for people to stand and talk. Have at least one blank set of easel sheets just in case you need to create a new persona on the fly. If you have plenty of space, put up more easel sheets.
  2. Place markers, Post-it notes, and masking tape near the persona groups. Different-coloured markers and notes give people flexibility.
  3. If you want (and you donít have too many personas), post the persona pictures next to the easel sheets.

During the session:

  1. Explain the structure and flow of the session (goal, input, output, and the next few steps).
  2. Very briefly review the personas with names, faces, and light detail.
  3. Review the different personas, pointing them out around the room. Ask people to define the characteristics. You can change the characters completely at this point, or introduce new ones. A co-facilitator (or coworker closest to the poster) should jot quick notes about characteristics.
  4. Find out if you need additional personas. Use the blank pages youíve set aside or repurpose a persona that didnít click.
  5. Review the personas with the characteristics again, pointing them out around the room. asking people to move to the one they want to focus on. See if you can get people to take responsibility for reporting back at the end. Consider the balance of people among the different groups.
  6. Explain the structure again: people are going to figure out what that personaís ďmoment of truthĒ is with the organization (key customer experience?) and walk through what that scenario could be in 2-3 years (or whatever the workshopís vision timeframe is). Point out the markers and the notes. Encourage people to move around to other personas theyíre interested in contributing to as well.
  7. Give people a time limit. Split up into groups. Walk around and facilitate, asking questions.
  8. Remind people when the time limit is almost up.
  9. Get the groupsí attention. Ask them to briefly tell their personaís story based on the brainstorm. Take public notes on the different initiatives that can enable that scenario. These notes can be used during the analysis portion.

Analysis (can be done in another session or by another facilitator):

  1. If there are a lot of common initiatives, do the next analysis as a large group. If there are separate initiatives, let people continue the analysis from there.
  2. Let each group (or the large group) discuss which initiatives can be done by either organization separately, and which initiatives need collaboration. Help prioritize the initiatives in terms of perceived effort and benefit. Capture the results in a table.
  3. Review the results with the team.

After the workshop:

Summarize the persona characteristics and stories (may be bullet-point form) in the workshop output document.

Lessons learned:

  • Donít offer too many choices, because clients may just want to have all of them.
  • Donít give personas too much detail, because clients will benefit the most from personalizing them during the workshop.
  • Donít be afraid to revamp your personas entirely.
  • Donít panic. =)

Reflecting on introversion and shyness; help me find better words!

Iím an introvert. Itís not a bad thing. Iím growing into my strengths.

It took me a while to understand that part of me. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself at family reunions. My sisters called me square because I didnít like hanging out at bars and clubs. Sometimes they let me just read. Other times, I think they wished I was more outgoing. I felt outgoing enough. I liked my own company, and that of a few others. I could spend hours just reading or using the computer. I wasnít one of the popular kids, but I had a close-knit group of friends I brought together.

People donít believe Iím an introvert. I speak. I write. I introduce people to others. It seems introverts should be tongue-tied in company, shying away from social contact. Iíve met some like that: hard to get to know, but rewarding when you do.

Iím learning to work with who I am. I plan my schedule so that I donít overextend myself with events. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and communicating them through presentations, blog posts, and sketches. I get my energy through quiet time.

Thanks to books about introversion, I feel comfortable saying, ďThank you for the invitation to the party, but Iím looking forward to a quiet evening.Ē No need to pretend Iím over-committed. No excuses about work that needs to be done.

I can fill a conference with energy and hold my own in a room when needed. I even enjoy the buzz. But I know Iím an introvert, so I build quiet time into my schedule and I donít feel guilty if I need a break.

Shyness is a different matter. There are shy extroverts. Shyness is social anxiety–a feeling of awkwardness, a lack of confidence.

I need a better word. I am not shy. I would just rather jump into the middle of a conversation than start one.

Given a choice between going to a cocktail party with mostly-strangers and hoping for a serendipitous connection, or reflecting on a topic and writing a blog post that can lead to more conversations over time, Iíll pick writing. It gives people reasons to start the conversation with me. It scales, too.

I mix in some randomness so that Iím not constrained by homogeneity. I take up different interests and meet different people. I reach out, read blogs, and leave comments. Yes, sometimes I start the conversationówhen I can jump into the middle of it, informed by what people have shared publicly.

I donít reach out to random people on Facebook and ask them to be my friend. I donít chat people up at bus stops and in elevators. People who do that make me nervous. Being singled out in an anonymous crowd makes me wonder about peopleís intentions. I value the ability to choose when to withdraw and when to engage.

I share, publicly and non-intrusively, so people can choose to reach out to me. We can jump into the middle of a conversation. Itís an odd sort of intimacy. It works.

So what is this? Not shy, not anti-social, not asocialÖ Pragmatic, because this approach lets me reach far more people? Lazy, because it reduces the work of connection? Respectful, because I give people the choice? None of those quite seem to fit. What word expresses this well?