Over the past few years as a web designer I’ve noticed a lack of education specific to people like me. Let me take you through an example. But keep in mind, this isn’t the only example I could use, there are many.
I recently heard the wonderful Jared Spool speak on the topic of personas at the UPA Boston mini conference. The usefulness of personas notwithstanding (not getting into that can of worms here), I walked away from his talk with a familiar, looming question:
Can robust personas be built by a single designer, with limited time and resources?
I asked Jared, and his response was “it depends, but yes.” It was encouraging to hear, no doubt! But where do I start? His talk outlined how he built robust personas in 30 days. The robust part is because the personas his team built used data gathered from real users. As opposed to using made up quotes and information. Now, of course I don’t expect or assume that a single person, with limited time and resources could do it in exactly the same way as someone with a team of experts could do it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t make personas at all, does it? There has to be some way for me to build them. Perhaps that means using less data or spreading out my work over a longer period of time.
Specific examples for a specific audience
And that ambiguity is exactly where encouragement alone fails to be helpful. I need examples! I need realistic case studies of how someone like me succeeded in building personas. I need to know how they approached them, and how it impacted the problems they were trying to solve.
Without relevant examples, I frequently get the feeling that it’s an all or nothing situation. It’s like when people say “usability testing is expensive, time consuming, and takes an expert to translate the results.” That’s obviously not true, and we can benefit from doing even the smallest of studies. The difference is, I’ve seen examples of how usability studies on a shoe-string budget work. I have not seen examples of low-budget personas. (Again, not picking on personas, the same argument could be made for design pattern frameworks or mental models. The list goes on and on.)
It’s not Jared’s problem
I’m not putting this responsibility on Jared. It’s not his problem if I can’t translate his approach to my situation. I’m not asking him to meet me halfway. And I’m definitely not suggesting he should change the way he presents personas to his audiences. He rocks, and should stick to his guns.
But I’m not going to learn how to do personas from examples of how to do it with a team of experts. And I’m not going to learn how to build a design pattern framework, or mental models, if the examples are coming from that same frame of reference. Excluding examples for the loners is missing the mark for many. The newbies (myself included) need the right kind of examples that are relevant to our needs.
Who’s coming with me?
I know I’m not alone in this. There are people in the web industry that are in the same position as me. That is, not much experience, no mentor, and no help from an army of designers, developers, and researchers.
So I’m rallying the troops. I don’t know what’s next, but there is an opportunity here. Can we educate each other with relevant examples of these emerging concepts? It would be awesome if there were a blog, a conference, a community, or all 3, that is specifically for this crowd.
Update: Please read my follow up post: UX Examples for Start-ups. I received some great feedback, so I summarize some of it. And I decided that I would blog about the examples I see missing from the community. Thanks again for reading.