Personas and Cultural Considerations

A key takeaway from last week’s class discussion on personas was that personas are more than a collection of demographic data– they need to be thought of as lifestyle profiles.  For example, “Martha” is not just a 35-year old mother of two with a household income of $75,000 who saves for a big family vacation every year.  Instead, “Martha” is a woman who is often harried trying to manage a schedule that includes soccer games, ballet lessons and a full time job.  She barely catches news headlines as she drives to work and relaxes by reading People Magazine because it’s brain candy (and she can claim it an important tool for staying up to date on popular culture J).

The second “Martha” profile is far more multi-dimensional and invariably provides greater insight into what a product must deliver in order to capture Martha’s imagination enough to trial or buy.

One thing we didn’t talk about was cultural considerations and the influence on both demographic and psycho-graphic profiles that inform personas.  The prompt for thinking about this was yesterday’s piece in the New York Times on Twitter’s awareness growth. According to a recent study by Edison Research, Twitter is now almost equal to Facebook in awareness among Americans – increasing from 26% last year to 87%  this year.

The piece went on to highlight data points regarding cultural usage trends.  According to the Edison report 25% of Twitter users are African-American – twice the percentage of the American population.

Do cultural variations affect a design consideration set?  Does it matter if “Martha” is African-American, Hispanic or of Korean decent?  It might matter when it comes to some aesthetic decisions (color choices, look and feel may be different based on variances in trends among social groups).  But I would argue it has little, if any, affect on functionality decisions, since functionality is ultimately more about technical capabilities.  In fact, Martha’s age (at least for now) may be the biggest determining factor when it comes to influencing product design.

That said, the New York Times blog is a good reminder that crafting personas with a multi-cultural mindset can only be pure goodness when it comes to reinforcing diversity –  locally and globally.


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