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Friday, August 12, 2011

Usability: what happens if you neglect less abundant personas

Despite some an initially hesitant BioStar community, I got some good replies on my question about biology personas, including good material from an Søren Mønsted of CLC bio. Coincidentally, a few humorous perspectives came online, which in fact nicely demonstrate what I'm at.

When building a new platform, you need to know who will be using it and how, and how those people will interact. So, for our ToxBank design we need personas to do the requirement analysis, and I have created initial draft personas now, which I hope I'll be able to share later.

So, how people interact is important, as communication is central to scholarly research. For example, this is why we blog: they are like conferences. And some insight in how the various personas look at each other can be helpful in describing personas and modeling an social science platform. Matus Sotak (aka @biomatushiq) created this funny but right-on overview:


So, there it is: five personas, each of whom characterizes the other. These views reflect how others think about that persona, which is what a persona is all about: a virtual character we recognize and can characterize in terms as done in this plot. If we hook this to requirements, we could observe that the less-knowledgeable need better access to important literature. Just to name something off the top of my head.

The second is a XKCD comic. This one is more important to the message of this post: what happens if you neglect personas? The above comic shows that ignoring personas is daily business, but is that bad?


This show two personas, an average user who appreciates cool GUIs and apps on cool topics, and a regular dude who lives in an area where tornadoes actually occur. The take home message here is that mere ratio of persona abundance is not generally a proper guide for design.

Now, try to map these two comics to anything you see around. For example, do the five personas match your research group? How does the head of your group handle this? Is hes accepting the status quo, or is hes trying to overcome these stereotypes? How do these personas get reflected in author lists? How does that map onto how you think about your EU project partners? Is it useful?

Repeating this experiment for the second comic is more useful. For example, map this comic to your citation list, and then reevaluate the impact of your research. This is exactly why CiTO is crucial. For our ToxBank project this last observation has major implications too.