Indivisualizing users
July 10, 2001
Lynn Upshaw's "Building Brand Identity" offers two interesting examples of how thinking in another field is paralleling user experience design—with both a job that's similar to a user experience designer and a technique for indivisualizing customers that's close to the "personas and scenarios" technique.

Upshaw mentions a relatively new role at advertising agencies that developed in the late 1980s: the "account planner," whose job is to represent the customer.

"Planners stand in stark contrast to traditional marketing researchers in that they are not primarily hired to obtain marketing research data, but to focus on specific consumer issues that can help create the most persuasive advertising possible. Unlike traditional researchers who responsibilities largely ends with delivering the information requested, account planners are held personally responsible for the creative product, along with the creative teams…Account planners are, among other things, a conduit through which marketers and their agencies can view prospects as individuals living individual lives. Planners can then extrapolate from what they learn from these people, and apply it to the creation of effective marketing communications."

Since I haven't worked for large ad agencies, I can't say how widespread the job has become or whether it's practiced as Upshaw describes. But it's worth mentioning because making a comparison to a similar job may be one way of helping marketing people understand what we do.

Likewise, the phrase "indivisualizing users" is a nice term to help people to understand the personas and scenarios technique—and interestingly, Upshaw recommends using this technique for the equivalent kind of reasons interaction designers, such as Alan Cooper, recommend it:

"The act of indivisualizing itself encourages marketers to creative a living, fluid visualizing of their individual customers that keeps their personal perspectives uppermost in mind. Indivisualizing is a commitment by marketers to move onto intimate terms with individual customers in such a way that they are not only studied, but also literally and figuratively incorporated onto the marketing team as partners in the selling process."

Change "customers" to "users," "marketers" to "designers" and "selling," to "design" and we're talking the same language.

But Upshaw also recognizes the resistance that quantative-based marketers are likely to have to this technique. After all, you can risk a major mistake if you base your decision on something that's not truly representative. The answer of course, is to make sure you've constructed your personas in ways that they can be validated by as much quantitative data as possible. On the other hand, it's also useful to remember that marketers themselves may be fooling themselves about the strength of their statistics—for example, the increasing number of decisions made on a few focus groups, which aren't even close to being statistically significant.

Likewise, it's also important for user experience designers not to oversell the personas. To quote Upshaw's summary advice:

"Kept in their proper perspective, indivisualizing profiles are thought-provoking, directional exercises, not rigid etchings of the target. Above all, the profiles should help the team think differently about their targets as individual human beings."

::

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Copyright © 2001 All Rights Reserved.
Any problems with the site?

Note: This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.