Move over persona, the mindset means business

I recently read a great blog by product designer Alan Klement which highlights the potentially disruptive effect of personas.

Personas generally focus on creating a story based on a customer’s attributes instead of a story that explains an action, or an all-important purchase decision. Klement’s conclusion is that personas leave the brain in an unsatisfied state and to fix this the brain decides to make up its own story about why a customer buys a particular product.

He goes on to say that this gap filling effect has a destructive effect on the use of personas within an organisation. As each team member reads a persona they will subconsciously fill it with their own assumptions which differ from everyone else.

While I think this is an interesting theoretical take, I have a more straightforward view.

Personas are not an easy enough tool for a business to understand, and to make decisions on.

More often than not personas are used as a nice glossy deliverable, or ‘on the wall tool’ that many organisations latch onto to demonstrate customer-centric change. Used in isolation however, they rarely help organisations make the right decisions, and having created personas certainly doesn’t make an organisation ‘customer-centric’.

Don’t get me wrong; personas can, and do, have their place. I would however always encourage an organisation to think about the outcome they want to achieve as a result of having a persona. The answer to this question is usually that the business needs help to make decisions that best reflect the needs of their customers, so they can effect a change in behaviour that will benefit the organisation in question.

Personas demonstrate the extremes of behaviour within a population in question, they describe the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ rather than the ‘why’.

I prefer to use ‘mindset’ models either alongside or in place of personas. So what’s so good about a mindset? Most importantly, once you understand a mindset, you understand how best to change it.

They are written simply, and explain an individual’s view of the world with regard to the product, service or experience in question in a manner that is easy for everyone. Mindsets are a practical tool that anyone can pick up and use, without prior knowledge and experience of ‘design thinking’.

Mindsets describe the prevailing attitudes and mental models within a population; they help to demystify the subtle nuances of human behaviour that organisations are desperate to understand.

When thinking about people, we commonly describe attitudes, beliefs, views and ideals, rather than their age, location and so on. We consciously or unconsciously form beliefs, ideas, images and verbal descriptions from our experiences and (when formed) these guide our thoughts and actions.

As humans we have evolved to understand these as part of our psychological make-up, they make sense to us. These representations of perceived reality explain cause and effect and lead us to expect certain results, give meaning to events, and predispose us to behave in certain ways.

Although personas appear to provide internal stability in a world of continuous change, they also blind us to facts and ideas that challenge or change our deeply held beliefs. They are, by their very nature, fuzzy and incomplete. A mindset is something much easier to identify with, something that feels innately human; and as such they do not require the level of effort associated with a persona to understand and apply.

I challenge clients to not only think about personas, but instead to start to think about the outcome they want to achieve as a result. In the long run, I believe mindsets will certainly help to deliver the right solution for the business. It’s also an approach that is truly based on customer centricity.

Gareth Fryer, Director, wae