What to do when you have to design without Personas

I’ve been stuck at this place more than once. My client, or employer, asks me to design some thing without a clear user persona. Sometimes there aren’t any personas defined at all.

I’ve both had and heard endless conversations where designers explain that human centered design needs a persona, or real user, to work from in order to fulfil real needs. Often this conversation gives listeners a glazed look as they struggle to understand the problem. I’ve yet to see a conversation like that convince any stakeholders.

Sometimes we simply need to deliver design without knowing who the user is. So how do we make the most of that?

We use activity centered design instead. We replace our understanding of the user, with our understanding of the use case. That might sound like a coaching phrase, but the implication is profound.

To start we define the use case of what we’re designing for:

  • What is the goal for this use case?
    Maybe the user, regardless of who they are, need to update their billing information?
  • What are the situations users might find themselves in when they want to perform this task?
    Maybe the billing information is out of date.
  • What information is necessary before, during, and after the this task?
    They need to know that the billing information is out of date, have their new one, and where they go to update it.

Now that we’ve defined our use case, we have enough context to create a useful design without really knowing our users!

This isn’t a silver bullet though. Designs based on activity can become utilitarian, so if there is any context in the project about your users make sure to use them.

Try it out next time your asked to design without personas! Designing based on use case will take you further than most conversations about poorly defined Personas even could.

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