97 UX Things

Personas with Emotions and Behaviors are More Valuable (feat. Cindy Brummer)

June 29, 2021 Cindy Brummer & Dan Berlin Season 1 Episode 4
97 UX Things
Personas with Emotions and Behaviors are More Valuable (feat. Cindy Brummer)
Show Notes Transcript

Cindy Brummer discusses her chapter about maximizing the utility of personas by focusing them on behaviors.

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Dan Berlin:

Hi everyone, and welcome to another edition of the 97 UX Things podcast. Dan Berlin here your host, and I'm joined this week with Cindy Brummer, who wrote the chapter Personas with Emotions and Behaviors Are More Valuable. Welcome, Cindy.

Cindy Brummer:

Hey, thanks, Dan. Glad to be here.

Dan Berlin:

Can you please take a moment and introduce yourself?

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah. So my whole role as a UX designer is as a leader of the agency I run out of Austin, Texas. It's called Standard Beagle. I've been doing that plus teaching, and recently got my Master's degree. So I'm having a fun time.

Dan Berlin:

Excellent. So can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory? How did you get started in UX? And how'd you wind up where you are now?

Cindy Brummer:

Oh, man, it has been a long winding road. Yeah. When I first started, which, you know, gosh, it's been over a decade now. I started off as a web designer, making a transition from the world of journalism, I was a TV news producer, and in my most recent TV job, which was back in, gosh, 2005, I was a web producer, and that's when I really got introduced to the whole idea of doing websites. And I had always loved design. In fact, in high school, I did, yeah, newspaper design. And I figured out, wow, I could do this, I could do this, you know, on the web. This is super, super cool. So I cobbled together, quite an education, through some, you know, local community college classes, through conferences, and books and magazines. And then all of a sudden, someone started asking me to do websites. And from there really, that's when it kind of started to take off. I ended up leaving TV, tried to make a go as a freelancer, didn't really work. But I got a job doing website design and developmentm was the only person doing it at the company I was at, and then ended up just still having that entrepreneurial bug, and made my own opportunity. So, created an agency, started working with clients, growing that. We're a small boutique agency now and I get the joy of helping other designers. So I do a lot of, you know, just mentoring and overseeing the stuff that we do and working with developers as well. So that's awesome.

Dan Berlin:

You had mentioned the cobbled together initial education. Can you tell us a little bit about what you studied to help you get to the this career?

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, that's a great question. I, I took some basic classes in HTML and CSS, thinking that I was going to go down the road of being a developer. I took some graphic design classes, learning how to, you know, master how to put together headlines around images and things. I ended up reading quite a bit of The Smashing Magazine library of their white papers and ebooks. And that's really what kind of got me into it. I started reading a lot on Search Engine Land, which is still around and, and just the, the one thing I really loved though, is I was reading a list part, which is that blog, and hen they had a conference, and started going, I went to the onferences whenever I could fford it. And they came to ustin. And that was phenomenal. ou know, it was the whole, like verything. It was the design, t was the content, I got really nto content strategy and nformation architecture. And so t was from listening to experts nd reading books. So I mean, I ead Steve Krug's Don't Make Me hink, and I went to every talk could find of Jared Spool's, ike when he came to South by outhwest. And I was like eeking out the leaders. And hat's, that's how I did it.

Dan Berlin:

Gotcha. Great. So can you tell us about your chapter?

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, so I wrote about developing effective user personas. And part of the reason I decided to talk about user personas is because as an instructor, I'm teaching others how to do it, and I, I get a curriculum and I kind of started handing it to them and I didn't really think about it, you know, and you see a pretty picture with some demographics and you know, some some stats. And then I started looking at 'em like, these are not useful at all. They're not helping people make the right decisions about what to do or how is this possibly what can help us develop empathy. For the people that we're supposed to be designing solutions for. So what I really wanted to do is kind of, in the chapter show, you know, here's what we're doing. Typically, we're typically creating a snapshot and avatar, but it's not as useful as we think it is. And what makes it more useful, is thinking about the holistic qualities of a user, which is not just their demographics, you know. I don't care how old necessarily someone is unless it's actually really relevant to it. Because, you know, if you think about people who are shoppers in a grocery store, it doesn't matter how old they are, we all have to go to the grocery store. Right? But so, really focusing on the relevant information. The things that are, you know, what's important to them? What are their pain points? What emotions are they feeling? And even like, because we're, we're so varied as people like even thinking about the fact that our emotions vary depending on our context. And so I wanted to kind of set like a difference there between like, you know, here's what we typically create, and here's what would make it better, here's how we can level it up and how we can get there. So looking at, you know, looking at the data what are we asking in our interviews, to find out more about the people that we want, you know, to help create this persona to help us develop these products. What, what relevant information can we learn from them? Which also helps sharpen our user interview skills to make sure that we're asking about their emotions and getting into the root of the issue there. Because ultimately, we do want to understand user's goals, we want to understand their frustrations, because that's how we, how we make decisions about what we're creating for them. It's not about whether they're 62 years old, and like, you know, drive a Tesla, not necessarily not all the time, it's about you know, they, they have a specific need, like, you know, they're they're angry about some sort of, you know, issue that's going on, and we need to solve that problem, because that's ultimately what we're there to do. You know, and so I, I wanted to to talk, there's so much stuff I had to leave out of the chapter just for, you know, the sake of space and everything. And I wanted to go into what inspired me about it from, you know, Alan Cooper's book About Face, or he describes the persona and how you should be thinking about it in terms of goals and frustrations, because I think a lot of times when, when user experience practitioners are going in, and they're taking bootcamp courses, there's a lot of Look, here's a emplate, follow this, and this ill like solve your problem. ut really, there's a deeper nderstanding and learning that eeds to go into it. And why we o this as a, as an industry as practitioner, why we create hese and why it's so important o do that.

Dan Berlin:

It's interesting you say templates. Because we want to apply templates to things because it's easy for process, right? Is there a way to I wan't to say, make a template for this process, but to make a process that's malleable? To do what's right, for personas?

Cindy Brummer:

Oh, yeah, that's such a great question. You know, the, the process for me is like answering the questions, you know. In terms of like, adding it to the template, I'm still figuring out the best way to make it into a snapshot, almost like a picture for people. But making like, I've started adding a section to include behaviors and context around them. So how does the user act when they're at home versus they're at work? Versus they're at the gym, versus when they're driving on the road? You know, what are those behaviors? And then what are the emotions that they're feeling at that time? Because, you know, and I like to think back of like, you know, as like, say I'm a patient... say I'm, you know, I need to see a doctor. Me calling someone up or looking for a doctor, when I'm feeling healthy, may not be the same emotion that I'm feeling if I'm not feeling good. You know, if I'm like that there's an emergency situation, say, or if there's some sort of situation where I'm in pain, you know, that that context is very different, and emotions and feeling are going to be different. And I feel like as practitioners, we need to think about the fact that people are different, depending on the day.

Dan Berlin:

There's a person's state of mind, if they're agitated and have high anxiety, their short term memory is going to be lower. They're not going to have, rightfully, don't have patience for things. completely different.

Cindy Brummer:

Absolutely. Yeah. And it's those kinds of things that, you know, we tend to kind of put the sunny side on personas and think about like the happy path. But I feel like it's equally important to think about the negatives. You don't even think about the consequences of not having enough sleep. Right? And that affects us, you know?

Dan Berlin:

And hey, that's another chapter in the book: Don't Always Design for the Happy Path. Right? I forget whose that was. But that's another chapter. Yeah, exactly. So you answered the question I was gonna ask, but I want to get a little deeper there of why do... why is gathering emotion, so important. And we started down that path in terms of like, state of mind and context. What else in terms of emotions is important there for design?

Cindy Brummer:

This is something that, a lot of times we want to paint the sunny face on how, how people act, but, you know, when people get angry, we don't, we don't always know how to be prepared for the negative emotions. And when we're, when we're not prepared, we don't know what to do or say if the user's angry with our product, or if they're angry with our website, or some sort of service. And I think if we can think about all the emotions that humans feel, or at least our users are feeling, you know, we may not necessarily have to design it in at that moment. But maybe it can help help us with our strategy of the overall customer experience of thinking about how like if the user, you know, if a user is going to call in, they might be angry? And how do we, how do we help calm them down without saying Calm down, a'am, you know, which either, ou know, will inflame them even ore. And I think that that reparation gives us a lot more nsight into how to communicate ith users and and even think bout, you know, how to be ensitive to their needs. You now, just thinking about, you now, where we're at the time e're recording this, it's June, nd we're thinking a lot about ride, and Juneteenth is coming p. And just how do we how are e communicating with all kinds f groups of people? And what re they feeling at this time hat we can be sensitive to hem, and maybe change our ommunication to, you know, the one might change, depending on he context of it. And being repared for that, I think is eally important.

Dan Berlin:

And how are you learning about this from your participants and users? Is there... when you're doing you're doing your research? Is there a way that you're going about, that's a little different than, say, the traditional way of gathering personas?

Cindy Brummer:

Well, you know, for me, I'm, I'm the kind of person that's very curious. And I like to ask as much as possible. Some people are afraid to go deep with their questioning. I think maybe I'm not as afraid, mostly because of my journalism background, which has taught me to dig deep no matter what. But there's a sensitivity that comes to it as well, you know, making sure that the user that you're interviewing is okay with it, so that they feel comfortable. And you're, you're developing that rapport. You know, I think a lot of times, at least in my practice, you know, at the very beginning, I didn't want to take a lot of the user's time, I wanted to condense that interview, everybody's busy, right? But the thing is, is that when you're interviewing someone, it takes time to develop rapport, and get somebody to feel comfortable enough to share those things. And so I think, if we can spend more time with the user talking to them and just listening, instead of trying to rush through an interview, or rush through a usability session, where we're really listening to them, they're more likely to share these types of things with us. And that that's the big difference. I think, you know, don't rush. Listen.

Dan Berlin:

Yep. And even when it does get into a place where they may be uncomfortable, it's still an opportunity to not make assumptions. There you may be talking about a tender subject with a participant, they may be crying, because it's a tender subject. And our assumption would be to end it. But they don't necessarily want to end it. They go no, I want to...'d like to talk about this. T is is helpful. So we have to ch llenge our assumptio s.

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, absolutely. Those are the times that I think we all feel a lot of challenge and just being quiet. And I think as interviewers, that's, that's actually the biggest thing that we can do is acknowledge and let them speak instead of trying to soothe an end it like you say, just keep listening. And letting them letting them finish it out. And also helping them feel safe that it's okay to share. You know, you're not you know, as an interview, I'm not going to go broadcasting this out on YouTube. You know, what they're saying and feeling so if they feel like it's a safe thing, they're more likely to continue sharing, especially if I'm not interrupting that.

Dan Berlin:

Right. Right. I always say just sit there and shut up. And when listen.

Cindy Brummer:

Exactly.

Dan Berlin:

Aside from interviews, or workshops or even surveys, are there other research methods that you employ for this, anything else come to mind?

Cindy Brummer:

You know, for me, it's sometimes, it's just sitting and watching people, you know, I don't think that, you know, a lot of companies give us a lot of time to do those ethnographic observations, which are very... particularly in the time of COVID, the pandemic made it really hard to observe. But every time I can I encourage my students and the people that I work with, to just watch go where they are, go and see how they act, because you can you can get a lot of information just from the different places that if that's a possibility, watching people.

Dan Berlin:

Nothing better than watching people in the natural environment. Yep.

Cindy Brummer:

But you know, it's a tried and true. And sometimes I haven't, I haven't personally used diary methods, although I've seen it done. And that might be you know, over time, people kind of write, and they may, they may reveal more in those different times.

Dan Berlin:

Yeah, they do. They definitely do. Diary studies are wonderful for that sort of thing, especially if your experiences are more longitudinal, right. It's not just a website that you're visiting, you're going to have this relationship with the experience. It's great for gathering that data.

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, you know, and I can't say for certain that like, automated methods don't work. But I knew I I've had better luck understanding emotions, when I'm, when I'm talking to someone or when I'm in human presence, rather than relying on automated tools to do it. For me, there's a place for them, for sure. But the emotions don't always come out unless they're in anger, or the extreme emotion.

Dan Berlin:

Agreed. No, absolutely. I agree 100%. There's nothing like talking with people to really get at the root cause of why why a design should be at a certain trajectory.

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, exactly.

Dan Berlin:

So you mentioned there are some things that you didn't, you know, get into the book because of the length of the chapter. Anything else you wanted to bring up here? That is worth mentioning, in terms of the the personas and your chapter.

Cindy Brummer:

I wanted to share a ton of resources in the chapter in terms of personas. I, again, I'm a huge fan of Alan Cooper and all of his books, since he introduced personas. And I found that one thing that really inspired me was there's a there's a book by Eric Meyer, about context and design. And then he gives this whole example about, you know, some of the, like, some of the messaging on Facebook back in the day being very insensitive to the context of, say, a user who might have gone through a death in the family.

Dan Berlin:

Oh, right. Yup.

Cindy Brummer:

...and not thinking about it. Or he gives this example of being a father whose daughter was being air flighted to a hospital, and then like being completely panicked, and in the car, looking at a mobile site, trying to figure out like the information and and literally being blinded to it, there's just so much other stuff. And I think it's important to think about how users perceive what we create, in the, you know, like, being able to look at it through that lens of, if they're blinded by rage, or you know, some sort of strong emotion that things are going to be different. And sometimes it's just a matter of creating like, a spreadsheet, where we just kind of brainstorm all of the things that might be going through our head, how would we feel if we were in this situation? Or in this situation? And how, how could it come across? How can we make this experience better for all of the particular personas that come to our site? So, yeah, that's it.

Dan Berlin:

Now, one of the one of the let's, let's say, original ideas of a persona was to draw in your stakeholders, you know, that's why we made them in pretty, you know, well laid out and with visualizations, that sort of thing. Are there strategies to continue to do that in your personas for drawing the audience in or visualizations that are good?

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, so I still love using some sort of image and, you know, that somehow showcases who this person is. Although sometimes I think that it's not necessarily going to be a stock photo that does it. I like showing some sort of image of the person of say, a person that kind of is our persona representation, and they're doing the thing that we are thinking of them doing, you know, not just a smiling pretty picture, but maybe they're you know, at the gym, you know, working out or you know, I think in the book, I use the plumber example. And so maybe they're that person that's standing there in the bathroom with the water spraying behind them or something just to kind of remind us, like exactly what we're thinking of. I saw some wonderful design examples of different personas, and you know, for a grocery store chain here, in this area that I live in, and it was just so great how they, they drew you in, and they told a little bit of a story. And then they really focused on their goals, their frustrations, their pain points with an image to represent it. I think sometimes we get bogged down in the demographics of figuring out all the little pieces of where they live and how old they are. And, you know, all the grandchildren cars, you know, all the things that happen around us when we really need to focus on bullet point examples of like, what are their main frustrations? And what are the things that they're trying to achieve? Which can draw people in and remind us which that's exactly what they're supposed to do to is just remind us what we're trying to achieve as designers.

Dan Berlin:

And there may be reasons that demographics do affect those behaviors and emotions. I mean, it's not to say they are cut out. And there may be patterns in those demographics that we find in the long term. But they're just one piece of the puzzle.

Cindy Brummer:

Absolutely, yeah. Instead of it being the main piece that we focus on, you know, making sure that it's a part of, you know, and not relying on assumptions, because I think that the danger...

Dan Berlin:

Do your research...

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah! Doing the research is really important. I can think back to one example that I saw in a classroom setting. And it was so full of assumptions. And when I asked, Where did all this come from? None of it had come from research, right? It was all from their own personal assumptions. And we can't do that, that we should absolutely not do. You know, it has to be valid research.

Dan Berlin:

One question I have to ask because we're talking about personas is, what's your thought on alliterative names?

Cindy Brummer:

Yeah, I mean, I don't have a problem with it, per se. If it if it doesn't become cutesy, and take away from the overall mission of what we're trying to accomplish. You know, I, I think I'm a more against, you know, coming up with random names that may exclude groups of people that should be part of the persona, because I, you know, names can matter. Right, like, so if we have like a female name, but really, it's not as important to distinguish between the genders or any of the genders. You know, I think if we choose a name, you know, we have to be careful, we have to think about those kinds of things, too. It might be better just to kind of describe the behavior rather than come up with those names, you know, like, The Entertainer or something.

Dan Berlin:

Great. So, in the last part of our podcast here, love gathering pieces of information for UXers. What's the one piece of advice that you'd like to convey?

Cindy Brummer:

I stagnated as a designer, by not getting feedback, I should have a long time earlier. And now that I'm, you know, even though I have some experience, I know I don't know everything. And just from reaching out and talking to other designers, you know, putting myself out there, I feel so much more advanced in my skill. And then also, guys, this community is just so great about sharing and helping everyone. There's nothing to be afraid of in terms of saying, Hey, I'm new. Help. I wish I'd done that. I wish I'd done that.

Dan Berlin:

Great. Well, any other last thoughts here about the piece of advice or your chapter?

Cindy Brummer:

No, not on either of those. The book is so full of great advice. And I'm so honored to have a chapter among all of those other wonderful pieces of content, so great.

Dan Berlin:

Well, I can't thank you enough for being a part of the book and taking the time to chat with me here. Cindy Brummer wrote the chapter on ensuring emotions are in your personas. And this has been the 97 UX Things podcast and thanks for tuning in.