When you develop a persona for use in Web site design, you create a fictionalized customer with a personality and a list of goals. Then you pretend to be this persona and try to make use of the Web site you are designing.
The idea is that accessing things from a very specific agenda will give you new insight into the usability of your site and allow you to make changes to accommodate your persona. But does this really work?
There are two critical issues with persona-based design. The first one is choosing the right personas. If you pick based on your intended demographic instead of your actual demographic, then you aren’t looking at your average user.
And suppose you do get your personas right? The second issue is your ability as an actor. Since the underlying assumption is that the persona is someone other than you, to effectively design your site you’ve got to be pretty good at getting into someone else’s head and behaving as he or she would. This is a real challenge, since even good actors don’t always envision the role the same way.
The bottom line is that creating a good user experience must always start with the customer. Nothing can replace actually speaking with your customers (or at least listening to their feedback). A good designer can then take the customer feedback and channel the information into an appealing design.
Peter Budd Vice President, Product Development and User Experience SharedBook New York