Observations on Design Thinking in Novice Designers While Empathizing With Persona

Observations on Design Thinking in Novice Designers While Empathizing With Persona

Abhishek Dahiya (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India) and Jyoti Kumar (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9069-9.ch002


Personas are a rich source of user information that assists designers at various stages of the design process. HCI designers use personas to help them explicate the understanding of their target users. Design literature advocates that personas are not only a source of information about users but also a tool to empathize with them. This chapter reports observations from an experimental study done on novice designers on how empathizing with persona affected their design solutions. A total of 50 novice designers participated in this study. Participants were asked to solve a graphical design problem for the persona. The data collected was analyzed through expert rating on design solutions on the basis of directness of illustration of persona information and verbal protocols. On the basis of direct illustration of persona information on design solutions, it was observed that empathizing with persona helped designers to iterate more on design thinking.
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Persona creation has been argued as one of the crucial steps in User Centered Design (UCD) process (Hong 2009) (Norman 1988). Persona creation helps the designers to keep a focus on the users’ needs and helps in making crucial design decisions from a users’ perspective (So, C., & Joo, J. 2017). Often arguments about “what might be ‘friendly’ or ‘easy’ to one user versus another” emerges in the design discussions (Corry, Frick, and Hansen 1997) (Nielsen 1994). The root cause of these differences has been argued to be the difference in ‘mental models’ of designer’s and various users (Norman 1988) (Carroll 2003). Often user research is conducted to understand the users before creation of persona. Various user research methods have been suggested by design practitioners and researchers for HCI design (Steen and Kuijt; Landauer 1988). Different user research methods provide different types of user information which are documented and presented in different formats (Pruitt and Adlin 2006). Often text is used to report observations from user research while pictures, documentary videos etc. are also used complimentarily. Some systematic methods of summarizing the user data have also evolved in the HCI field like personas, scenario, stories, case studies, use cases, user experience charts, emotional maps etc. Persona has been one of the most prominent and frequent forms of user data presentation in HCI design process (Nielsen, L. 2018). Personas has been defined as a “fictitious, specific, concrete representations of target users” (Pruitt & Adlin, 2006). A persona represents target users who share common behavioral characteristics (i.e., is a hypothetical archetype of real users) (Pruitt & Adlin, 2006). Introduced by Alan Cooper, personas were integrated into the design processes to help designers in developing useful and usable designs (Cooper 1999; Pruitt John 2003; Caballero, Moreno, and Seffah 2014). Persona has been used by design community for audience prioritization, organization of research data, making the user understanding explicit, within team communication aid, facilitator of innovative thinking etc. It has been argued that persona helps in empathizing with the user i.e. “creating an understanding of and emotional identification with the users/customers” (Miaskiewicz and Kozar, 2011). While role of empathy in design process has been often argued (Köppen, E., & Meinel, C. 2015), how the designer’s ability to empathize with persona has an effect on the designer’s design thinking and subsequently on the design outcomes has not been discussed much in literature. There is very little research available on how increased level of empathy with persona affects the design outcomes. There is a need to study the design thinking in light of empathy with persona as this may seriously affect the HCI design processes.

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