Ageless Personas

On a sunny May afternoon in 2010, I met Dorian. He was a web developer at a small agency, with a wife and two children at home. He spent an hour or two each day online, mostly visiting sites like Reddit and Delicious (remember back when Delicious was popular?) but rarely contributing to either site. He enjoyed snowboarding in the winter, and surfing in the summer, though he rarely found the time to do either these days. Dorian felt comfortable with his personal knowledge of internet security, and prized function over form on the sites he used most frequently.

As you may have guessed, Dorian (short for Dorian Developer) was my first user persona. We detailed his preferences, his wants and needs and fears, his online habits, and his personal life based off the user interviews we’d conducted with a dozen real developers for real small agencies. Every decision we made was subject to the Dorian test: would Dorian like this? Would Dorian use that?

Yet Dorian had no age.

Why give a persona an age?

I can’t remember who introduced me to the idea that a persona should be ageless, but I remember the rationale behind it. The important element of a persona (I was taught) is what stage in life he or she is at, not the specific age. Consider Dorian: father, husband, busy developer, occasional snowboarder. Now consider if I told you that Dorian was 24. Do you still think of him the same way? Yet a 24-year-old Dorian and a 34-year-old Dorian share the relevant characteristics and interests.

Today, on a whim, I did some research and found that it’s generally agreed upon that age is a necessary demographic in persona creation. Getting Attention’s article on personas pointed out that older users have a different relationship with technology than younger users. Digital Current’s article explained that age, along with income and geographic location, is a generic marker that sets us up to get more in-depth (though alone it is not a persona).

All in all, I see the value, and I’m convinced. My personas from now on will have ages, or at least age ranges. I think Digital Current has the right idea: a persona is a “detailed, semi-fictional representation of the target customer that looks at the individual behind the demographic categories.”

Want to see more about personas?

Check out some of the articles I reviewed as I decided whether or not to include ages in my user personas:

Marli Mesibov

Marli is a content strategist with a passion for the user experience. Her work spans websites, web applications, and mobile. Marli is the VP of Content Strategy at the UX design agency Mad*Pow, where she helps healthcare, finance, and educational organizations communicate with their audiences. Marli is a frequent conference speaker, and has spoken at conferences including Content Strategy Forum and LavaCon. She can also be found on Twitter, where she shares thoughts on content strategy, literature, and Muppets.

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