Should a Persona Have an Age?

On a sunny May afternoon in 2010, I met Dorian. Dorian 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. He mostly visited sites like Reddit and Delicious (remember back when Delicious was popular?) but rarely contributed to either site. Dorian enjoyed snowboarding in the winter, and surfing in the summer, though he rarely found the time to do either lately. He felt comfortable with his personal knowledge of internet security. Dorian prized function over form on the sites he used frequently.

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

Yet Dorian had no age.

Should a Persona Have 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. Age is not a factor. 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? 54? A 24-year-old Dorian and a 54-year-old Dorian share relevant characteristics and interests.

But many designer believe that age is a necessary demographic in persona creation. Getting Attention says older users have a different relationship with technology than younger users. Digital Current’s article says 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).

Still… should a persona have an age? I’m not convinced. I see the value, but I believe age can lead to unintentional bias. 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.”
– Digital Current

More About Personas

Check out some of the articles I reviewed as I decided whether or not to include ages in my user personas. Then you can decide for yourself: should a persona have an age?

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