We humans readily perceive emotional states in everything that is vaguely lifelike or in other words: we tend to read emotional responses into anything, animate or not. This is a biological heritage of our desire to emotionally connect with others and why not with computers, iPods, and cars. Personality in design plays an important role for we give inanimate things human like attributes through personality traits such as funny, happy, serious and this in turn makes it easier for us to relate and connect to. In some ways it imitates a connection that usually is forged only between two human beings.
Personality invades the design process
In web design, marketing, UX design we research, plan, and create with our audiences’ attitudes and motivations in mind. We gather information and create personas, an artifact that outlines an archetypal user who represents a larger group. This process helps the design team and everyone else involved in the process to focus on the users and his/her needs. Here you can read more about proto-personas, what they are and why they are used in the design process. A persona or proto-persona helps us to understand motivations, expectations and ultimately informs and shapes the design process keeping a focus on real people.
Personas are a standard tool, but they only provide a partial picture of the relationship.
We know who our audience is and what their motivation and needs are but to design truly pleasurable products we have to know who we are. To rid ourselves of the uncertainty of who we are (as a company, product) Aaron Walter proposes the creation of design personas for our products to create more powerful emotional connections with our audience.
Personality invades products and brands
There is no more concrete an example of personality in design than Apple’s “Get a Mac” ad campaign. The ad conveys personality experience and consumers are able to compare the two not on the basic of specs and features but on the different relationship they could have with their computer. In essence the ad shows how you would feel if you buy a Mac.
Personalities come in different packages and traits but to some extend a personality let us predict what to expect. A personality gives us an impression what it feels like to be with that person. A product personality works in the same way. After watching the Apple ad you have a good idea what it feels like to own a Mac. You know what to expect (of course the product has to live up to its advertised personality).
Create a design persona
How do we create a personality? By using the same approach as when creating a user persona. The goal is to build a personality portrait in a very clear way (just as in the “get a Mac”- ad). To create our design persona we can follow the steps proposed by A. Walter in his book “Design for Emotion”:
- Brand name: The name of your company or service.
- Overview: A short overview of your brand’s personality. What makes your brand personality unique?
- Personality image: This is an actual image of a person that embodies the traits you wish to include in your brand. This makes the personality less abstract. Pick a famous person, or a person with whom your team is familiar. If your brand has a mascot or representative that already embodies the personality, use that instead. Describe the attributes of the mascot that communicate the brand’s personality.
- Brand traits: List five to seven traits that best describe your brand along with a trait that you want to avoid. This helps those designing and writing for this design persona to create a consistent personality while avoiding the traits that would take your brand in the wrong direction.
- Personality map: We can map personalities on an X / Y axis. The X axis represents the degree to which the personality is unfriendly or friendly; the Y axis shows the degree of submissiveness or dominance. Voice: If your brand could talk, how would it speak? What would it say? Would it speak with a folksy vernacular or a refined, erudite clip? Describe the specific aspects of your brand’s voice and how it might change in various communication situations. People change their language and tone to fit the situation, and so should your brand’s voice.
- Copy examples: Provide examples of copy that might be used in different situations in your interface. This helps writers understand how your design persona should communicate.
- Visual lexicon: If you are a designer creating this document for yourself and/or a design team, you can create a visual lexicon in your design persona that includes an overview of the colors, typography, and visual style that conveys your brand’s personality. You can be general about these concepts, or include a mood board.
- Engagement methods: Describe the emotional engagement methods you might use in your interface to support the design persona and create a memorable experience.
Aaron Walters gives us an example of a design persona from his work at Mailchimp.
Through our products’ personality we can define aspects like image (having a clear idea of how our personality should look like), communication (how to communicate with our audience through a variety of channels), tone of communication and communication channels. The magic word here is consistency. A well thought product personality gives us a guideline how to design the feel, look and behavior throughout different channels. At the same time it is a guideline for our audience; they will know what to expect.