Empathy Design : Characters For Personas

I have a confession to make. When I first learned the process of creating a persona, I was really confused. I felt completely lost. Five years ago at my first design thinking class my team started the process of synthesising and creating insights from our interview research. We started creating quotes based on the interviews that represented some dominant thoughts and feelings on the problem space we were exploring.

We listed the pain points and the pleasure points and mapped out what the persona was thinking and feeling. Then we started building out deeper insights. What did this persona need, that they may not even understand themselves?

I was feeling a bit lost. As an actress, a person who is trained in creating representations of real people, I knew I didn’t have the right information in front of me. If I had to play this persona as a character I would have no idea how to do it. I would not understand how to build dialogue that reflected how this person would see themselves and the world. I would be completely at a loss. And to compound the confusion the rest of my team seemed confident to build deeper and deeper insights.

I assumed there was something I didn’t understand that they did. But now after years of using human centered design in my work, I’ve realised that I see things a bit differently to other people because I had training as an actress. I didn’t see a persona as a complete enough picture for insights. I wanted to build a character. I didn’t just want pain points, pleasure points, a couple of quotes and some demographics, I needed to take it one step further.

Think about your best friend. You wouldn’t describe them as a list of quotes, demographics and dot points about what they like or dislike about the world. You know them so well you can often predict how they will act or behave in a situation. This is because we understand them on an emotional level. We see other people as three-dimensional characters, as a person who has an emotional landscape who is motivated by those emotions.

Our key emotional drivers are what guide us and govern a lot of our choices. A persona and empathy map don’t quite provide the right lens for empathy. To create empathy, we must understand the world view someone builds about themselves and the emotions that are the foundation.

For example, when an actress says, what’s my motivation to the director in a scene, what they want to know is why that character exists. What is the core emotion governing everything I am thinking, saying and feeling in this scene? What does my character want to happen out of this experience?

That is how I look at my personas. What is their core emotional response? What’s the core driver of why the character wants or needs this service or this product? What is the core motivation the colours the way they see themselves in the world?

Once I understand that, I can start to build dialogue and motivational drivers for different situations. Just as you would build a character. A deep empathic understanding of another person means you can imagine what would they say or do in a number of situations. This happens when you understand how to harness the power of empathy to get inside of the character’s head.

To assist with the process of building out emotional drivers I created a tool called the empathy flower. As you gather research it is important to look the common themes that emerge through the stories in the interviews. What are the core emotional themes that have emerged, and most importantly which themes overlap from the different interviews? The overlaps look petals around a central theme, hence the name.

The central theme is an emotion that reoccurs in every story. It becomes a central motivation to how people make decisions or solve their problems. This is important because as rational as we like to think we are, we are not, we make decisions based mainly on emotion. And understanding core emotional motivations is how you start to build a character.

If you are interested in learning different techniques to build characters for personas, I’m going to be teaching on Thursday the October the 24th, 2019 at Academy Xi in Melbourne. Sign up here to book your spot.

%d bloggers like this: