Personas have a number of shortcomings:
- Personas alone can't help teams achieve empathy
- Personas lack rich context
- Personas may create space for assumptions
In response to these limitations, a number of alternatives have been proposed:
- Alan Klement suggests that "personas" be replaced with "characters." Characters represent a subtle adjustment—Klement suggests that you need not even shift your vocabulary—but shifts focus toward a kind of story world that the personas inhabit, highlighting the anxieties, motivations, and personal histories of each persona that may have led them to your product.
- Indi Young promotes her concept of "thinking styles" instead of personas. Thinking styles represent users' patterns of thought, emotional reactions, and guiding principles. Gathered through listening sessions—qualitative research conducted deep in the problem space—thinking styles focus more heavily on rich contextual information than traditional personas.
In addition, a large body of work has emerged around the Jobs to be Done framework. There are at least two different interpretations of jobs to be done. However, both shift focus away from individual people interacting with the product and toward the need that the product needs to fulfill. Its focus is on the process an individual might undertake to resolve some tension their life. These "jobs" can be simple or complex, but they're relatively stable over time (like Cooper's goals) and should be solution agnostic.
Cooper, Alan. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. Sams Publishing, 2004.
Klement, Alan. “Replacing Personas With Characters.” Medium (blog), September 2, 2017. https://medium.com/down-the-rabbit-hole/replacing-personas-with-characters-aa72d3cf6c69.
Spool, Jared M. “Customers Request Solutions. We Need to Understand Their Problems.” Medium (blog), August 16, 2019. https://medium.com/@jmspool/customers-request-solutions-we-need-to-understand-their-problems-41db3b5c6d4d.
Young, Indi. “Describing Personas.” Medium (blog), August 13, 2020. https://medium.com/inclusive-software/describing-personas-af992e3fc527.