Atlassian

Design (Strategy)

Please tell us about how you promoted empathy for users and/or how you improved the successfulness of a product, service, experience, etc., through attention to user empathy.: 
Atlassian is a software company - full of software developers - that makes tools for software developers. Designing for ourselves was a strength in the early days of the business, but of course became a limitation later on, so personas are really healthy for us to get out of self-referential design. 

It's a very flat culture - everyone is involved in feature decisions and design. The design team views its mission as enablers and facilitators, we're bringing the process of design to the dev teams, not just tossing design over the fence. 

We introduced personas in 2012, and they became widespread, but it became clear after a while that they'd become placeholders for roles, and we'd become a bit self-referential again with elastic personas. 

It occurred to us that the persona system was seen as artifacts by the dev team, but as a process for the design team. 

How could we bring that process to the developers? How could we enable them to work with features and UI in a way that was strengthened by an understanding of who our users are? 

We see the developers playing with card systems all the time in the lunch room. And a fortuituous session with a tarot card reader brought to mind the idea of re-introducing the personas as a card system, much like Brian Eno's "Oblique Strategies" system, as a way to question design thinking. 

We thought this could also facilitate a dialectic way of interacting with designs, using the cards together to work through what the strengths and weaknesses of a design are, and the nuances of design approaches. 

We formed a persona refresh team that met over a period of 3 months or so, working on the project in our spare time. 

The design process had multiple fronts: research on the personas themselves, coming up with the persona card layout and content, and then working through the playtesting. 

In addition to revisiting our existing user research on personas, we conducted an online survey to collect demographic and behavioural data about people and their work situations, to inform and validate the personas we have. 

We met with designers and product managers on teams and asked about their Persona processes. 

We also talked with developers about their experiences with personas, and looked at how they were manifesting currently in the development process. We felt that if we were able to bring them into play at a few key points in the development process, and adequately illustrate 

We printed prototypes and took them to design sparring sessions with the design team to understand if they were being received in the way we hoped they'd be. 

During playtesting we brought an entire product team into a room and rolled out the cards and took questions. 

This effort was targeted at the people we work with every day: developers and product managers. 

Everybody we work with is very focused, and very smart. We needed something useful, portable, engaging and fun. 

We found the cards helped shake people's assumptions about who our users are. 

Changing the cards into tangible objects, that are manipulatable, that could be combined and moved around, shuffled through easily, changed the dynamic of the persona from a document to a system. Having the persona cards ask direct questions of each design helped the developers stop saying "well what would I do here" to what would the user do?" 

Developers use the cards without designers present, and asked to keep cards in every meeting room. 

We found that moving the personas into cards greatly changed the dialog around personas at Atlassian.