User Personas as Product Design

New Denim, New You at Old Navy

Lately, I’ve noticed some anecdotal evidence which suggests that brand marketers and product designers have been moving the time-honored practice of user personas away from their normal confines on the product designer’s cubicle wall for occasional reference and elevating them to a place where they’re least expected–smack dab on the final product.

Case in point, the new New Denim campaign over at Old Navy. The idea is simple enough. Three different cuts of ladies denim jeans are given new vigor with names that personify different personalities, all of whom could have been derived from the subtitles of an actual Cooper style research activity.

The Diva. The Flirt. And the Sweetheart.

The fact that each jean has a different cut and fit reinforces the fact that each are also stating different intents. One doesn’t have to read a detailed research findings report to presume that the diva wants undivided attention from everybody in the room, while the flirt wants attention for sure, but on her own terms. Of course, the sweetheart wants only the right kind of attention from the person for whom she’s most fond.

Closer inspection of the jeans (to my distracted eye, anyway) brings no real substance to this kind of thinking. They’re all fairly similar, but the products as they’re positioned in the mind of a potential customer do seem to provoke an internal dialogue.

Which user am I? Given my life situation, my unique behaviors and attitudes, which one of these jeans steps beyond just making my ass look flawlessly delicious and gives me a truer reflection of myself, my goals, and my needs.

Of course, I suspect that in the end the connection to user persona is only accomplished through smoke and mirrors (if any ethnographic research was done at all). But it is interesting to see the suggestion of it tried on such a grand scale and in such a different context (the personas I look at all day have to do with people’s finances).

It’s interesting to see this kind of work coming out from the basement of methodology. I suspect, as the years pass by and user experience design becomes more accepted, consumers will be seeing more of this trend.