A couple of nights ago I presented at Forefront, a regular gathering in Leeds for people who work on and with the front-end of digital products, be they designers, coders, or people just interested in that sort of thang.

At short notice I rustled together a talk entitled You say persona, I say person-ah. If you want to cut to the chase, below are the slides, and after that some quick notes on that.

The notes (and I must re-emphasise these are quickly tapped out):

1. An idea for a talk had been rattling around in my head for a couple of months since I was talking to some “research driven digital marketers” who were being sniffy about “the old ways”, and when we delved deeper they weren’t aware of the origins of direct response marketing. More recently my thoughts were ingited after I gave a talk on advertising at a university and drew blanks when I talked about the origins of direct response marketing. (Which was handy I had background slides in my talk…)

2. The kinda “tribalism” that ‘digital’ and ‘non digital’ people bounce off still exists, which way is best, which way isn’t, what is the future, what is the past and all that. I deeply believe in a non-agenda approach to work, where results/effectiveness are key, driven by work that engages with an understood audience - whatever media/platform that may be, digital or non-digital. When you’re exposed to this tribalism more often than you may have previously it starts to grate - especially when the ‘digital side’ carry an almost arrogance in ‘their ways’ dismissive of the past.

3. There are a few guys (as they were mainly men) who I think people who do communication stuff (be it design, creative, PR, whatever) don’t know enough about. The three I chose for my talk were George Gallop, Vaughn Flannery (especially for the impactful, pioneering approach to work they did at Young & Rubicam), and the inimitable Reeves Rosser. Gallop’s legacy is the one that a normal person might be most aware of, from Gallop polls. All - without wanting to roll out a cliche - game changers.

4. Rosser’s takes on products: it has to actually have something about it in the first place and you need to understand that - seems more and more relevant again in a world where many agencies (particularly, if not exclusively, digital ones) are moving towards a ‘product centred’ approach. And particularly with people espousing a “fail fast, fail hard” mentality.

5. The bulk was on my frustration with the person and user story approach to create products (as well as the multiple flavours of persona on the scale various people adopt) - and how I try to employ a sideways step (a step upwards is little too egotistical) to focus more on what are the user’s, the audience’s motivations in a way that personas cannot, which we refer to as characters rather than personas. I touch upon it in the talk (and may blog more fully on it later).

You can also view the slides by scrolling back up or by nipping over to Speakerdeck. There’s no audio track, so these are very much the accompaniment to the talk. But there are people, ideas, explorations in there that you might want to look through and think about.

If you have any feedback comment below - or feel free to shout out through Twitter or by email.