Creating personas for political and social consciousness in HCI design

Anna Wilson, Stefano De Paoli, Paula Forbes, Marco Sachy


Personas have become an important tool for Human-Computer Interaction professionals. However, they are not immune to limits and critique, including stereotyping. We suggest that while some of the criticisms to personas are important, the use of personas is open to them in part because of an unquestioned focus on explicating user needs and goals.

Traditionally indeed, personas and the associated scenarios are created by focusing on needs and goals of the target users. This focus, while helping designers, also obscures some other potentially relevant aspects. In particular, when the goal of the product or software being designed is associated with social and political goals rather than with bringing a product to the market, it may be relevant to focus personas on political aspirations, social values and the will of personas to take action. We argue that it would be possible when producing personas (and associated scenarios too) to partially move away from representing needs and embrace personas which more explicitly represent political or social beliefs. We suggest that drawing on phenomenography will allow to achieve this. We provide empirical evidence for our position from two large-scale European projects, the first one in the area of Social Innovation and the second in the area of eParticipation.


Personas; phenomenography; values; difference; possibility; action

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