Open Exhibits Blog



Using Personas to Create Inclusive Digital Exhibit Interactives

The Creating Museum Media for Everyone (CMME) project created personas, or hypothetical archetypes of actual users, to guide the design process of the four prototypes produced during the CMME Workshop. The personas are not real people, but they do represent real people throughout the design process, and are based strictly on real user data.

Personas are useful to design teams because they help ensure user-centered design by representing and communicating user needs to developers. Using real user data discourages potential personal bias on the team. Personas were of particular interest to the CMME team because it was likely that not everyone attending the workshop was familiar with the project’s specific target audience: people with disabilities.

Although personas are useful in the beginning of the design process, they are not meant to take the place of user testing once prototypes are created; therefore, along with using the personas as a tool early on, the CMME team has tested all new prototype iterations with people who have a range of abilities and disabilities.

Persona Creation

The first step in persona creation was reading background literature about how personas can be used and how to create them. Some useful resources are:

The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design by John Pruitt and Tamara Adlin

Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity by Allan Cooper

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery (See UX Magazine’s book excerpt)

User Interface Engineering blog posts:

The AEGIS Project

The Fluid Project

After reading background literature about persona use and creation, the first step was finding data sources that could provide information on how people with different types of disabilities use exhibits and digital interactives, as well as how these groups experience a museum. The CMME personas were based on data from 11 previous Museum of Science research and evaluation studies.

A bulleted list of characteristics was created for each real person who took part in the research or evaluation study. These characteristics lists contained important and relevant findings from the studies, including traits and qualities of the people, as well as ways in which they used exhibits.

Characteristics lists of all participants were then compared to identify interesting and important distinctions between the people in the sample. Some distinctions that came out of these data were tech savviness, reliance on auditory elements, reliance on visual elements, and reliance on tactile elements. Using the distinctions, scales were created in order to map the real people along a continuum. After each data point was mapped on the continua, patterns began to emerge when the same group of people would fall on the same area of multiple continua (see Figure 1).

Personas continua

Figure 1: Some of the continua, where each two-letter or letter-number combination represents one person from a research or evaluation study. Groups circled in red show people from the studies that often fell on the same area along the continua.

These groupings became the individual personas. Key characteristics of each person in the clump were written down, and then all of the notable traits were combined to create initial drafts of the personas. In this case, key characteristics included difficulties when using exhibits or digital interactives, parts of exhibits or digital interactives that were helpful, attitudes, interests, and familiarity with computers. After some back and forth review with other members of the team, photos were added to the personas, and they were ready to introduce at the CMME Workshop.

Use of personas at the Workshop

The personas were introduced to the participants on the first day of the workshop as a presentation with slides that containing photos and quotes of each persona, along with a description of their characteristics. A paper version of the personas was also included in the participant packets. Large cutouts of the personas heads were created and dispersed on each table as a visual cue to remind participants to think about them during development. Each team was free to use the personas as they saw fit. Here is a summary of how each group used the personas at the workshop:

  • Personalization Options Team: This team created a prototype that addressed what personalization might look like at a museum. During development, the team went through each persona and created a personalized experience for them. After their prototype was created, they used a spreadsheet to show each persona going through the personalization path.
  • Dynamic Haptic Display Team: This team aimed to create a dynamic haptic representation of a graph. During their design process, the team thought about how each persona would find their individual data point and go about manipulating the data.
  • Multi-touch Audio Layer Team: This team set out to create a descriptive audio layer for a multi-touch table. They came up with two plausible options to pursue and went through them with each persona, listing out the pros and cons.
  • Data Sonification Team: This team’s goal was to create a prototype that would present data using sound to provide audio cues. This team chose three target personas and pictured these three personas going through and using their prototype.

Click here for more information about the Prototyping Workshop.

According to Kate Haley-Goldman’s evaluation of the workshop, participants found the personas to be highly useful once they were being implemented during development. However, the introduction to the personas could have been stronger, as participants felt that they were introduced quickly during the Possibilities Workshop and then were not mentioned again until the Prototyping Workshop started.

The CMME personas were meant to be a living document, updated as the project progressed. For the formative evaluation, at least 20 visitors with different types of disabilities tested different iterations of the CMME prototypes. The personas were expanded with the knowledge that was gathered from these visitors. Click here to see the current version of the personas.


by View all posts by Stephanie Iacovelli on July 15, 2014