Describing Personas

People seem to fall into a hole when writing personas, even when they’re doing it based on research: they use demographics to divide between segments and to represent thinking styles. This is a problem. So, to start, here’s a little quiz. Below are four personas representing the types of people community and technical colleges want to support better. Which of these descriptions helps you understand these people at a meaningful level?

Growing up, I saw the struggle my mom went through — finding a job, searching for places to live that we could afford, putting everything into her job for years only to be let go because her boss was paranoid. We lived with my grandparents after that, because Mama was a broken person. I wanted her to feel better, so I offered to do work around the house for grandma so that Mama wouldn’t feel so guilty about staying there. Then I got a job and my own place, and life happened. And as it often does, life got tough. I had to move back in with my grandparents. I was depressed, but my cousin was there for me. He said I could do better. So his encouragement and my experience with my mom made me determined to change things for my generation of the family. I don’t have a lot of time during the day, so I was happy to find out the classes I wanted to take are offered at night, when my family at home can take care of each other. My cousin is always checking in with me, inspiring me and keeping me confident. Right now I’ve been thinking about which degree to get — which one will have the most job prospects when I graduate. With a college degree I can get a good job. A good job means I’ll be able to afford a solid place for my family. We will have more opportunity. It will be different.

Kailee is from a low income bracket. She is a single mother. The father left the area three years ago and does not contribute child support. Kailee lives in her aunt’s house, along with her unemployed mother. She contributes to the rent with the money she earns at her part time job at Walmart, which is 20 miles away. Kailee likes her co-workers at the store, but doesn’t like that it’s such a long drive. The toddler and everything else leave her little time, so she takes night classes when she can at the local community college. She also applied for the campus daycare option that is available for low-income students, and was recently accepted. She found out about the campus daycare in one of the newsletters that she received as a student. She loves kids and wants to open a daycare herself some day. She has been taking night classes for two years.

People seem to fall into a hole when writing personas, even when they’re doing it based on research: they use demographics to divide between segments and to represent thinking styles. This is a problem. So, to start, here’s a little quiz. Below are four personas representing the types of people community and technical colleges want to support better. Which of these descriptions helps you understand these people at a meaningful level?

Growing up, I saw the struggle my mom went through — finding a job, searching for places to live that we could afford, putting everything into her job for years only to be let go because her boss was paranoid. We lived with my grandparents after that, because Mama was a broken person. I wanted her to feel better, so I offered to do work around the house for grandma so that Mama wouldn’t feel so guilty about staying there. Then I got a job and my own place, and life happened. And as it often does, life got tough. I had to move back in with my grandparents. I was depressed, but my cousin was there for me. He said I could do better. So his encouragement and my experience with my mom made me determined to change things for my generation of the family. I don’t have a lot of time during the day, so I was happy to find out the classes I wanted to take are offered at night, when my family at home can take care of each other. My cousin is always checking in with me, inspiring me and keeping me confident. Right now I’ve been thinking about which degree to get — which one will have the most job prospects when I graduate. With a college degree I can get a good job. A good job means I’ll be able to afford a solid place for my family. We will have more opportunity. It will be different.

Kailee is from a low income bracket. She is a single mother. The father left the area three years ago and does not contribute child support. Kailee lives in her aunt’s house, along with her unemployed mother. She contributes to the rent with the money she earns at her part time job at Walmart, which is 20 miles away. Kailee likes her co-workers at the store, but doesn’t like that it’s such a long drive. The toddler and everything else leave her little time, so she takes night classes when she can at the local community college. She also applied for the campus daycare option that is available for low-income students, and was recently accepted. She found out about the campus daycare in one of the newsletters that she received as a student. She loves kids and wants to open a daycare herself some day. She has been taking night classes for two years.

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