The Dog and Hummer Trap

Jared Spool

October 28th, 2011

A while back, a client handed me some persona descriptions they’d written for their project. Immediately, I saw several red flags. See, these personas descriptions had something that always put me on alert: they described the character’s car and pet.

Now, if we’re building enterprise accounting software, why do we need to know whether Mary has a schnauzer or Wilbur drives a Hummer? There’s nothing those details will help us in the design.

Every detail in a persona description should help inform decisions in the design. Because of that detail, we should have no trouble saying what we’d do. When we’re working on accounting software, knowing they are a PC or a Mac user could be important. Knowing that our persona visits their customers and need up-to-the-minute inventory data on the road is likely to be critical. But what does it matter what car they drive?

I call this problem the “Dog and Hummer Trap.” It’s when the design teams takes their persona descriptions just a little too far.

However, this client team was different. They were designing a searchable database of home improvement projects.

Pets and cars, in fact, are important. The team wanted to have a way to identify “pet friendly” projects, where they provided special instructions for keeping safe from the hazards of construction.

They also wanted to help users figure out how they’ll get the materials home. A SUV carries more than an Mini Cooper, so the make of car matters.

The Dog and Hummer Trap isn’t specifically about dogs and cars. It’s about making sure you’re focusing on those details that’ll make a difference in the design.

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