User personae

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we should design our distro and other software with the users who will be using it in mind. imagine that. to do that, we must first come to know our users.

enrico zini proposes a way to do that, by developing personae (fictional people) which represent the typical users that may make use of your software:

A wholesale paste from personae.html:

Adoption Program Personae

All these people have had no experience with computers, except that:

  1. some have used the library for Internet access, including e-mail,
  2. some have used a computer at work for a specific task, with only enough knowledge to do that task.
  • John is forty-five years old, living in a very small apt. He was a construction worker until injured and is now living on disability payments. He has no experience with computers but believes that with one he can start a small Internet business. He can probably pay Coho's price. (He is likely to hang out in Recycling as much as possible.)
  • Stan is around 40, living in subsidized housing. He has a mental disability (or is recently out of jail or is a recovering addict) and his case worker suggested that he volunteer for Free Geek to get some experience of being in the world of work as well as to gain the benefit of having a computer (though neither of them is clear as to what that might be). He might not be given the money for Internet access. (He is likely to be difficult to teach or to keep focussed on a task.)
  • Angela is thirty-something, out of work. She wants a computer for her child(ren) so 'they can get ahead at school', though she has no clear idea as to exactly what good it would do them. She doesn't have the money for an ISP. In Adoption class she will try to get the child to do the work, avoiding it herself.
  • Rita is approaching fifty, living comfortably in a small way, earning a living. She herself has never used a computer nor wanted to but wants a computer for her grandkids to use when they visit. She is delighted with how easy it is to use the Free Geek computers, for example in Receiving, and is likely to love to do data entry.
  • Lisa and her son have worked together. They used to have a Windows computer but it died, and with the divorce Lisa doesn't have the money to buy a new one. The only thing they need in order to use the computer fully is to have the analogies to Windows usage pointed out.
  • Barbara is seventy-something, living comfortably on a pension. Her children and grandchildren have finally persuaded her that she needs to keep in touch with them via e-mail, and she heard about Free Geek from someone at church. She is slower to learn, but very determined. She may need extra time in the Adoption class and is likely to phone Tech Support apologetically with a simple question. With encouragement she can handle what she needs to do.
  • Al is forty-something with a mental disability, part of which manifests as the belief that he knows something about computers. [note of levity here, disguising bitter experience :)] He is difficult to work with, difficult to teach, because he keeps filtering what he hears through what he thinks he already knows.
  • Alice [or David] is a Mac user who is in economic difficulty and can no longer afford to replace the Mac that died. S/he is computer savvy but totally puzzled by the Windows-like GUI apps and frustrated by not finding the tools s/he is used to.
  • Ahmed is twenty-something, recently arrived in the US and a student. He may have some computer experience but his limited English makes it difficult to talk with him. He knows why he wants a computer and appears to understand how to use it, once explained. He is a conscientious, hard worker.
  • Sergei comes with his two children. He has been in the US long enough to speak English, though he may depend on the children for the technical terms. He seems to be ashamed that he can't afford to buy them the computer that they 'need to get ahead' and will be sullen. He may try to have them follow the teacher in the Adoption class, despite the teacher's attempt to engage him.
  • Patty is a feisty youngish woman who has recently been laid off from her day job. She is an artist/musician whose art can't support her yet. She embraces the free time to volunteer at Free Geek, to use her abundant energy and to get a computer for herself, to see what all the fuss is about and if it can be made to assist her art.

Build Program Personae

None written yet.

Grant Program Personae

None written yet.

GAP Personae

None written yet.

FreeGeek Columbus Persona

Nancy is a 40-something mother of two. She wants to use a computer, not administer it. She is unlikely to read the help manual, because there is too much information presented for her to feel that she can find the answer to her problem in any reasonable amount of time. There are million things she'd rather do than read through a tech manual (many of which in the past have made her feel incompetent). Further, she assumes that many problems were created by her own mis-use of the system. Nancy will have a hard time remembering usernames and passwords, and is likely to write this information down on a notepad that will remain next to her computer.

She is goal oriented, looking to use the computer for specific tasks (email, web, instant messaging). She knows that it is possible to print photos from a computer, and this is something she would like to be able to do at some point. She wants to get a digital camera, but is afraid that many of her fears of inadequacy will be realized by such a device.

Nancy is not afraid to learn, but fully cognizant of the fact that she learns slower than she used to. She is not directly intimidated by technology, but is intimidated by other technology users, most of whom she assumes are experts with everything (not just computers). Nancy is unlikely to install additional software without help; and similarly unlikely to apply security updates, assuming that she's not at risk. She is appreciative of the Free Software movement in a vague sense, but not committed to its ideals, and is largely uninterested in the philosophical or technical distinctions between competing Free Software systems (GNOME vs KDE, for example).

Personae from Elsewhere

These[1] are from the Debian-NP project:

Andrew Taylor the Unemployed Technician

Andrew is a 45 years old technician formerly employed by Parametrics Consulting ltd. He has lots of background with Windows, he completed MSCE courses, and he's very frustrated with Windows because of ongoing virus outbreaks.

He has heard about Linux and he's interested about "learning it", but he's unsure about what it means. He has tried installing "Linux 9" at home, but it failed to install on their old computer.

He has been recently laid off, so he has plenty of free time while looking for a new job, and he's luckily getting paid unemployment and he's enjoying the "time off".

Michael Stone (a.k.a Fig Leaf)

Fig Leaf is a traveling protester which goes from timber site to timber site to do tree sitting or chain himself in front of bulldozers, continuously traveling across the USA.

He wants to go into any community center and access his e-mail from any type of computer, without a lot of hassle. He needs a considerable amount of security because he's planning potentially illegal direct action. He needs to be able to access files to make flyers and other propaganda, and to store pictures of protests (possibly needed in court).

He's happily unemployed - more interested in doing volunteer work than participating in capitalist society. He travels light and changes identity frequently.


Sprout is part of collective who are very interested in promoting their alternative lifestyle.

They are very concerned with privacy and security issues because they are involved in sensitive politcal projects that if their personal information fell into the wrong hands their project, and possibly their safety would be endangered. They do not want their digital tracks to be gathered and do not want to provide personal data for any purposes.

They are aware of the inherent social problems in existing corporate infrastructure and do not wish to support them, but would prefer to support alternatives, even at slight sacrifice of functionality or usability.

This collective are very busy with their activities and do not have a lot of time to follow the technical issues involved. They are willing to support the alternaties, but do not have the time to implement them on their own.

The collective has decided, through using consensus, that they need a small server in their collective living environment. Anonymus has some technical experience they have had past experience with Windows and Macintosh environments, she has played with Linux but has been frustrated and has no experience setting up systems has agreed to be responsible for dumpster diving some computer parts. Once he has all the pieces, she will put the pieces together to realize an internal infrastructure for their house so they can cooperate in creating flyers, publishing pictures, editting and streaming videos of their last action, they also want their own domainname and to be able to receive and send mail from there.

Sprout does not want to spend a lot of time messing around with the machine, and would prefer things to be very stable and reliable.

Pietro, the Administrator

Pietro is volunteering his technical skills with a small non-profit organization. He has taken the task of administrating their server, and is the only one working on it. He has some experience with Linux, but can only spend so much time a week working on their server, and would like to find more people to help.

The organization requires email services for all the volunteers and staff, but have expressed many frustrations in the past because of spam and viruses. There is a lot of turn-over in the organization with volunteers coming and working for a summer, and then leaving to return to school, so Pietro experiences a lot of administrative overhead in user management.

The organization has a slow internet connection, but several machines in the office that need to share that slow connection. Additionally many of the machines in the working space are old, and not very fast, but there are one or two relatively newer machines that people need to take turns using.

The organization also needs some internal addressbooks, scheduling and virtual working space as well as the ability to share files and print and communicate on an internally.

Pietro is specifically concerned with security and the reliability of the server he is taking care of. There have not been any backups of the mail or the desktop systems yet because there is not much disk space available in the server. He would like to be able to plan for some expansion before it is too late, and would like to know as much ahead of time of problems before they happen so he can manage them.

Pietro has Linux experience, but is overwhelmed by what the users are demanding, as well as what he sees as needed on the server that the users don't really understand why it is necessary. He is looking for a community of people in similar situations to cooperate, find help, and gain some time from work that others have done that he can benefit from. Additionally, he would like to share his fixes and improvements with others and generally feel as if he is part of a larger community.

Marisa, the Curious

Marisa is a high school teacher in the small village of Ribettola. As a teacher, she works during the morning and has free time during the afternoon, during which she takes care of the house and the family and she does some work for the school.

Marisa is a good catholic, and by suggestion of the local parish she always voted for the mainstream catholic/conservative party. However, she's now realizing that there are many wrong things in the world, and she's fascinated by the various association and groups of people that are doing so many nice things. She recently bought an Emergency T-Shirt, and one of the more engaged teen-agers of the parish handed her a book by Padre Alex Zanotelli, which caught her attention.

Now she sometimes stop and reads some articles in the newspaper that she used to skip, and she's growing more and more curious. She's heard that on the Internet you can find a lot of informations, but she doesn't know where to start from. When she googles something, she usually gets into some socialist group websites where she can't understand a thing of what they are talking about.

Katarina Novakova, the Circuit Rider

Katarina Novakova is sponsored by a local foundation in Slovakia to work as a technology consultant for a group of non profit organizations helping disabled kids.

She maintains a number of Windows desktop computers connected to the net via ADSL and dialup modems. Some of the most advanced organizations have a small LAN which shares a printer and some disk space from a computer to the others.

She also helps the organizations to develop the web pages and to find relevant informations on the network. She's also helping the workers of the organizations to solve their computer problems, teaching and troubleshooting their MS Office, Outlook and Internet Explorer problems and needs.

Most of the non profits Katarina works with are however using the software illegally, and have no money to buy the licenses they need. They also have old machines they haven't the money they need to upgrade, and they start receiving documents that can't be opened with the old versions of Windows they use.

Katarina's thus interested in trying some Free Software, like installing OpenOffice on Windows or switching to some Linux solution. She has attended an event sponsored by Tactical Tech and she's committed to try migrating a nonprofit or two and see what happens. She would like to prepare this new tool she's migrating to so that the systems are going to function, the same or better than they were functioning before.

However, she doesn't want to spend too much time in this work, nor she wants her users to get into trouble, or that trouble will get into her.

She also fears that she has to throw away all she and she has to re-learn everything from the beginning.

Katarina has nobody on her circle of friends that she can contact in case of need, and she's wondering how she'll be able to get support if something breaks. She knows however many technical persons from around the Internet after the Tactical Tech event.