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Personas

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This article discuss how personas could be used to provide better support for design competitions.

Does an ideal support staff exists? It does, of course in our minds, we want to get help, in a fast cheerful manner by someone caring, knowledgeable and professional. We want to interact with people to tell our problems and be understood, but what about reality? For quality concerns, it is important to provide a constant level of service, but if each support staff is different, how can we do that for the quality of our support? Can we somehow standardize it? Could we create a set of characteristics and guidelines for all support staff to follow? Could we have a unitary name for all of our staff so that consumers would not be confused on who they are talking to? The answer to these questions could perhaps be a persona, and this article is a case-study of a persona we develop to improve support quality at A’ Design Award.

Julie Thomas is the combined name of all the support staff plus the automated support system working at A’ Design Award & Competition; it is the personification of our automated + manual support; i.e. Julie Thomas is the attribution of a personal nature and human characteristics to our support system which consists of both automated non-human and human characteristics; it is the representation of the abstract quality of our support system in human form. Julie Thomas allows us to form a natural connection between participants who want to have someone to interact with; it is a proxy for our communication. In reality there is always several people (plus our automated response system) who respond to questions or queries that are directed to Julie Thomas, however since there is a very strong set of characteristics and rules followed and emulated, the communication tone is very natural and humane. Julie Thomas helps us achieve a “hard/machine” interface turn into a pleasurable conversation.

The idea of creating “Julie Thomas” has its roots from various past-concepts, including character mask - Charaktermaske by Karl Marx, the classical Greek concepts of mimesis and imitative representation using analogies and prosopopoeia - impersonation or personification as well as the Roman concept of persona. The idea is also based on the concept of pseudonym, i.e. a name that a person or group assumes for a particular purpose, which differs from his or her original or true name as well as the concept of alter ego, which is believed to be distinct from a person's normal or original personality. Finally, the concept of Avatar comes into our minds, which is a manifestation of a greater power, in the form of a person.

We needed the Julie Thomas persona, because the perfect support staff actually does not exist itself, however the idea of “perfect support staff” does exists. Thus, by creating the Julie Thomas persona, we could turn anyone into “Julie Thomas”, an imaginary, perfect support person with a series of consistent characteristics and behaviors as demanded by those who need support. Independent from the personalities of whoever is responding to the request, those who follow the predefined set of characteristics and behaviors, could become “Julie Thomas”.

Julie Thomas, is therefore a persona created by A’ Design Award & Competition. In modern user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different set of behaviors of a group of people. The Julie Thomas qualitative persona was constructed to be representative and consistent set of behaviors that we think shall be employed by the support staff especially when communicating with participants. The Julie Thomas persona is based upon ethnographic research; it is what participants demand, the character is designed based on the preferences of designers themselves.

“Julie Thomas” is a she, because the concept of “Woman”, is more close to providing support than “Man”. Women are caretakers, mothers, and protectors. Thus, before the name was chosen, we had chosen the persona to be a female. One more reason to this decision was the fact that people are in general more polite towards Woman, and since Woman are known to be more empathic, easy listeners. Thus by choosing a female persona we could create a positive feeling that could reduce conflict and confrontation and that would provide a great sense of security and empathy. We wanted this new persona to be “International”, thus a French/English name was chosen for this  purpose from the most popular names and surnames table in England and broader Europe, i.e. we wanted the name to be popular in many countries, easy to remember, and this is how “Julie Thomas” was born. We have also created the “Community Manager” designation to identify her role.

Julie Thomas is the ideal support staff. Julie Thomas provides a human "face" for A’ Design Award when communicating with participants, and helps the communication to be more empathic, efficient and fast. When you talk with “Julie Thomas”, you do not feel talking with a large support group which could occasionally give you the feeling of distance, instead you feel that Julie, a person(ification) will help you, and indeed she does, also because you feel she would at the first place since Julie Thomas is the personification of the following set of properties – adjectives that we seek in our support staff and interface: Polite and Kind, Understanding, Young and Dynamic, Passionate, Empathic, Fast, Hard Working, Solution Oriented, Gets Pleasure in Helping Others, Provides Sincere Specific and Constructive Feedback, Praises Good Work, Continuous Learner, Proud of the Job, Listens to Participants, Solver and Thinker, Respectful, Appreciative, Lovely.

Thus, no matter who responds to any support question, that must be “Julie Thomas” for us; he/she/it should follow the persona of Julie Thomas to help the users. In addition to the “overall personality”, the following set of “roles and responsibilities” are assigned to Julie Thomas: 1. Reply any (non-personal) questions by participants in a timely manner. 2. Assess the practical and emotional needs of a design competition participant before replying to their questions. 3. Support competition participants by vast knowledge, making research before replying. 4. Avoid saying “No”, propose new solutions and methods whenever applicable. 5. Provide empathic support by talking to design award participants and listening to their problems and concerns. 6. Pass any “opportunities” to management; i.e. such as new type of service demands by the participants. 7. Help clients with their design competition related tasks or informing them on how to complete these tasks themselves. 8. Assist design competition participants to save money by guiding them; informing them about campaigns, discounts and other possibilities. 9. Help competition participants participate or benefit from complimentary services and activities organized by A’ Design Award. 10. Advise competition participants on practical issues related to the awards.

Furthermore, “Julie Thomas” should 11. Help prospective participants to register to the competition. 12. Help existing participants to apply for design award services and benefits. 12. Counsel the participants and mediate issues in case of design related disputes. 13. Support especially young designers who are new to industry, providing them guidance whenever required. 14. Help design competition participants improve their presentation. 15. Arrange meetings or connecting with press to promote award winning designers works. 16. Coordinate media and press. 17. Make case studies and fill frequently asked questions database section for future reference. 18. Help design competition participants to connect with other businesses or media. 19. Train and inform design competition participants on how to get more out of their competition participation. 20. Collect relevant data and statistics for improving the design competition system.

We also expected Julie to 21. Undertake simple administrative duties that require fast response. 22. Work with design competition participants’ secretaries or staff to help them participate in the design competition the most effective way possible, 23. Communicate with other parts of the design competition organization and management in order to respond to the issues and questions by the participants. 24. Inform award participants in case of new information, possibilities or competitions. 25. Guide competition participants to attend meetings and training courses organized by the competition. 26. Think and propose new ideas to reduce repetitive tasks; i.e. implementation of AI systems, guides, automated tasks, digital forms and procedures to reduce workload on “Julie”. 27. Improve Julie.  


Furthermore, we had several other technical properties and guidelines regarding communication. For example, Julie is: 1. Smart but not genius; explains or talks in a way understandable by general population. 2. Does her best; tries to solve issues. 3. Risk aversive; tries to solve conflict before taking any other steps. 4. Friendly but professionally distant; since she has access to the system, she cannot be too friendly or provide benefits to a particular person or group. 5. Polite before straightforward.

In summary “Julie Thomas” persona was created, and developed over several years, we hope to develop the personification of the perfect support staff in the years to come, to ensure that any and all questions can be answered. Thus, if you need any help, contact Julie, she will do her best to support you.

 

 

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