Friday, October 24, 2008

Pulling off brown paper packaging

It's Friday at 6:50pm and I think that means it's technically Friday night. I also think that means it's technically too late to be working on a Friday. I love being at work after hours. The lights start to dim unless you walk by and activate them; the air-conditioner stops blasting sub-zero streams of air into my cube--an effort to conserve energy since no one is typically here. Something about this place feels right to me. My cube walls are heavy with posters, decorations, and mementos. Somehow, I feel comfortable here. I feel at home. I think the reason I'm so taken with late hours has to do with my nostalgia for a few particular weeks spent on international conference calls until the wee hours of the morning.

Juniper started developing personas in June of 2007. I was fresh to Juniper, having been here for only 4 months. I had graduated from UC Berkeley a month earlier and was faced with the typical post-graduate crisis of trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I spent two whole days in a large meeting room with a significant amount of people from Juniper as well as Tamara Adlin and Ariel VanSpronsen from Adlin, Inc.. Juniper hired Adlin, Inc. in hopes of eradicating a typical problem in large businesses: identifying our audience. There is a tendency to refer to one's audience as just that, vague terms like "audience", "customers", and "users". personas help to describe real people and real needs. Alan Cooper is seen as one of the founding fathers of personas. If you haven't read The Inmates Are Running The Asylum I would highly recommend you check it out.

Think of personas like this: (by the way, the example I am about to present you with was conveyed to me verbally. It is not my own.)

I'm going to ask you all to imagine a bird. Do you have the image in mind? Ok good, hang on to that.

What are the chances that the bird you are imagining is the same bird I am imagining? My bird is small, has black feathers caping his back with a bright yellow under belly. His head is boasting a read mohawk and his beak is short and thick like a caligraphy pen. Chances are your bird could have varied drastically from my version.

This metaphor represents what happens all too often in business. We become so focused on what our pre-conceived notions are about our customers that we ignore the people we are trying to connect with. We oversee their true needs, frustrations, and motivations.

Juniper did extensive research all over the globe interviewing employees, external customers, consultants, and research firms throughout Asia, Europe and the North Americas. And not just once, we did round after round of in-person and over-the-phone interviews. We asked each person to tell us what they did during the day, starting from what they thought about as soon as they got into the office. We asked where they sought out information, whether it be word of mouth, over the internet or via newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. We wanted to hear what frustrations they have and what gets them most excited about their job. We wanted to know how they got to their current job title and what their next steps are for future positions.

When we started doing research and relaying the information internally, we described how personas were intended to work. Initially, it was just a concept. But now, a little over a year later, we have fully formed personas. People are talking about them and using them for their planning.

I have to admit, I feel like these personas are part of my family. The project has become something I am endeared to, protective of even, as if it was a child. As I hinted to earlier, there were a few weeks in October and November that my colleague was conducting interviews in Japan, Germany, and England. I basically spent a few nights in my cube so I could listen in to the workshops that were happening half way around the world. I have always been dedicated to this project, it is something I whole-heartedly threw myself into. I felt entirely blessed to walk out of college and into this creative project. It's creative because it takes a lot, especially in business, to go against the grain and admit that something is off. I think it's incredibly exciting to be a part of this change in Juniper. It is a part of my nature to want to understand people, to hear all about what makes them tick. I was a brand new employee and this project introduced me to Juniper; it familiarized me with the most important aspect of the company--the people who make up the business.

The reason for this post is because the research part is over and now we can actually have start to implement the personas into our conversations and understanding. I have been working with one of our design agencies to come up with different print collateral to pass out to the company. When I got back from lunch today I had a huge stack of posters filling the floor of my cube. Oh man--I was, I am, so elated. Opening up that package and pulling the first poster out was better than any Christmas. It feels good to know that we are finally here.

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