Personality Disorders

Personas and Personalities What can a persona do for you? This question was the primary focus of several presentations at SpeechTEK 2002. The topic of “persona”, by itself, seems to elicit strong opinions from a number of speech industry personalities. Interestingly enough, a particular participant in one presentation allowed that he wasn’t really sure what a persona was. He went on to ask, rhetorically, “What does ‘persona’ actually mean?” People in the speech industry often treat the term “persona” synonymously with “personality”. This is understandable and appropriate given the fact that when speech industry folks speak of “persona”, they almost always are referring to the “personality” that is conveyed by a particular speech application. Of course, applications don’t really possess personalities, but then neither do dogs, cars or any of the hundreds of other things to which people frequently attribute personalities or personality characteristics. More on this later. Additional Background Persona is the root word for personality. It means, “mask” in Latin. The ancients thought that a person’s personality was the amalgam of their externally observable behavior. This behavior was thought to be superficial, to “mask” the heart and soul within. There are a number of personality theories still being discussed in psychological circles today, some vastly more plausible than others, and the determinants of personality are also still fiercely debated. Yet, all that said, a common sense notion of personality, as consistent and observable behavior, seems to have prevailed. In the context of a voice user interface, a persona is the personality of the application: it is the epiphenomenon of voice talent variables such as gender and pitch; speaking variables such as intonation, pace and warmth; and prompt variables such as content and length. Collectively, these variables (and others) provide an opportunity for a business to convey its “personality” to the world. A persona will emerge whether by accident or by design. For example, even if it were the expressed intent of a designer to create an application devoid of a persona, one would still emerge. Just as people attribute personality characteristics to pets, users would eventually attribute personality characteristics to the application. Think of a VUI as a party: a persona will always show up, whether invited or not. Thus it is important to ensure that the way one’s application presents itself to its users is consistent with the way one’s company seeks to present itself to its customers. Point of Contention But herein lies the rub. Because a persona can be effectively used to convey marketing messages, some in the industry tend to inflate the importance of its role and overly invest in its content. This tendency, however, can raise the risk of inadequately attending to the reasons that motivate users to use and re-use a given application. What can a personality do? No doubt, an application’s personality is an important thing. In the hands of a skilled designer, a persona can be effectively used for marketing, branding or image promotion. But this is only half the story. A persona, particularly a perky, chirpy, overly familiar and presumptuously assertive persona can ruin an otherwise sound application. It can serve to frustrate and annoy the user, particularly when an application session is not going particularly well. What can a personality not do? To avoid the pitfalls of personality, it is important to keep in mind what a persona cannot do. A persona cannot: ·Make an unreliable application reliable ·Make an unusable application usable ·Or add value to an application’s questionable value proposition While personality is important, it is secondary to effectiveness and efficiency. It’s common sense when you think about it. Imagine being served in a department store by a clerk with a perfectly delightful personality but who was otherwise incapable of helping you find what you want. How likely would you be to seek their help again? Dr. Walter Rolandi is the founder and owner of The Voice User Interface Company in Columbia, SC. Dr. Rolandi provides consultative services in the design, development and evaluation of telephony based voice user interfaces (VUI) and evaluates ASR, TTS and conversational dialog technologies. He can be reached at wrolandi@wrolandi.com
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