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Mindset models vs personas - 3 reasons to shift focus

At Nimbletank, we're always striving to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to human-centred design. That's why we've been going beyond the more traditional use of personas and focussing greater attention on exploring mindset models in our design process.

So, what’s the difference?

Mindset models are a way of representing the attitudes, beliefs, and values of users. This is key because understanding users' mental frameworks is critical to creating products and services that meet their needs. By mapping out the ways that users think about a particular problem or situation, mindset models can help our design team identify pain points and opportunities for improvement.

Personas, on the other hand, are fictional characters that represent the user groups associated with a product or service. They are typically based on demographic information, such as age, gender, and income, and are used to guide design decisions based on the more generalised needs of those groups. While personas can be useful to create a picture of what customers look like, they can also be limiting in their scope and ability to capture the complexity of human behaviour and provide insight into what customers are thinking.

Here are 3 benefits we’re seeing from the mindset approach:

1. Mindset models are more nuanced

Mindset models are more nuanced - they capture the complexity of human behaviour and help our designers gain a deeper understanding of customer needs and preferences. This means we can identify key moments and opportunities to create motivating experiences that might not be apparent from demographic information alone.

2. Mindset models are more actionable

This in turn means that the insights this approach generates are more actionable. They provide designers with specific observations of user behaviour. By understanding the mental frameworks that users have, designers can create solutions that are much more tailored. This powers the designers to create more useful and effective products and services that are truly customer-focused.

3. Mindset models are more empathetic

As we know from our research empathy is the number one driver of brand preference and loyalty (once price is discounted), so the use of mindset models is critical as they focus on understanding the experience from the user's perspective. By gaining an understanding of the ways users think about a particular problem or situation and how it makes them feel, designers can get a deeper understanding of their emotions and motivations. This can help designers create empathetic experiences that are more emotionally satisfying, sensitive and meaningful to users.

So, what’s the issue with Personas?

There are two key disadvantages to personas, which mindset models aim to solve:

Personas are indeed meant to increase empathy by raising real customers in our minds throughout the design process. So, they are designed to represent real people - but are often flawed and simplified stereotypes, with all sorts of biases, assumptions, and aspirational solutions baked in. Done well though (based on understanding complexities and contradictions of real customers through primary research), they can be a useful artefact.

Regardless of that, personas will never be as actionable or directional as mindset models. Personas can be great as a validation tool – ‘Would X really want Y?’. But hard to use as a generative tool – ‘What does X want?’. The reason being, they are noisy (full of distracting demographic information), not mutually exclusive (so poor for segmenting/targeting) and not exhaustive (likewise). They are bad at surfacing actual customer behaviour and attitudes. And they often have solutions (needs, goals, tools, etc) built in as assumptions, rather than letting those be created in response to more foundational attitudes and/or behaviours.

In conclusion

Mindset models aim to facilitate precise segmentation & targeting, and ideation of solutions from foundation principles rather than the pre-built assumptions in personas. But, that’s not to say that they can’t work alongside personas. Mindset models can provide a solid, theoretical foundation for building proto-personas and personas however, jumping straight to personas is missing a vital part of customer modelling.

Essentially, mindset models offer a number of benefits over traditional personas when it comes to human-centered design. By using them in our design process, we're able to create solutions that are more effective, satisfying, and empathetic to users' needs and preferences. So, if you're interested in learning more about how mindset models can improve your design process, get in touch with us at Nimbletank today!

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