This NYT article delves into the use of personas at Ford Motor Company. The article is written to imply that the use of personas (or archetypes as they call it) is novel. It also delves uncomfortably and unnecessarily into Jungian psychology (psychological archetypes, eh?).
But many designers and user experience people have been using personas for quite a while. The article does not mention Alan Cooper who was pivotal in articulating the benefits of personas in design. From the article:
ANTONELLA is an attractive 28-year old woman who lives in Rome. Her life is focused on friends and fun, clubbing and parties.
Antonella was the guiding personality for the Ford Verve, a design study that served as the basis for the latest-generation Fiesta. A character invented by Ford designers to help them imagine cars better tailored to their intended customers, she embodies a philosophy that guides the company’s design studios these days: to design the car, first design the driver.
Personas can contain varying levels of detail but some contain the character’s motivations and attitudes (as evidenced above). They should contain enough detail for the designer to answer the question, “Would Antonella like this feature?”, “How would she complete this task”?
The benefit other benefit of personas is that they help focus the design team’s efforts into a single user (who represents a class of users). More detail on personas can be found on the Wikipedia entry or even better Alan Cooper’s book.