Non-human and Non-user Personas
To guide design consideration for the environment and indirectly-impacted humans
As designers and product creators, we are not just producing an item with a lifecycle defined by human use. We are releasing into the world something that impacts multiple ecosystems spanning the time and distance of the product’s entire lifecycle, from the sourcing of its various materials to the manufacturing, repair, life of use, and final breakdown.
The evolution of life-centred design (also known as ‘environment-centred design’ and ‘planet-centred design’) has begun to shift our mindset from purely human-centred design to include consideration of sustainable economical, environmental, and social solutions.
Based on classic user personas, non-human personas are fictional characters used to represent the stakeholders we usually ignore-the environment indirectly impacted by the product and its production.
Anthropologist and environment-centred design advocate Monika Snezl cautions us that Non-human personas differ from User personas in that Non-human personas are primarily based on facts, so we need to check and double-check the quality of facts we include.
Data and statistics for Non-human personas can be sourced from documentation produced by respectable global organisations like the UN, and from more localised affiliate-free organisations.
Ideally, you could also interview experts such as scientists, experts, and/or people already impacted by any environmental concerns relevant to the change/product being designed.
Non-human persona purpose
Combining Nielson Norman Group’s user persona and Snezl’s non-human persona guidance:
Be a realistic and fact-based representation of a non-human entity to assist balancing user-centred and life-centred design during project shaping, development, maintenance, and shut-down by fostering empathy and understanding in stakeholders.
To create a persona that is be believable, visual, and usable, ensure you use only well-researched facts, and try using first-person narrative and verbatim to assist empathy among the team
Non-human personas tend to focus on the environment (land, sea, air, animals, etc.), while classic user profiles represent the target audience. Non-users are the people indirectly or invisibly impacted at any stage of the product lifecycle:
Will the use of your product create discrimination against a minority?
Does the sourcing of your product’s materials encourage forced child-labour?
Does the disposal of your product poison the soil system in another country that destroys a foreign farmer’s ability to maintain their income?
I’ve created the Non-user persona template to represent those people who may otherwise may fall down the gap between the User and Non-human personas. The Product Lifecycle Impact Cards may highlight the existence of these Non-users, but creating their personas can help establish them as key considerations and assist the team and business in empathising.
Non-user personas may represent a real person or a persona group. They may be a combination of fictional representation and scientific data, so be as careful with what you include for these as you would with Non-human personas.
More to come from me
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