The magic of non-human Personas

Show notes

With everything we're doing we have an impact on everything around us. Also with our projects, products and services. Whether it's our desired target groups, the society around them, people within the manufacturing process or animals and ecosystems in our environment.

Have you ever heard about non-human Personas? Bringing in unheard stakeholders into your project? Well, we will get into what that is in today's episode.

Topics in this episode

  • What are Personas?
  • How do we bring in non-human stakeholders?
  • How to create non-human Personas?
  • Where do non-human Personas have their limits?
  • How to bring them into your work? What are struggles and what are possibilities?

Mentioned links

👉 Miro template for non-human Personas

👉 Figma template for non-human Personas

👉 PDF template for non-human Personas

👉 Conservation International campaign "Nature is speaking"

👉 Monika Snezl's blog article "Your next Persona will be non-human"

You want to have a non-human Persona workshop within your company or team? Just send a message to I'm always happy to hear from you!

Love, Sandy


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Show transcript

Welcome, everyone, to today's episode of the Green Web podcast. It's one of my favorite topics that we will talk about today. And I'm your host, Sandy Dähnert, a designer with a huge passion for ecologically and socially sustainable design. And with everything we're doing, we have an impact on everything around us, also with our projects, products and services. So whether it's our desire to target groups, the society around them, people within the manufacturing process or animals and ecosystems in our environment, we have to give them a seat at the table. Have you ever heard about non-human personas like bringing in unheard stakeholders into your project? Well, we will get into what that is. In today's episode, we will talk about what our personas just as a rough outline beforehand. What's this persona method? How do we bring in non-human stakeholders? How to create non-human personas where non-human personas have their limits? Because they have obviously every method has their limits and how to bring them into your work and what our struggles and what might be possibilities. So let's get into it. First of all, I want to say that I see a great need to bring all kinds of people into our design processes, and that could be accessibility personas like people with disabilities that are usually not really seen in our design and marketing decision processes. Having affected non users like people in our manufacturing and production processes, but also people that are surrounding our target users. So if we affect our target users, we most likely also affect the people and the society around them. Plus putting in our non human users into our design processes. And I will focus today on non-human personas. We will get into affected non user personas in a later episode. Those are personas that play especially a role in life centered and society centered design. We will definitely get to that. But in this episode I want to focus on non-human personas and I adapt the definition of non-human persona as being animals, as well as non-living things such as forests, rivers, oceans, whole ecosystems and much more. I've seen other definitions, especially in life centric design, and I don't want to say what's right or wrong because there is no right or wrong. I just want to say what I use and I use the definition of non-human personas being animals as well as ecosystems. And I don't really remember my first encounter with this topic, and it came up in various talks and the concept is definitely not new. It got covered in books and other industries before and now I've seen at some point this campaign from the Conservation International Association, they've done a campaign about eight years ago. I think that's called Nature is Speaking. It's a brilliant campaign. I think it's pretty much non-human personas that are speaking for themselves. It's like little videos for nature, for water, for soil, for coral reefs, and for many, many more. It's amazing work and they've done it in various languages. I will definitely link it below in the description because I really find it so incredibly well done and valuable to listen to it. And it says pretty much that nature doesn't need people, but people need nature and bringing in with their visuals, but also with what they're saying in the video and very in a very calming, soothing way. What this water, soil, coral reef and all of those other things are doing for us what they are there for. That's the perfect definition of non human personas. I know Monica nasal. I'm pretty sure I pronounce it incorrectly and I'm so sorry for it. She has written a blog article I think about two years ago who gave me the inspiration to dig deeper into non-human personas. And it's a brilliant article. I see many people are referencing to it because it was one of the first ones that brought this idea into digital UX design, as I am focused on. And I definitely immediately wanted to bring it into my world, but also share it with others. So I gave workshops and companies and on par cams such as the X Bar Camp Europe. And I saw those aha moments and effects in people's mind. It's incredible. So after that I also wrote a blog article about it and since then have seen more people talking about non-human personas I've seen beforehand. Even Damian Lutz, Jeroen Spoelstra, not sure about the pronunciation here as well. I'm sorry again, and I've seen an essay from Martin Thomitsch, Joel Fredericks, Dan Vogt, Jessica Frawley and Marcus Foth that is discussing non-human personas as well. And they're brilliant and I love it. I love that we are getting more people talking about it and discussing this method, bringing in this non-human perspective into the well known popular persona method. And I want to see even more, more other designers talking about it, and that we bring this method to new levels of quality to really being able to work with it in all kinds of scenarios. I just, I just love it. And it's very different in digital or physical product design to use this method and to use it for affected non-human stakeholders and the one that you wish to positively affect. You can bring in both and I will describe in a minute how, but first of all, what our personas so personas are profiles of fictitious target persons. They contain demographic information as well as goals, wishes, actions and feelings of the hypothetical target person. This systematic framework helps to better understand your desired users, customers and buyers. It's very easy and very helpful in any kind of design process, as long as it's not just on stereotypes and hypotheses, but really researched and really based on data and everything around that. Non-human personas are profiles of affected animals and natural ecosystems. Therefore, it extends the previously known persona method with non-human targeted persons such as Mother Nature. They equally contain demographic information as well as goals, wishes, actions and feelings. Because more than just your target group is impacted by your project brand or company. And the more that those non-human personas that you affect with your project are understood, the better we can respond to them. That is why we want to use that method for the unheard non-human personas as well, and not just for those human target persons that we want to address our product or service to. So how do we bring in non-human stakeholders? First, we map non-human stakeholders that are impacted by our project. That is for sure, Mother Nature in general, because we all have an impact on the nature, the ecosystems that are around us. Plus then we can get deeper into it. So that could be the city you're doing business in or where you have stores or your data centers are located. That could be the Atlantic Ocean because you sell surf wear and maybe even produce and Portugal near the Atlantic Ocean, anything like that. It could be countries, it could be forests, it could be birds, insects and much, much more. It can be, as I said, non-human personas that are negatively affected by a project, but also personas that you want to positively affect. So if I. As green the Web wants to affect. Positively affect hedgehogs. Then I would build a nonhuman personas about hedgehogs and find out more about what are their frustration points and needs and how I can positively impact their lives. You might think, Well, that sounds a bit crazy, but it is really, really, really helpful. And as I said in many workshops, I've seen those effects. About it. Yeah, it's really brilliant. Well, for example, Panama's nature just got her own rights. She is a persona now, like a real life persona. That means having your own rights, being able to sue in court. That is done a couple of times around the world. Like there is a river in New Zealand who was the first river to be granted personhood and therefore having rights to sue in court. Now it's Panama's nature and there are other parts in the world that have those rights. It's extremely important. They are now sitting at the table where those decisions are made about them. That's brilliant and highly effective. So map out who is affected by your project or who you want to affect with your project. And you can start really general and step after step, going deeper into the nitty gritty. For example, a client of mine had a very local project in Cologne, so Cologne as a city was a stakeholder. You can put in New York as a stakeholder, you could put in Los Angeles as a stakeholder, London as a stakeholder, like any kind of city, even smaller cities and towns could be your stakeholder. And then the in this client project, the hosting provider of the website was in Iceland. So that was a next one. Then in Cologne, we have a river called Rhine, and then this river came became a persona for her because she really wanted to care for that as well. You can put in certain forests and parks and bird species and insects that are highly affected in in this case in this city. And you can go down a lot further. You can really go down to the nitty gritty. You don't have to before you say, Oh my God, that sounds like a lot of effort. You don't have to. You can just have a look at Mother Nature and General putting that as a persona next to your other personas and target groups helps tremendously already. Just to keep nature in mind, if you want to go further and I know that it's very impactful positively, then do that. I highly encourage it. But there like start easy, for example, like especially for yourself, start easy and smoothly. Get into non human personas in general and then you can triple down. You can even look at third level affected non-human personas such as affected animals and ecosystems of telecommunication, networks of wireless connections of device production and device use it, all of those things. That's definitely like a lot further out than what your project is like on a first and second level. But yeah, as I said, you can you can go really deep with those things. Well, how to create those non-human personas, you might ask. So you can use this method, as I said, for physical products as well as digital ones. And maybe even a thought might start digitally, like we want an express delivery and then comes in the physical world of actually express delivery with cars or with bikes or with e-bikes or anything like that. So you can combine those two, of course, but you might have either one of them. And then you have two ways of using non-human personas, as I said, like very general, putting a short profile next to your other human personas or with a deep dive, trying to figure out the real problems of very specific personas. I'm absolutely okay with both, as long as they are fact based and not greenwashing. And not in those wishful thinking of. Yeah, yeah. Well, they don't have that many problems and we don't look at the deep and basic and real ones. Then you might not do it at all. But really going for the facts and those facts are changing because our climate is changing. And therefore, of course, all ecosystems and animal populations are changing as well. Okay, So what you do is, as already said, you first map out your stakeholders and get a gist of who is positively and negatively affected by your project, your service, your product, whatever. Then you feel into them. And admins might sound very spiritual, but it is really, really helpful, really looking into all those forests and trees and streams and oceans and insects and mammals and mountains and valleys and rivers and everything, the seasons of this world, all these and so much more are part of our multilayered nature. And you can feel free to close your eyes and just imagine Mother Nature or the persona you want to map out. And really imagining this persona and all her fullness with all her colors and shapes, with all the scents and sounds really getting deep into it. And I have a special bonus episode coming for you next week, which is kind of a kind of a meditation, a little story journey to feel into your persona, to feel into Mother Nature in this way. I really liked doing that, and I see many people really responding well. And yeah, just putting on this fantasy journey in your mind helps to build empathy and that's all we want to do with this method. And you might even find more stakeholders want to add to the map and that you find valuable to bring in to this method. Then after you felt into your persona, then you research extensively and conduct interviews like you searched the Internet for real facts. You interviewed scientists and environmentalists. You go out and take a look at how the ecosystems really behave. Like, even with non personas, it's the same as with the human personas. Don't be tempted to fall into stereotypes and untruths. Research the real state of the respective ecosystem or animal population. Only then we can have a real positive impact on the environment. Always question whether the scenario is realistic or whether it corresponds more to wishful thinking. We don't need greenwashing. There's enough in this world and I want to get rid of it. I really try to research what are the real frustrations and problems of those personas. And then you create a profile and you can create a profile. I've put some templates into the mirror verse as well as the Figma community as well as you can download it as a PDF from down below in description as well as on my blog. You can find all three of the links, but as well in the description of this podcast episode, you find the links to all those three templates. Free to use to check out and to have an easy path going into it. And what you find in those templates is a little introduction about what our non human personas, again, how to use them. And a little introduction into how to create them. And then you find two different persona profiles, one for ecosystems and one for animals, because they have a slight difference in them. And yeah, ecosystems, for example, Mother Nature, you can put in the age or a lifespan of this persona, you can put in a quote of what this persona would say. And then you have fields for health, for values, for behavior and job, for problems and challenges, needs, desires, wishes and dreams, like really getting into the personal profile of this persona. And then the most impact driven part is the impact part. So what is the positive impact of your project on the persona and what is the negative impact of your project on the persona? And those are the ones that, like the positive impact always is easy. Yeah, we have this positive thing and check, check, check. But the negative impacts, we like to look away from that and not really look at it. I know it's hard, but we have to criticize ourselves and our projects to ensure making it better. And then there's two other sections in there. One is how can we reduce or prevent negative impacts and how can we regenerate the impacted persona going one step further? And how can we yeah, not just make it greener, make it more sustainable, but really regenerate what is already caused by mostly human beings. And a slight difference between ecosystems and animals is that in animals you have also a little definition of this animal population and the habitat of it. For ecosystems, you would not really need that. So that's that's a little difference of it. And the templates are for digital products. And if you would like to do that for physical products, then you'd have to add like the stage of impact, like the material extraction, production, distribution, usage of the product, reusing the product, recycling and waste management like where you really impact and what part of the process you are impacting this persona with digital products, you don't have that in such an intense stage. Yes, we need to care for distribution and digital waste, such as deleting outdated data, but there is no real reuse it or direct material extraction. All right. After you've created this persona, then try to further elaborate the persona with further research and verifying your hypotheses over and over again, and certain intervals like time intervals. Maybe there's anything that changed since you first created the persona. Maybe there are new insights into the needs of the persona and new methods to measure your impact more accurately. Like let the persona live and enjoy learning new things about Mother Nature, the ecosystems, the animals, whatever you have as your persona, and then let the full magic unfold and integrate the personas into the project and team you're working in. That could be a part where you think like, Ah, no, not, not my team, not my project really. They are not, not into that. I get that in a minute. But if you can really the full magic unfolds here. The non human personas are created and you work with them in your team. You let everyone know that they are existing. Maybe you've done it in your team. That's even better, of course, than it's more people putting in their knowledge and discussing it, get more opinions and yet discussion with others about those personas and how they can be used and extend it and just watch and see how your perspective and the perspective of other people in your team and project changes because it does automatically. Your decisions are now based on your target users, but also on those non-human personas that you can't get rid of anymore in your head. Once you have it in your head, it's really hard to get rid of it. And placing this profile next to the others, like next to the human personas, is really, really awesome. And having it always in your mind and you have a new project idea or a new feature idea in your product, and then you just look at this persona of Mother Nature, for example, and you think, Yeah, okay, but I see how we're negatively impacting this persona with our new feature idea. Let's find a switch or a little shift to erase that negative impact. Yeah, apply the personas to all design processes, whether it's about your website, your app, your newsletter, funnel, your content, communications, marketing strategy services, whatever you're doing, just add them. Give them a seat at the table, as I said in the beginning, and let them grow, let them live, let them develop, and wherever possible, try to emphasize with Mother Nature. What could not only your users want, but also the environment and the persona around you? All right. We've talked a lot about what personas are a non-human personas are and how to create them. So where now are their limits? Personas are a great tool to get a feel for the needs and situations of different target groups. They are neither all encompassing nor do they give you exact solutions. They only give you a feeling. But that is exactly what I find very helpful. This feeling helps enormously in decision making. The stronger the feeling, the better the ideas. So the more you have empathy for this persona, the more you will implement it in your decision making. And even just like your creation of everything that you're doing. But be careful. Don't think in stereotypes and let the personas live with real facts. I've said it before and I will keep saying it because we need to do our part and the research and real fact based personas. Leave your findings for a few days, then come back to the development process. Personas will certainly change again and again because they are changing in the world around us, and you will definitely learn more along the way about sustainability and about the business, but also, yeah, about the personas. And that's definitely yeah, where they have their limits, they are not giving you exact solutions. You still have to think, okay, so how to bring them into your work and what are struggles and what are possibilities you might feel like, Nah, I can't do that. My colleagues or our clients will laugh at me. I don't want to seem like a hippie, and if you don't feel comfortable with the company or client, just do it for yourself in the beginning. Just try it. Get a feeling for the method and if you at some point feel comfortable sharing, go and create some together and talk with your clients about it. And some clients I had that are extremely passionate about it and the AHA moments that are coming through are phenomenal and some of them immediately spread it within their company to bring the mindset into other parts of the business as well. But I know this feeling of, okay, is this the client that I can really put this method into the project or is this the company that I can put this in and be more vocal about it? You have to tiptoe around it, maybe, but do it for yourself if you're unsure and then see if you can slip it in from the side and maybe talk with one colleague at first and then maybe here and there, and just bringing in your own perspective into it. And as I said, some clients are like, Oh my God, I wish I knew that method earlier. I love it and please share it even more. And the thing right now that you can implement it into your daily work, like really think about it yourself. What are your personal blocks and obstacles, but what might be possibilities that you have? What's the transformation for yourself, but also for your clients or in the company that you're working in? Your team always think about the impact you're going to have. How does it serve the project, the brand, the business? How can it help business to grow? Because it does. It might be better understanding risks, it might be being able to better communicate to users, it might be opening up to new target group and it might be just just be more sustainable. What a lane benefit. But yeah, you can find, as I said, the template for Miro for Fig Jam and as well as as a PDF template in the description below, we can also do a workshop on it together. I love giving workshops and working in teams of yes, seeing those aha moments. Just send me a message and we'll figure that out in the physical as well as in a digital world. And by the way, it would be really awesome to have a collection of elaborated, fact based non-human personas if there is any already. Please let me know if there is none already and you feel like, Oh yeah, that's a great idea, I'll do that. Please do so and let me know afterwards, because that could be really, really helpful for everyone of us. So that's it for today's episode. Remember, it is not only about what our users like our human Target users want, but also about what is really good, healthy and sustainable for our users, our business and our environment around us. That is why I love using non-human personas. Just start with Mother Nature. Bring in the general one and see what it changes for you in your own mind or in your team. Just try it. I love it. I really, really love it and share it. With everyone that you know, because it is really awesome. I might be biased, but it is really awesome. Okay, so subscribe to the podcast. Share this episode with friends and colleagues. Remember to give this podcast rating on Apple, Spotify, or any podcast service that you're using and follow me on LinkedIn or on Instagram at growing the web. And let me know what you thought of today's episode. Send me a message on any kind of platform that you know that I'm on or via email. Whatever you like the most. And I'm really looking forward to next week where you will be getting, let's call it meditation for Mother Nature and building more empathy for her. And to get a little bit more into nonhuman personas. Really looking forward to that. And then of course, regularly in two weeks time, there will be another episode of this podcast. So see you then.

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