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Current Customers: The Kano Model Helps Keep Personas Fresh

One question I’ve often heard is, “Once a persona is created, isn’t it finished?” Well, the answer is “Yes … but not really.” As society moves and technologies progress, personas need to be updated to stay current with cultural changes and users’ adaptations to product features. After all, the persona is a basic but essential piece of user experience research. It helps us jump into the minds of our users (and potential users), listen to who they are, and understand their needs, wants, and emotions. By creating a solid persona, keeping it available to your team, and updating it periodically, you can have one more tool in your kit to help craft awesome product designs.

The Concept and Creation of Personas

A persona is a concise document that summarizes and visualizes a group of people or users as one synthesized, fictional person or user. By considering a user group as one person, product creators can more easily understand who the user is or will be without having to rely on a hunch or guess as to who they perceive the user to be. A persona attempts to answer questions such as, “Who are we building for?” and “What features or functions will empower our potential users?”

During the flannel-clad late 1990s, Alan Cooper introduced the concept of the persona in his book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum. In it, he mapped out the purpose of creating the persona and why funneling a user group into a fictionalized person can help product creators visualize users in a more direct way.

We work to create the persona by first interviewing, observing, and learning about the various members of a group in order to understand their current motivations, goals, pains, and gains. Then, after talking to several members of the group, the researcher unpacks and organizes this data and creates one (or more) fictionalized person(s) with such things as a name, age, various identities (mom, occupation), motivations, pain points, and emotional variances centered around a potential or current product or behavior. This persona allows us to focus our attention on who the user is and why they do the things they do, providing all members of a team with a visual marker of who they are building for and why.

Understanding the progression of products and human behavior as per the Kano model may assist us in updating personas.

What is the Kano Model?

In the 1980s, University of Tokyo professor Noriaki Kano introduced a theory of product development and customer satisfaction now known as the Kano model. The model asserts that not all product features or attributes are equal in the eyes of the customer. Instead, there are five categories.

  • Basic – Product features expected by customers; customers are dissatisfied if the expected feature is absent or not working. Example: A current basic feature of the smartphone is that it can call and text.
  • Performance – Product features that increase satisfaction as the functionality increases. On the XY axis of the illustration (see Figure 1), notice how this increase is proportionate. Example: Mobile apps are a key part of a smartphone, so the larger the hard drive, the greater the satisfaction for some consumers.
  • Delight – Features that may be less expected, but when executed, they rapidly increase satisfaction. They make the customer say “Wow!” Such a feature goes beyond what similar products are doing or beyond customer expectations. Example: Think of a smartphone that is waterproof up to 20 feet. Notice in Figure 1 how the satisfaction sharply increases as the Delight feature is implemented.
  • Indifferent – Features that are neither bad nor good and do not increase or decrease satisfaction, mainly because they may not be noticed. Example: The glass on the latest version of a smartphone has been thickened. The feature may be necessary in design and performance, but is not on the radar of the customer. Therefore, it does not create a reaction.
  • Reverse – Features that leave customers dissatisfied when they are implemented and satisfied when they are not. Example: Too many mobile apps on a smartphone might overwhelm for some customers, so they’d rather have less apps, or just a basic flip phone.
A 2x2 diagram with Satisfaction (vertical, low to high) and Execution (horizontal, poor or not at all to excellent). Three outcomes are shown as arrows with Excitement, Performance and Basic.
Figure 1. The Kano Model (Credit:

Kano Model Visualized

Customer expectations of features within a product change over time. Think back to when you first got a smartphone, or even a basic flip phone, and it had a camera. Wow, this is great! The feature enabled you to record your life visually without having to carry a separate camera. What a delight! But as the product progressed through the years, the camera became a basic attribute of the phone—something expected. And if a cell phone, smartphone, or feature phone didn’t include a camera, you likely wouldn’t purchase that phone since it lacked what has become a basic function. In other words, features may start out as a Delight, such as the camera on a cell phone, but eventually move down to a Basic.

Delights are usually highlighted in the product’s advertising since they serve as something different, something unexpected, or something to wow the consumer. Think about the recent self-parking Chrysler car commercial. The ad showcases the Delight feature (Hey, this car can park itself), which increases the satisfaction level to a point at which (hopefully) the customer purchases the product (That is cool and I want it). In coming years as the self-driving car becomes ubiquitous, this feature will likely become a Basic need as the Kano model showcases. Customers, or users of a product, are ever-changing variables…which brings us to personas.

How Can the Model Help Personas?

In conducting our research, we all want to understand our users as deeply as possible. What are their pain points? What is their motivation to use or not use our product? Will our product provide a solution?

A January 5, 2016, article on stated that mobile app usage by consumers increased 58% in 2015. The research, conducted by Yahoo’s mobile analytics firm Flurry, also indicated that mobile app usage increased by 76% in 2014 and 103% in 2013. Moreover, the KPCB (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, Byers) U.S. and Global annual report from 2015 states that mobile screen use in the U.S. increased from an average of 0.8 hours per day in 2011 to 2.8 hours daily in 2015. This means that a persona created in 2012-2013 highlighted an entirely different user set than what existed in 2015.

An increase of mobile activity frees up the user so that motivations, pain points, and likely identities—all elements of a persona—have changed. Activities and applications that once bound a user to a desktop or laptop (or didn’t exist at all) have become the norm. Smartphone users are now everywhere. As the number of mobile apps and activity increases, the smartphone’s ability to provide a wealth of experiences has become something that users expect.

Looking at the persona of a smartphone user in 2013 may paint a picture in which a Delight existed. But when that persona is revisited during the 2015-2016 creation process, the Delight may have moved to a Basic need. Therefore, to ensure the persona allows your design team to start with a clear picture of who your users will be, new research and persona updates are needed.

Kano Can Keep You Moving Forward

What the example of the progression of smartphones illustrates is that we need to be aware of how movement based on the Kano model can alter everything within a persona. We must observe and interview our user/customer base at least once a year as technology progresses and features that used to delight users become the norm.

The Kano model can help keep your personas fresh, which wards off stale or dated designs and highlights big Delights. The next awesome new product can’t be far behind.