Create Customer Archetypes

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe how to turn dirty anthropology into deep insight.
  • Define what an archetype is and how to use them.
  • Summarize how to create meaningful archetypes.

Synthesis for Meaningful Insight

So you’ve got hundreds of notes and a camera full of pictures and videos. Now what? Your next step is to draw vital conclusions about who your customers are by organizing and summarizing your findings. Seem like mountains of work? Check out these steps to help you find golden needles in your research haystack.

Step 1: Capture and Cluster Insights

Read through your notes, and look for meaningful anecdotes and what they reveal, such as:

  • Direct quotes that capture emotional or behavioral insight
  • Recurring themes across actions, opinions, pain points, and so on
  • Blind spots—things you were previously unaware of can crack open new opportunities
  • Validation and confirmation of previous hypotheses with evidence

As you find instances of these signs of gold, call them out visually, either on a whiteboard or on the wall.

Two photos: one of boards with images on them, the other hands working together over papers

Step 2: Edit and Refine Your Patterns and Themes

Keep your charter in mind as you refine your insights.

Let’s look back at Aqua Blue and its goal of providing ways to make its guests’ travel experiences effortless and delightful. “Speed, convenience, feeling understood and cared for” emerge as important stakeholder themes.

That’s the low-hanging fruit. Your goal is to also surface those standout observations and patterns that are a good jump-off point for ideation.

For example, after shadowing and interviewing business and leisure travelers, you noticed that about two-thirds of them complain about:

  • Hassles of packing the right thing for the right weather and activities
  • Not wanting to take more than fits in a carry-on suitcase
  • Arriving feeling that they missed the mark and they now need to go shopping

Think about all the insight and opportunity behind such complaints. Hone in on what isn’t effortless and delightful for travelers today.

If you apply these steps, you discover insights that better inform your product design, development, and chances for success. But how do you bring those insights to life for your team?

Creating Archetypes—the Heroes of Your Innovation Story

Person smiling, holding a coffee cup

Archetypes are ageless, genderless representations of “types” of people. The mischievous child is an archetype. The prince is an archetype. When you tell a story and invoke one of these archetypes, your audience understands that character, their attitudes, and behaviors almost intuitively. An archetype in innovation represents a market segment and amplifies a specific behavioral quality.

Examples of archetypes in a business context are DIYers, those who prefer to make their things, and Window Shoppers, whose joy comes from dreaming of all the possibilities rather than doing.

You might be familiar with the concept of a persona and wondering if archetypes are any different. Yes, they are! Personas are fictionalized characters in which primarily demographic characteristics are represented. For example, Aqua Blue talks about Ana, the 30-year-old front-desk associate who also works part time at a dance studio and is getting her Associates degree at night.

Conventional wisdom in leading product development and user research circles is to use archetypes, because they have a bias toward the habits people exhibit when performing tasks. If the goal at Aqua Blue is to design a new way to ensure effortless, delightful arrival, it’s more useful to understand how customers approach the week leading up to and including check-in and getting settled into their room. Identify which behaviors unify them as opposed to generalized stats about who they are.

For example, Aqua Blue synthesizes its findings into three guest archetypes.

  • Proud Planners love planning and organizing their trip, even putting together spreadsheets of activities from the moment they wake up on the day of travel until they arrive back home. They might enjoy the planning even more than the actual vacation itself. This isn’t an effort—it’s an obsession. They believe that the vacation is a success because they worked out everything in advance.
  • Wistful Worriers embrace the idea of travel, but get nervous knowing how much needs to get done. They might ask friends and colleagues for advice before they leave, but it never really eases their mind. Often they arrive flustered with a laundry list of things that have already gone wrong and should have worried more about. It seems like what they love even more that the adventure is talking about the things that could have been better and easier. When it goes well, they become loyal fans.
  • Dauntless Delegators hate the nuisance of figuring out all the details and enlist others to do the work. They leave packing, booking a car rental, researching activities and restaurant choices, and all other planning details to someone—anyone—else. The concierge is their friend. So are Proud Planners. Their true joy is an amazing experience while they’re there and reminiscing about the trip after the fact. (As long as they didn’t need to do any work!)

The innovation team uses this level of behavioral nuance to anchor their app design and user experience to ensure that it delights. Sometimes a team wants to serve all the archetypes, and sometimes you can design for just some (or only one), without disrupting the experience of the others. In this case, which archetypes would you choose to design for? Which represent the best breakthrough opportunity for your organization? Glad you asked! Check out the next unit to find out.

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