User experience designers employ personas — imaginary individuals whose characteristics are based in research — to represent archetypes of their target audiences. It is a method that can help in the development of digital history projects, too.1
For the Latvian Baptists in America project, I have defined two initial audiences. The primary audience consists of descendants of the immigrants who settled in West Philadelphia. The secondary audience is the larger Latvian community in the United States and beyond, particularly those persons who have an interest in maintaining their cultural identity.
The persona created for the primary audience is named Jane Pearson. For the secondary audience, it is Jānis Bērziņš.
Name: Jane Pearson
Demographic: White female, 52, married, two grown children. Middle-class assistant manager in a small suburban business.
Descriptive title: Amateur genealogist
End goals: Pearson wants to learn more about her family’s history, and she is interested in making connections with others who share her passion about the Latvian side.
Quote: “I want to know more about my family history. Maybe one day I will visit Latvia, too.”
A day-in-the-life narrative: Pearson and her husband, who works in a finance company, spend weekdays at work. In the evenings, after dinner, they like to relax by watching TV or by walking around the neighborhood and chatting with neighbors. Pearson for the past several years has been exploring her family and her husband’s family tree. Several times a week she spends time on the computer updating her family tree on Ancestry.com, where she offers her expertise to others who might be wondering how best to locate information online or are wondering what to do with old photographs and documents. Pearson considers herself quite familiar with a computer and with using online genealogical resources. (As of 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, internet use is at 64 percent of U.S. residents age 65 and older, and 87 percent of those age 50-64.) She knows how to scan and create PDFs, and has uploaded a number of images to her family tree on Ancestry.com. Because she does not speak Latvian, she has had to rely on others to translate documents for her, but she has contacts in the post-war émigré community who can assist.
Name: Jānis Bērziņš
Demographic: White male, 74, born in Latvia in 1942. Retired mechanical engineer. Middle class, suburban.
Descriptive title: Active ethnic
End goals: Bērziņš wants to help maintain Latvian culture. Even though his homeland is free, he doesn’t plan to repatriate. It is important to him that the story of Latvian history be told.
Quote: “If it’s Latvian, I support it. We have to keep the culture going.”
A day-in-the-life narrative: The Bērziņš family left their homeland when he was three years old, fleeing the Soviet army. They spent time in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany and, in 1951, came to the United States. Bērziņš earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a public university in the northeastern U.S. He met his wife, Mirdza, at a Latvian community event. They raised two children and are now grandparents. Both of them remain active in Latvian community events, although the number of people attending these has dwindled over the years. Bērziņš every day checks up on news through various internet portals from Latvia and stays in contact with friends and family through Facebook. He’s not particularly involved with family history, but all things Latvian interest him. He considers himself a Latvian patriot and attends November 18 (Latvian Independence Day) commemorations every year at the Latvian Lutheran church. He and Mirdza have been back to Latvia four times since the country regained independence in 1991.
1. See, for example, Schlomo Goltz, “A Closer Look at Personas: What They Are and How They Work (Part 1),” Smashing Magazine, accessed March 2, 2017, https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-1/; Schlomo Goltz, “A Closer Look at Personas: A Guide to Developing the Right Ones (Part 2),” Smashing Magazine, accessed March 2, 2017, https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-2/; and “Personas,” usability.gov, accessed March 2, 2017, https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/personas.html.