July 2009


Picture 1Even though their vision of the future is only 11 years away, it saddens me to see that the entire human population has been reduced to 15 personas.

According to Ericcson – the company behind the Sony Ericcson phone that just scored a $5 billion network outsourcing deal from Sprint and a $1.7 billion link with China Mobile and China Unicom – those are the personality types that will live and breathe our world in the years ahead.

It’s all part of their 2020 website, a slick, predictive look into possible technologies in the years ahead. A collaboration between McKinsey, the Institute for the Future in California and the Copenhagen Institute For Future Studies, 2020 is, in its defence, a designer-centric glimpse ahead – and we all know that lots of designers (and others) love the simplicity and focus of the persona.

I’ve raised the rally cry against the persona before. Some joined me, others sat by to watch me savaged by the orthodoxy of product & service research. Now, I fight mujahideen style – biding my time, patiently waiting to pick off those trucks that lag behind the military re-up convoy. Until then, I watch the 37-year old space engineer from New Zealand, the 17-year old student from Uganda, the 86-year old Japanese retiree, the 25-year old waitress from Ukraine.

These and 11 other personas make up the population of Ericcson’s 2020 Planet Earth. It is one of the most impressive persona-based projects ever – a hint at how lives, professions, experiences and geographies might intersect with a series of digital and other technologies to make life better, easier and more simplified.

Perhaps it’s the simplification of 2020 and personas that gets my back up against the cave as I watch those trucks roll by, driven as they are by Japanese retirees and Ukranian waitresses.

The research I don’t really question although, to my knowledge, there is no transparency to how these data and foresight giants collected – or what they collected – information on social trends, economic trends, tech sustainability and other metrics. It’s the simplicity or, better yet, the sterility of these personas and their futures that I dread. Having just finished reading Frank Herbert’s Dune for the third time as well as enough Silverberg, Heinlein, Simak, Ballard, Pohl, Asimov and others over the years to fill Carl Sagan’s universe of billions and billions, I know that the future is messy, longer than a paragraph and populated by characters whose lives are more complex than the direct line from customer behavior to customer need.

It’s also populated by so many more personas. Given that this is a project sponsored and led by a major corporation, it’s no surprise that some of today’s social marginals have fallen off the future-population radar to keep things bright and shiny. Skip the hacker persona, please. It doesn’t distract from the fact that, at Ericcson, the world is populated by people who seem more like their from the Veer universe than the future.

Where are the whores? The drug dealers? The people with disabilities? The porn stars? The guerillas? The mystics? The cross-dressers? And, most glaringly omitted of all, the artists of music, dance, theatre, film, paint and pen? If Silverberg, Simak, Heinlein, Ballard, Pohl, Asimov and Herbert are to be believed, these are where the next ideas, the next movements and the next cultures will gestate from.

I appreciate the old Brazilian farmer and others like him. They do speak to struggle of the economically marginalized and, as such, I will let them pass by my cave unharmed. But unless, like technology eleven years from now, these personas evolve to better reflect real people rather than customer scenarios, I’m locked & loaded.

converse_all-starsAccording to popular consensus in my daughter’s graduating Grade 6 class:

For the boys: Skinny Jeans, Fedoras, Flat Braid Hats, Vans, Colourful Nikes, Hoodies, Pink Stuff, Plaid Shorts, Hollister, Abercrombie, American Eagle, Converse.

For the girls: Colourful Sunglasses, Leggins, TNA Sweaters, Skinny Jeans, Graphic Tees, Flat Braid Hats, Scarves, Tank Tops, Sparkles, Neon Colours, Fedoras, Converse.

Talk about a polysemic and enduring brand: I rocked my first pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars in grade 9 when those of us who were into skating and/or punk rock style clashed with colours. Mine were green (first pair), purple (second pair) and white (third pair). Chris G. and Robinson K. were similarly engaged in the footwear battle. From the piece of crap ball shoe that ruled the hardwood before Nike got in the game (sorry Chuck, your support was and still is nil) to the choice of the boys in the hood on the Left Coast to grade 6 girls rocking them with their grad dresses a la Kristen Stewart, you gotta give it up for a brand that’s managed to stay in the game with its original DNA still intact.