If you look up Archetype in google, you will find that a simple definition of Archetype is that it's "a very typical example of a certain person or thing.", and going on you c an also see it defined as "an original that has been imitated". That seems pretty straight forward.
When you refer to archetypes in the design world, you often can't help but avoid the topic of personas. A persona is a profile document of a fictional person that consists of a compilation of the main qualities, characteristics, goals, frustrations and other possible data points of a target user group or archetype for an interface or design. The purpose of personas is to reduce data to usable sizes that are both representative and workable.
When it comes to building personas for a product, it makes sense that we'd want to build our product to meet the needs of specific users without paving the way to "feature bloat". Further, the purpose of personas is to reduce data to usable sizes that are both representative and workable. To create personas that would imitate specific user groupings, should we sit down at the computer and throw our personas together based on our loose assumptions and general understandings of our users without putting forth a little bit of up-front research and due diligence? Hopefully your answer to this question is no.
In order to create a "very typical" user persona (or role for usability testing), we need to do a bit of research. Usability testing, contextual research, and surveys will help us best understand how to appropriately create a archetypal user pattern for use in communications and design.
This term generally carries a whole host of negativity along with it. For example, how many times have you been flipping through channels, to come across an older lady with curly hair dressed in dusty 1950's cloths and carrying a bible. To top off this visual, you see that she is angry about someone doing something wrong!
As a Christian, I notice this all the time AND yes, for me it is an insult. You've probably encountered some stereotype at some point that has been either personally offensive, or that you have found uncomfortable.
I like to think of stereotypes as simply uneducated guesses based on the person's own subjective reasoning and pasts experiences.
Making Sense of this Phenomenon
Like every lie, there are general truths that can be found... But let's put that phrase completely behind us when looking to improve our design or user experience skill. To avoid offending folks, make sure you are basing your personas, role, and/or profile types on facts.
If you take one thing away from this article, it's that our decisions for grouping (or pigeon-holing) should not be taken lightly, otherwise, you run the risk of producing a product that is either ill informed and doesn't meet appropriate need, or even worse... making enemies with the business that you are designing for.
Keep your grouping informed and respectful to the groups you are design for. keep it positive and up-beat without crossing any lines.
- Google search term "Definition archetype"
- Google search term "Definition stereotype"
- Concepts from "About Face 3" by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and David Cronin
- The Devil's Advocate (1997), Mom has the truth, on anyclip.com