User Persona Design changed the tide of War

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User Persona design can be used to gain empathy and maintain understanding of a targeted fictitious user, whether this is to design a website, phone app, business process software, or to design a major component of a critical disinformation operation in the Second World War that lead to the defeat of Hitler, in true James Bond style, let me explain…

Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat was a British dis-information plan, it’s main objective was to cover up the location of the allied invasion of Sicily, by allowing Germans to intercept top-secret documents. Thus giving away faked details of the allied war plans.

Dis-information and the leaking of fake documents was all the rage in 1942, but operation Mincemeat was a little different. The plan was to make the faux documents as believable as possible by going to extraordinary lengths to create a scenario that was undeniable.

The idea of the faux documents being found with a dead allied soldier was extreme. But this was the deception planned by the allies, the body proofing the legitimacy of the faux documents.

The original concept of a fake body technique was apparently co-penned in the Trout Memo document by Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of the Naval Intelligence Division and his personal assistant, Lieutenant Commander Ian Fleming, who would go on to create the much-loved James Bond spy series.

The Trout memo was sent to Winston Churchill and outlined ideas of deception,  next to one technique was noted “A suggestion – not a very nice one” –  going on to detail that allies could drop a dead body into the sea in the guise of an allied troop, shot down over enemy territory. The body would give the faux documents a high level of validity.

User persona design

To enable such a grand deception the allies mobilized a team to design the persona of the dead body, which included factors such as his Bio, His Scenario and Artifacts:

Bio

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Naval Identity card
  • Name – William Martin
  • Rank- Acting Major, Combined Operations, Royal Marines
  • Age – 34, born 1907
  • Location – Cardiff, Wales
  • Status – Engaged
  • Religion – Roman catholic – this was important as the allies plan to drop the body off the coast of Spain, and the Spaniards, as Roman Catholics, were averse to post-postmortems.

User Scenario

The user scenario is that the soldier must have flown from Britain and crashed at sea. The solider needs to have appeared to have died at sea. Presumably after several days at sea the body would float onto the beach and be found.

Military Intelligence had to find a body that matched all these factors, including death by hypothermia and drowning.

Artifacts

Along with the documents the allies planted artifacts to further validate the soldiers life:

  • Love letters from his girlfriend
  • Letter from his father
  • Letter from Family solicitor
  • Correspondence from Manager of Lloyds Bank, demanding payment of an overdraft of £79 19s 2d (£79.97)
  • Book of stamps
  • Silver cross and a St. Christopher’s medallion
  • A pencil stub
  • Keys
  • A used twopenny bus ticket
  • Ticket stubs from a London theatre
  • Bill for four nights’ lodging at the Naval and Military Club
  • Photo of his fiancée “Pam”
  • Jewelry bill for an engagement ring

 

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Martins Girlfriend Pam

 

The detail that went into the persona creation was meticulous even down to designing whom should find the body, the allies targeted a specific career minded German Intelligence agent in a specific location.

It was reported the staff enjoyed the process of design, and they’re was much competition to be the dead man’s Fiancée.

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Glyndwr Michael alias William Martin

The body was floated by submarine off the coast of Spain, the body and documents seized and the operation was a complete success, the outcome was that Hitler moved troops, including Panzer Divisions to counter the faux landing location, changing the face of the war and Operation Mincemeat is regarded as one of the major factors that led to Hitler’s defeat.

Author: Anthony B

UX Designer working in Lincolnshire.

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