What are anti-personas and why are they important?

Can we always guarantee that our users are the people we’re actually targeting?

We’ve all heard of personas – the people who we expect to use our products and services. But can we always guarantee that our users are the people we’re actually targeting? Of course not!

Here we’ll be exploring ‘anti-personas’ – including the various different types and why they’re more important than you think.

What are anti-personas?

Anti-personas are the people we do not want using our product.

From vulnerable children using a parent’s phone, to the pirater stealing online content – these are the user scenarios that UX designers are trying to prevent. In some cases anti-personas don’t even realise they’re not your target audience – yet they will insist otherwise and complain.

Designers create an anti-persona in the same way they would a normal persona. They use the same template and present the same research around their name, job, goals and lifestyle. The only difference being we need to understand why our anti-personas use our product, so we add their motivations and the consequences of their actions.

Here are three different types of anti-personas we may encounter and why we need to exclude them.

Scenario one: the reviewer

‘The reviewer’ is not your typical user and is certainly not one you aimed to design for. Yet these users are persistent and will use you only for your content. They’re also unlikely to actually buy anything from you, but if they do – they’ll do nothing but complain and then share their experiences online with the whole world.

Let’s say you’re a company selling advanced mattresses. Some mattress types suit some people but not others. Your company is the expert in this scenario and you should be guiding users on which one is right for them. The last thing you want is someone cranky from not sleeping leaving a review because you sold them the wrong product. You need to own who you’re targeting and ensure they’re buying the right product.

Scenario 2: social media and the stalker

Social media is a great tool to connect with friends, family and those with similar interests. The thing about the internet is that we’re often in the comfort of our own homes when posting this information. In an instant we can upload what we’re eating, how we’re feeling and where we are.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about when personal content has gotten into the wrong hands. In this instance, our anti-persona could be a stalker. Looking at every photo belonging to a user, as well as every comment, their location… everything.

Whatever their intent, our designs need to protect users. Features like privacy and security are paramount to social media products. They provide the foundation to all future changes.

Facebook prompts users to double-check their settings to keep their information private

Scenario 3: the child and the dosette box

Consider a dosette box, a small device which allows users with a lot of medication to plan for a week, or month at a time.

A dosette box. Photo credit: City, University of London

One advantage for older users is that they’re easier to access than traditional medical bottles. But these users often have grandchildren and the medication can often looks like sweets!

We as designers now face the challenge of allowing an adult into the box, while keeping children’s hands out. The consequences of a child accessing a month’s worth of medication at once doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, we need to accommodate for both. We need to be able to keep children out of the dosette box.

User journey of a child finding their grandma’s dosette box! Grandma might not be so aware next time.

Why is it important to consider anti-personas?

Ignoring anti-personas can have severe consequences – for our target users, our business and, yes, even our anti-personas. But a business with a strong focus on its customers and their experience is one with fewer bad reviews. This is also good for your teams as it provides them with a mission, and the guidelines on how to reach your business goals.

Marketing your product in an honest way which says “Hey – we’re not right for you!” is just as invaluable for your user experience. Users are more likely to trust a business that is open about their strengths and weaknesses. An alternative experience is one where users feel lied to or cheated out of their time and money. An anti-persona isn’t going to know the product wasn’t right for them, but what they will know is how to tell the world about their bad experiences with your product.

Knowing who your users aren’t is as beneficial as knowing who your users are. Every product targets some people but not others, and this is okay! This maintains scope and provides a focus for your product.

Think about your users in the real world and the people they interact with… do they have children, or pets? Tech adverts show this happy go lucky world where all users are perfect and happy. A world where delivery drones aren’t stolen. But we don’t live in this perfect world yet. There are malicious people out there.

So treat your anti-personas just how you would your personas; be specific, review them regularly and design for their needs!

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