Common Problems with User Personas

We know that the User Persona can be an incredibly useful tool when embedding UX design philosophies in your business. Unfortunately, we also know that developing high quality user personas can be time consuming, expensive and a bit of a PITA. This leads to cutting corners on the development of those personas and this in turn leads to flawed personas which don’t quite cut the mustard when they’re needed. Here are some of the most common user persona issues:

The Quick Fire Persona

Design research isn’t just a cost and it doesn’t just take up time; worse it requires that you persuade someone with control over money and time in your organization to spend those things on research. Then there’s the minor problem that the return on investment for such efforts doesn’t turn up instantly. It takes a while before the benefits are embedded in the organization and you can get the calculator out to show how much they’re worth.



Author/Copyright holder: YaaL. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0


You need lots of data to develop a good user persona. If you can’t get that data – you tend to cut corners. A user persona developed in 2 x 10 minute phone calls with users is not going to do the job properly. Yes, it’s better than nothing but not much better than nothing. How well could you get to know anyone in 10 minutes, let alone develop a clear insight into a group of people from that chat?

The We-Made It Up Persona



Author/Copyright holder: CannedTuna. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Even worse, there’s the user persona that doesn’t contain the slightest shred of user data. These are often created from raw data provided by marketing or customer care. In the absolutely worst cases they’re created in a room full of people from the company making stuff up as they go along.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because UX research matters. If your products don’t meet the needs of your users then your products suck. Sucky products have a tendency to follow the dodo on the way out of the evolutionary ladder. These persona issues are the first sign that your company’s not getting things right.

Why bother at all if your data is rubbish? User personas need to fully inform all the design team about what’s important to your users – if you don’t know what’s important to your users; don’t design a user persona anyway – skip the step. Did we really just say skip user personas? Yes, but only in the instance where they will be worthless.

It would be a much better idea for you to spend some time building the business case for good user personas (something we will look at soon on UX Daily) and selling the benefits to your organization. You want personas that lead to great products, not personas for personas’ sake.

Yes, research costs time and money. Yes, it takes time to show an ROI. No, that doesn’t mean you can skip research and churn out results as though you’d done it. If you don’t want to do the research. Don’t abuse the persona system – it’s not worth it and not doing them will save even more time and money as you build products that your users have no input into.

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