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5 Ways to Communicate With the Anti-Persona

Learn how to identify your less-than-ideal users and communicate with the customers you don’t want.

The “anti-persona,” or an exclusionary persona, has such a heavy, negative connotation to it. But in reality, anti-personas are useful and positive; they help teams mitigate potential risks and learn how to interact with their less-than-ideal customers. 

As a user researcher, product manager, designer, or anyone who works in UX, you’ve probably spent countless hours perfecting a user experience. The last thing you would want is for your product to fall into the wrong hands.

The anti-persona is helpful for creating user experiences with guardrails for potential risks and product misuse. If you’re really ambitious, you can even learn how to strategically communicate with not-so-ideal customers and turn them into potential customers. 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What are anti-personas?
  • What information does an anti-persona include?
  • Why you need to address the customers you don’t want
  • 5 tips for communicating with anti-personas
  • How to use anti-personas 

What are anti-personas?

If your ideal customer profile (ICP) is the customer that you want to target, the anti-persona is the exact opposite of that. The anti-persona is a fictional (although research-based) archetype, just like user personas. 

According to the Nielsen Norman Group

“An antipersona is a representation of a user group that could misuse a product in ways that negatively impact target users and the business.”

Not only is an anti-persona someone who isn’t part of the target customer profile, it’s someone who might misuse the product in a way that it’s not intended for. Sounds like common sense, but the anti-persona is not to be confused with people who just aren’t a part of the ICP.

The key differentiation with anti personas is that this group of people use the product in a way that misrepresents the original use of the product and the target users.

The anti-persona can be visualized in a fluid document that outlines their characteristics, including intrinsic motivations, behaviors, and more—similar to how a persona document would outline details about the ICP. 

👀 Here’s an example of what an anti-persona document might look like:

In the simplified example above, Jimmy Harris’s intention is to steal sensitive information like credit card numbers to steal ATM users’ money. Obviously, the intended use of an ATM is to simplify bank transactions and make it more accessible for the bank’s customers, but Jimmy Harris is misusing ATMs for his own personal gain.

Jimmy Harris is not only excluded from the bank’s ideal customer profile, he’s part of a group of people that brings harm and threat to the bank’s customers, the bank’s reputation, and the use of ATMs.

Jimmy Harris might evolve and his intentions or intrinsic motivations may change as he finds new ways to steal personal information from ATMs. That’s why it’s important to keep a pulse on the anti-persona and consistently update your anti-persona insights.

📕What are personas? Learn more about personas in the User Interviews’ Field Guide chapter: User Personas for UX.

What information does an anti-persona include?

Anti-personas might contain similar information as regular personas, such as demographic information. But the key to creating a real, useful anti-persona is to include information that provides deeper insight into the anti-ICP’s mind.

❓To create your anti-persona, you should consider collecting information like:

  • Name and face: Give the anti-persona a real name and face so the threat feels more human and real.
  • Goal: What does the anti-persona want to do that threatens the intended use of the product? 
  • Motivations: What drives the anti-persona to achieve their goals? What are their intrinsic motivations?
  • Actions: What kind of actions would the anti-persona take to achieve their goals? Are they premeditated or spontaneous?
  • Tools: What kind of technology or materials would the anti-persona use to accomplish their goal?
  • Needs: What are the needs of the anti-ICP that drive their motivation and goals?
  • Consequences: How will the target users and the business be impacted if the anti-persona achieved their goal?

🤷‍♀️ Don’t know what a persona document looks like? We created a personas template that you can piggyback off of to start creating anti-personas.

Why you need to address the customers you don’t want

Unfortunately, you can’t just ignore anti personas or brush them off. Failing to manage anti-personas can alienate your existing customers, resulting in:

  • Negative user sentiment
  • Increased stress among team members
  • Poor reviews of your product or user experience

It’s important to understand when anti-personas come in handy and how to strategically use them to inform your product strategy and your target users’ needs. 

🗣️Clearly communicating who your product is for and who it isn’t built for can help position your product or business as trustworthy. The onus is on the business to communicate the intended use and audience of their products.

IRL, developing anti-personas makes sense when the wrong people use your product or service for the wrong reason. For example, let’s say you created an app or mobile service targeted towards adults (21+) with mental health issues. The first potential risk that comes to mind is information security and sensitivity. 

What if your target user is surrounded by young, vulnerable children who tend to use their phone to watch Cocomelon, or they just happen to get their hands on their phone by accident?

The nature of mental health topics may be too heavy, complex, and inappropriate for young children. In this situation, the young children may be the anti-persona for this mental health app geared towards adults. It’s important for the designers, product managers, and other individual contributors of the mental health app to build a user journey with guardrails considering both the anti-persona and the ICP.

There’s no use in keeping bad-fit customers around, but it’s not a great business move to ignore these customers either. Ignoring the anti-persona would be like ignoring a small cavity. At first you don’t realize it’s there, but the longer you ignore it, the bigger and more aggravated it becomes (and if you’ve ever had a root canal, you know that letting a cavity go untreated can lead to seriously painful consequences).

Don’t let the bad-fit customers fester like a cavity. Instead, turn this ill-sentiment into an opportunity to do them a service. Explain why this product might not be the best fit for the anti-persona so they can go find something better for their use case.

According to Andrew Michael, the CEO of Avrio,

“So there's ways that you can still come to the table with trying to be supportive, but ultimately just being transparent with the end user and say, okay, this is not what the product has been built for. If you figure out a way, let us know. We'd love to hear any suggestions, but it's not something we have immediately on the roadmap or something that we're going to be supporting.”

🔑 The key to communicating the ill-fit of the product with the anti-persona is to be transparent. Be clear about who the product is intended for and what pain points the product is meant to address. 

At first, it might not be easy to reject a certain population that could potentially provide revenue for your company, especially if you’re just starting to find product-market fit in the discovery phases of building a product. But weeding out potential misuse cases from the beginning will help inform your next steps for the product—and ultimately protect your business in the long-run. 

💡 5 tips for communicating with your anti-persona:

1. Avoid being stereotypical and surface-level.

It’s easy to start stereotyping a group of people and confirming personal biases you may have about the anti-persona. But ultimately, every user is unique. We can’t reduce or simplify the social world through sweeping generalizations about a specific group of people, whether it’s the ICP or the anti-ICP.

According to,

“UX teams need to guard against assumptions and rely on real data in order to solve problems for people.”

The anti-persona is a group of real people who present real threats to your product or ICP. It’s important to consider the nuances of both your ideal persona and your anti-persona: 

  • What makes them so special and unique? 
  • What are their intrinsic motivations that differentiate them from their surface-level characteristics?

Surface-level characteristics can range from ethnic race, demographic data, socioeconomic status and more. This is information that doesn't give too much qualitative insight about the anti-persona’s ulterior motives, thought processes, or feelings. That’s why it’s important for user researchers to dig deeper into anti-personas’ unique identity and understand how the anti-persona can impact the business, the product, and the target users.

2. Understand who can benefit from the anti-persona.

UX researchers are not the only ones who might find anti-persona insights useful. In fact, anti-personas are useful for design teams, product teams, and other team members who don’t have direct interaction with the users.

Any stakeholder or client should be able to take a look at the anti-persona document and understand the type of user you are creating guardrails for. An anti-persona document should be able to give enough insight about the undesired group of users to the reader without needing to meet them.

Keep in mind when you’re creating the anti-persona, it needs enough qualitative information about the hypothetical archetype to help other teammates form a full understanding of the anti-persona archetype.

3. Validate your anti-persona through user research.

As always, we believe wholeheartedly in talking to your users directly to get the best user insights. But in this case, it might not make sense to talk to a group of potential anti-ICP users and observe them misusing your product. It’s not like you can ask some hackers or scammers to misuse your product online while you sit and observe. 

Instead, start investigating with a few users to test your anti-persona hypotheses. Usually, you can start gathering information about your anti-ICP by talking to these groups of people:

  • Former customers who no longer buy your product
  • Customers who leave complaints and poor review ratings for your product/service
  • Users who follow and support you online, but never buy from you

4. Explain why the product isn’t right for the anti-persona.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important not to alienate a group of people from your product. Focus on the saying, “It’s not you, it’s us.”

Try not to blame the anti-persona for their characteristics, motivations, and behaviors. Burning bridges with user groups isn’t the best look for your business. Instead, focus on explaining why your product isn’t a good fit for the anti-persona.

5. Never say never.

Once you’ve done the due diligence to research your anti-persona, it’s easy to form the narrative that this specific group of people is our sworn enemy. Maybe you’ve seen the anti-persona in action and had to deal with the consequences of their product misuse, so now you’re convinced that the anti-persona will never be the right customer.

In reality, while it’s important to honestly communicate with your current anti-persona that right now might not be the best time or place for them to use your product, who knows how it will evolve in the future? Are you sure you can never reach this type of customer?

Never say your product will never be for a group of people. That’s why it’s important to schedule in reviews and audits of your anti-personas to see if they’re still relevant. 

As your product continues to evolve, so do your users. Maybe a specific group of people are not your target users at the moment, but as your product matures and improves, your old anti-persona might shift from anti-ideal user to target user.

Keep your communication open with all groups and understand the right time and place your product can serve your users—but never say never.

How to use anti-personas to inform your ICP, product, and design strategy

A great way to use the anti-persona is to keep in mind the various user journeys that might result in misuse of your product by the anti-persona. Anti-personas are meant to raise awareness of major risks that your team should strive to mitigate and also potential clues about how to mitigate them.

This preemptive approach to product misuse takes these questions into consideration:

  • Who are you not targeting and what actions might this group of people take with the product?
  • What does the anti-persona user journey look like? 
  • What can you do to prevent the anti-persona from going down that user journey?
  • What changes in product design, marketing, and strategy do you need to make to make sure the user experience is tailored for the target user and leaves no room for misuse?

Here are some common anti-personas to look out for:

  • The thief: The anti-persona that attempts to acquire sensitive information from a product without permission
  • The illegal content creator: Those keyboard warriors who damage the user experience with hate speech or inappropriate content that promotes violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of illegal content.
  • The “fake news” sharer: There’s always someone who spreads disinformation. Misinformed users can negatively impact users’ perception of your brand and break their trust.
  • The child: Children nowadays have such easy access to products, services, and online information. Think about how your product might either physically or emotionally harm a child.

Start with these common anti-personas to help you form more specific, detailed anti-persona profiles that are tailored with your product and your target user base in mind.

Minimizing misuse of your products with the anti-persona

The anti-persona is a great way for organizations to anticipate and mitigate risks that might happen when the wrong people use the product in the wrong way. Even if there is a minimal chance that an anti-persona could misuse the product, it’s still important to preemptively design guardrails and prevent the product from falling into the wrong hands.

Our suggestion is to use anti-personas in tandem with your ICP or personas. Build a living, breathing library of insights about your best customers and your less-than-ideal ones to help you create user experiences and products that are truly user-focused.

📕Need help creating research deliverables that are templatized, easy-to-use, and pre-made? Check out our Guide to UX Research Reports and Deliverables to help you communicate user research findings with your stakeholders and wider team!

Rachell Lee
Copywriter at Seamless.AI

Rachell is a SEO Copywriter at Seamless.AI and former Content Marketing Manager at User Interviews. Content writer. Marketing enthusiast. INFJ. Inspired by humans and their stories. She spends ridiculous amounts of time on Duolingo and cooking new recipes.

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