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Why Personas Suck

Nosipho Nwigbo
Nosipho Nwigbo
Abstract illustration of how persona creation takes time and introduces great cost
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It’s not a secret, personas suck. They’re pretentious, based on assumptions, and often resemble fictional characters made from free stock images. They can be useful, but more often than not, they aren’t. Businesses pour tons of time, money, and resources into creating these artifacts, yet the reward is minimal. They usually just gather dust on a desk during hot-desking office days. While many advocate for personas, here’s why I don’t.

Personas Cost a Lot of Time and Money

First things first, personas are time-consuming and require significant funds. When informed by actual research, the marketing or UX research team needs to allocate a substantial budget and invest countless hours in discovery research. This involves recruiting participants, conducting in-depth interviews, and meticulously analyzing data from 10 to 30 participants per persona. The process is labor-intensive, often involving multiple rounds of refinement and validation. Despite the rigorous research, the resulting personas frequently fail to justify the investment. The data tends to get diluted and lost when transitioning into fully fleshed-out target groups, leading to generalized profiles that lack actionable insights. In essence, the time and money spent on personas often do not translate into a commensurate return on investment.

There Are Best Practices, Sure, but No Clear-Cut Process

Does anyone really know what they’re doing? The process of creating personas is fraught with ambiguity and inconsistency. After identifying participants and conducting interviews, teams are left with the daunting task of sifting through a mountain of qualitative data. Which pieces of information are truly valuable? How do you distinguish between random character preferences and critical insights that will drive decision-making? There is no universally accepted methodology or clear-cut process to follow. As a result, the data interpretation can be highly subjective, leading to personas that vary widely in quality and relevance. This lack of standardization often results in personas that are either overly simplistic or so complex that they become impractical.

Translating Data into Personas Is Tricky

Even with the best research practices, translating raw data into a cohesive persona is akin to walking a tightrope. It’s all too easy to end up with a caricature rather than a meaningful representation. The process involves distilling complex human behaviors and preferences into a set of attributes that are often oversimplified. We frequently encounter personas with stereotypical traits, like “Tech-Savvy Tom” or “Busy Mom Betty,” which fail to capture the depth and diversity of real users. This reductionism not only undermines the persona’s utility but also risks alienating the audience by reinforcing clichés. The challenge lies in striking a balance between creating a persona that is detailed enough to be useful but not so detailed that it becomes a cumbersome, unrealistic archetype.

Lack of Clarity on How to Use Personas

Once a persona is created, the question arises: what now? There is a significant gap between the creation of personas and their practical application. Many teams struggle to integrate personas into their daily workflows and decision-making processes effectively. The personas end up as theoretical constructs, detached from the realities of day-to-day operations. Without a clear framework for how to use them, personas become little more than desk décor or, at best, occasional reference points. The lack of clarity on implementation means that the potential benefits of personas are rarely realized. They are supposed to guide product development, marketing strategies, and customer service approaches, but without practical guidance, they remain underutilized and fail to inform critical business decisions.

Personas Quickly Become Outdated

In today’s fast-paced market, personas can become outdated almost as soon as they’re created. Consumer behaviors, preferences, and technologies evolve rapidly, and a persona that was accurate six months ago might now be irrelevant. This makes the whole process of creating and maintaining personas a Sisyphean task, where you’re constantly chasing a moving target. The rapid pace of change means that personas require continuous updates and revisions, which is both time-consuming and costly. By the time you update your personas, the market has likely shifted again, rendering your efforts obsolete. This endless cycle of updating and revising personas consumes resources without providing a lasting value, leading to frustration and inefficiency.

Personas Are Often Based on Assumptions

Another critical flaw in personas is that they are often based on assumptions rather than empirical data. In many cases, personas are created using anecdotal evidence, secondary research, or the opinions of a few stakeholders, rather than direct input from actual users. This reliance on assumptions can lead to a skewed understanding of the target audience, resulting in personas that are more reflective of the creators’ biases than the real needs and behaviors of users. The consequence is a set of personas that do not accurately represent the target audience, leading to misguided strategies and missed opportunities. To be truly effective, personas need to be grounded in robust, primary research, which is often not the case.

Personas Lack Flexibility

Personas are inherently static, capturing a snapshot of user characteristics and behaviors at a particular point in time. However, real users are dynamic and their needs, behaviors, and preferences change over time. This lack of flexibility means that personas can quickly become irrelevant as user contexts evolve. In contrast, more dynamic methods, such as journey mapping or ongoing user feedback loops, offer a more flexible approach to understanding user needs. These methods allow for continuous updates and adaptations based on real-time data, providing a more accurate and up-to-date understanding of the target audience. In this regard, personas fall short by failing to accommodate the fluid nature of user behavior.


While personas have their advocates, the reality is that they often fall short of their intended purpose. They are expensive and time-consuming to create, lack a standardized process for data collection and interpretation, and quickly become outdated. Moreover, without a clear strategy for implementation, they fail to offer practical benefits to teams. Personas are often based on assumptions and lack the flexibility needed to keep pace with evolving user needs. Instead of clinging to outdated methods, it might be time to explore more dynamic and adaptive ways to understand and engage with your audience.

Personas can be a useful tool, but only if approached with a critical eye and a flexible mindset. Otherwise, you might find yourself investing in a process that sucks up resources without delivering the insights you need. Before you jump on the persona bandwagon, consider whether it’s truly the best way to connect with your audience or if there might be a more effective approach out there. Embracing more agile and continuous methods of user research can provide deeper, more actionable insights and help you stay ahead of the curve in understanding your audience.


Nosipho Nwigbo
Nosipho Nwigbo

UX Research Specialist

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