Why most UX is shite


Why most UX is shite

I was invited to speak at the


event this week where getting a little sweary and ranty is kind of encouraged (it goes well with the craft beer consumption that is an integral part of the conference mix). This was my contribution.


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leisa reichelt


When I checked the agenda to see what I was supposed to be talking about at Monkigras, I saw that I was down to talk for 15 mins about ‘Crafting Good UX’. Where to start. I suspect James expected me to come up with something like this post that ReadWriteWeb published the day before my talk:

Five Signs of a Great User Experience

If you’re interested, the five signs (aside from simply *being*


), are:

  1. An elegant UI
  2. Being Addictive
  3. A Fast Start
  4. being Seamless, and
  5. It Changes You

I hate these kinds of lists. You look at them and you go – yes, that makes sense doesn’t it. We just need to do those things and we’ll have great UX. Simples.

If only that were true, we’d be overwhelmed by UX amazingness. Instead, here we are, using the same handful of good examples in ever conference talk or article written about User Experience this year.

It’s not that simple right. So, I changed my topic to ‘Why Most UX is Shite’. The audience was people (especially developers) from start ups, open source and enterprise software – I figured this topic would probably resonate with them.

Now, there are plenty of ways you can make a user’s experience of your product rubbish, but in my experience, there are a handful of serial offenders. These are not things you can add to the backlog and bug fix next week, but if you know what they are you can stop wasting time fiddling around with things that, ultimately, don’t matter if you don’t get these other things right.

1. You’re not making decisions (so you force the people who use your product to make them instead)

So, this one I see ALL the time.

From a start up who doesn’t want to rule anything out of its value proposition so doesn’t really know what it is so, as a consequence, no one knows what problems it’s solving so they don’t engage. To open source software that tries to be Rails and WordPress at the same time and is consequently a usability pariah. To a page that is so full of content with no hierarchy, or a form with too many fields, meaning the customer gives up and goes somewhere that makes mores sense.

Decisions like: WHAT A COMPANY STANDS FOR, or WHAT WILL NOT BE IN THIS PRODUCT, WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE ON THAT PAGE TO DO, or WHAT THE BEST PERMISSIONS SETTING FOR MOST PEOPLE. These decisions don’t get made, and these are reasons that people look elsewhere.

You can’t designs something if you don’t know what it is. If you don’t have constraints or priorities.

Here’s the choice – YOU make your end users choice easier and you’ll have more customers.

This starts at the top. What does your company do and not do. What does your product do and don’t do.

Get a vision already.

These decisions don’t happen because people and companies are too gutless to make them and to potentially be wrong.

From a UX perspective you are BETTER to make them and be wrong and then make a better one based on what you’ve learned than not make them at all. Preferably in testing, BEFORE you inflict it on your paying customers.

In reality tho, most people are much more interested in their own careers – not being wrong and getting a bonus – than they are in really delivering good user experience for their customers.

2. You think your opinion counts (unless you’re the end user, it probably doesn’t)

You can probably get all pedantic on this with me, but but make sure you understand the point I’m trying to make here.

As a designer, there are two sets of people who will influence you: the end users you’re designing for, and the stakeholders who you work with every day, who you want to impress and have a good working relationship with, who will write your performance review and recommend you get a bonus, or not. Who will think you are cool in the open source community or a pain in the ass.

End users who you probably don’t get to see all that often, co workers you see every day.

Which do you think will have most influence?

I would LOVE to believe that all designers are able to put the end users needs ahead of their own personal ego, or their end of year bonus, but, let’s be realists. If you’re my boss and I know what’s going to please you, your opinion is going to be influential. Chances are strong this is not going to lead to your product having better user experience.

If you’re not an end user of the product (really), or your not regularly talking to or observing your end users to understand how to design for them, seriously consider holding your tongue rather than giving your opinion.

3. You don’t measure it (you’ve probably not even defined metrics for ‘good experience’ let alone tried to gather data for it )

You hear talk of the ROI of design every now and then but in reality, Most organisations do very little about trying to measure how well they’re doing in giving their customers or end users a good customer experience.

Most companies have no clue about the acquisition cost or lifetime value of their customers, who their most valuable customers are, what behavioural characteristics map to high value customers. This is because, historically, we do functional accounting rather than customer centric accounting.

Most companies don’t have good acquisition metrics or retention metrics or engagement metrics, let alone cohort analysis.

Sure, there are lots of challenges in measuring User Experience, making numbers of it, but it’s super important. Your Net Promoter Score is only going to get you so far.

if you REALLY want to craft good UX you need to understand what people are doing and why, how effective your current UX is and what difference an investment in improving it could have. In NUMBERS. because, really, that’s what companies care about.

4. You don’t really care (companies who really care shape their organisations, their accounting systems, their culture around their customers)

This brings us nicely to the nub of the issue. Most companies don’t really care. They pay lip service to UX because everyone has started saying that UX is important and because apps like Path look cool don’t they? We need to look more like that.

Why can no other company do design like Apple despite lots of companies doing their utmost to rip off the iPhone?

Because the iPhone is a symptom of a company that massively cares about the user experience that their customers have with their products. Apple structures the operations of its entire organisation to support the creation of these kinds of products.

This is not new, we know this, right? but how many big corps do you see trying to copy Apple’s organisational structure, or the way they do communications and accountability, or where design sits in the organisation?

Pretty much none. Because there are too many people in cushy management jobs who have no clue how to operate in this new kind of environment and are too pleased with their current set up to make such big changes. And because most companies are too scared of what shareholders would say about making such radical changes that will cost money in the short term to make money in the long term (I give you Apples most recent balance sheet in response to that argument).

At the end of the day, most managers care more about this stuff than they do about UX. End of.

The UI is a symptom of organisational culture – you need to get beneath the skin to craft really, sustainably good UX

There are no Five Simple Steps to making your UX fabulous, there is no simple fix. All of these things are hard and most of them start much higher up in the organisation than the average UX designer ever gets to.

Good UX is cultural. If you want to hire a freelancer to ‘do UX’ , it’s like putting a plaster on gangrenous leg.

good organisations so we can design good User Experience

If you want better UX, stop looking at your design team and whichever new sexy UI you’ve seen this week, take a long hard look at your organisation and whether it caring about UX is part of its cultural make up and what evidence there is, beneath the interface, of this being true.

Go design some good organisations so that we User Experience people can make you some properly good UX.



Running Lua on Heroku



Why most UX is shite