user experience

Why most UX is shite

I was invited to speak at the MonkiGras 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.


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* Path), 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.

Design 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.

46 thoughts on “Why most UX is shite

  1. Great article ! Thanks for saying it out loud. You describe exactly what frustrates me the most.
    At the end the boss wants a shinny trendy UI and sell it like the ultimate UX to the client.

    I agree on your point of a customer-center business culture.

    1. @AlastairC: My opinion is that you don’t need UX people at the top, but you do need management that realise that the customers generate value for the shareholders, not the other way around.

      Simply put: try to please the customers, and the shareholders will be pleased in the long term, but try to please the shareholders, and the customers will leave.

      The tricky part is when the customers and the users are different people – which is one of the reasons why internal company tools like time management applications are generally UX failures. It looks good for the procurement department (the customer), but is shite for the user.

      1. Customer vs. User – this is what I see very often. You sell to service provider a solution which is used by end users – customers of your customer. Even more, company in which end customer works is buying service from your customer.
        Means in order to sell you need to convince service provider’s management, give them tool that let’s them convince end customer’s management and then on third place you often have criteria for convincing end users, yes, this makes your work better.

  2. You thought i expected a trite top five list? Thats funny. I got what i what i knew i would get.. a fiesty contribution

  3. Thanks for raising important issues such as this one Leisa. Keep ’em coming. I’ve been lucky that I could work with organisations that understand these things. But also those that don’t get it yet. The difference it makes to one’s ability to design ‘properly good UX’ is immense.

  4. Great article, you just won a corner in my heart. Same with sustainability, a company’s understanding of UX can’t start at looking at your website design or electing a sustainability responsible. Organizations have to incorporate these on every level to serve today’s discerning consumers…

    Your 4. point is really the core of the problem. If an organization isn’t user-focused from top to bottom, any design will be flawed and synergy of elements will weaken.

    Would love to see an article on other companies with good “UX” – good organizational structure promoting user-centered thinking. Is Zappos one of them?

  5. Yes I have seen the bad cultures where UX just dies or is just given lip service. It’s a shame. As an external consultant, I do feel guilty when the seed of UX practices fails to take hold. But then its often due to lack of resources or a cultural willingness to at least “give UX a go”.

    I do wonder what there is an external can do besides having lots of plasters. I suppose we could pick out projects more carefully, so we have greater success. But sometimes that’s just not possible.

    Leisa any idea on influencing the culture to seed change in the short term.

    Good article, will recommend.

  6. This article will make a lot of people tearful about having shitty UX job in a shitty company.

    To others it’ll be a call to action to step up and make good stuff happen.

  7. Hi Leisa, your article sounds reasonable and I agree throughout most of your statements. The question for me is now, how to get abstract thinking turned into real action. For example the NUMBER thing. Measuring is important – no question. But how?

  8. Thanks for the great post. You’ve said, clearly, some things that clearly needed saying.

    If we really care about user experience then we need to set about creating organisational change.

  9. There’s very little to disagree with in this. But then again it’s a bit like saying modern society is rubbish because of capitalist alienation, wealth disparity and poor social cohesion. The question is what you do about that. Although of course being able to name the problem areas is a good start. So big up Lisa, booyaka and all that.

    BTW am I right in thinking that Netflix is no longer the UX darling it once was? Any theories on why?

    1. I love this post. Love, love, love it.

      Answer for @Jonathan: what you do about it is find a like-minded person or two and start your own company (in your spare time if you must), and then smoke everyone who’s fumbling about doing it wrong.

    2. This is a smart post and a smart response from Mr JJB.

      To be ever the controversialist I am currently constructing a riposte, based on my adventures in UX and more recently as a client side pointy headed boss type. Now I have something to “aim at” this could be fun :)


  10. “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.” <<< Spot on, great article.

  11. I think all UX stuff discussion – what works and how works has come to an end with FB. FB interface is practically used, and not theoretically, by almost all common internet users. These users, when they visit another site, expect to find similar ease of usability. Not finding that they ditch a site. Comments have been the largest internet activity and still is, and most sites now use FB comments. Though I wish FB was not equal to internet, that is what is becoming now. To prevent that we really needed something fresh and totally new in UX and content.

    BTW, why don’t you have G+ button?

  12. Bravo! You write so clearly about thorny and some times politically sensitive issues companies face.

  13. At the end of the day, decision makers in companies do not really care about their users’ experience. They care about turning them into cash. So they will stick with “what works” instead of “what works better.”

  14. Well.. A-effing-men to that. Talk about hitting the nail on the head.. That has to be the most perfect rant I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

  15. Excellent post, as usual u got the key ideas and presented then in a truly simple way. I find it funny because somehow they all seem to reveal a type of character that’s oh so unfortunately present – arrogance wether its developers or even managers that refuse to to analytical work to sustain their beliefs. To me the most important attribute for a good UI is the empathy of those who created it towards their future users.

    Thanks for sharing Leisa ;)

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