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3 UX Mistakes That Can Lead to Project Nightmares

By Dan Scalco
April 19, 2017

Each component of a company’s site design contributes to the user experience (UX), or the overall impression a brand imparts on its audience through digital interactions. Avoiding the three common UX mistakes outlined in this article can save a web design project from complete disaster.  

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Perhaps more than anything else, user experience (UX) contributes to a customer's impression of a company's brand. Because of this, UX deserves ample attention and consideration.

Despite its importance, for many companies, UX represents something of an afterthought — an added bonus if there’s money left over in a design budget after product development and marketing.

This “leftovers” approach to UX is misguided, particularly when marketing is privileged over UX. After all, every point of interaction between a business and a customer qualifies as a marketing experience: to ignore poor user experience is to risk poor impressions of your company. 

Generally speaking, a customer experiences a brand holistically, and every aspect of a customer’s experience plays a role in their impression of a brand. Thus, each element of a site’s UX should be developed with the goal of achieving a positive impression

Good UX design, though, is no easy task to accomplish. There are a number of simple mistakes that companies commonly make that jeopardize their entire design.

Below, I detail three mistakes that have the potential to wreak havoc on a design project. I also present solutions to these mistakes, in an effort to help a company create an optimal experience for its audience.

Mistake #1: Compiling UX Debt

One problem that plagues many UX designers is UX debt.

Essentially, UX debt is an extension of “technical debt,” a term that refers to “those internal things that you choose not to do now, but which will impede future development if left undone,” as described by Ward Cunningham, the man who coined the term.

Joshua Kerievsky, CEO of Industrial Logic, a software development consultancy firm, extended the application of this concept to UX specifically. The “debt,” as it applies to poor UX, is eventually paid through customer dissatisfaction and dropping retention rates.

A recent example of UX debt can be found in users' response to the 2017 redesign of LinkedIn after its acquisition by Microsoft.

Overall, the user response to LinkedIn's new design has been downright antagonistic, despite news articles and paid media that argue in favor of LinkedIn's changes. In particular, users took umbrage to certain feature changes, claiming that they became unintuitive, and to other issues, such as slow loading times.

LinkedIn UX Debt Image

The lack of positive response to LinkedIn's design rollout represents UX debt that LinkedIn now must address. To be fair though, some debt is inevitable with a design project.

The work of most UX developers is set according to tight deadlines, which often leads to functional, but imperfect, final products. New products typically demand iterative behavior – small adjustments after the initial launch – and to be honest, there’s not really anything wrong with the approach, as long as any UX debt is addressed before it dramatically affects the customer experience.

The real problem with UX debt arises when the debt overwhelms developers to the point of interfering with their primary design work.

One unique solution for UX debt can be found in the methods of daPulse, a project management vendor that invented the event “Cheese Day.”

Cheese Day occurs when a development team blocks off an entire day to mitigate UX debt. They prepare a list of cheese (“cheese” is industry slang for UX annoyances) they want to tackle and provide fancy cheeses to the team for their efforts.

The approach allows daPulse not only to address UX challenges all at once but also to create a unique company culture: two birds with one stone.

Mistake #2: Mismanaging Client Expectations

Another common UX mistake companies should avoid involves mismanaging client expectations, a mistake with broad applicability outside of UX.

What makes mismanaging expectations particularly deadly in a UX context is the role client expectations play in UX design. Managing client expectations is perhaps the root matter of UX, in that the main function of UX design involves setting expectations about what a developer can provide for her clients.

The main issue at play when setting client expectations for UX is striking a balance between collecting client input and meeting deadlines. Both of these elements are necessary for successful UX design, and yet, if the balance goes too far in either direction, it can shipwreck the project.

If a client is allowed to tweak the project at every stage, nothing will ever get done. At the same time, it’s entirely necessary to have regular client input and feedback, otherwise developers are relying solely on their instincts, which, however good they are, will never be able to intuit a client’s every need.

Client Expectations UX Quote

A prime example of this mistake, and best practice for resolving its root cause, can be found in a UX Magazine story about a designer at Thinktiv, who had to deal with a client constantly impeding progress because he couldn’t remember the day-to-day decisions that were made.

Given this scenario, one possible solution may be simply to structure feedback more rigorously. Set regular sessions where the work is presented and explained, and between each session, rely on your knowledge and experience to flesh out the UX vision that your client has in mind.

Mistake #3: Failing to Perform Thorough Usability Testing

All the communication between your client and you won’t amount to anything without the collaboration of the user. Thorough and standardized usability testing—having actual users, not designers, come in and test your UX—is one way to integrate user input in the design process.

Usability testing gained traction among UX designers with the advent of data-driven design. At this point, it doesn’t make sense anymore to create user experiences that aren't based on data.

A famous example of the importance of usability testing can be found in the story of the $300 million-dollar button.

In brief, a large and well-meaning e-commerce company put a registration form in front of its customers between adding an item to the cart and checking out. They assumed this would make it easier for repeat customers to streamline their purchasing process.

However, a major and hidden side effect was that the first-time customers hated having to register before making their purchases. As one user put it, “I’m not here to be in a relationship, I just want to buy something”.

The fix for this problem was easy: the company simply changed the “register” button to “continue,” and reassured their customers that they did not need to register to make a purchase.

Based on this change, sales skyrocketed, and the site made $300 million more than they would have otherwise.

The message, and the benefits of usability testing, are outlined here in simple terms: test your assumptions with actual users; don’t guess or think you know what a user wants.

Final Takeaway

UX design occupies a core part of the development process and may have the biggest impact on how customers experience a company’s brand. However, UX design also is an incredibly complex and difficult task, so mistakes are common and easy to make.

Three mistakes in particular—compiling excess UX debt, mismanaging client expectations, and failing to carry out usability testing—have the potential to totally upend a design project.

However, companies that are willing to invest time and resources to address and find solutions for these mistakes will benefit in the form of favorable impressions from their customers.

Dan Scalco

Dan Scalco is the founder and director of marketing at Digitalux, a full service digital marketing company located in Hoboken, New Jersey. He is a Search Engine Optimization, web design, and conversion optimization expert, with experience marketing products and services globally (B2B and B2C). When not helping clients, Dan writes for Inc, Entrepreneur, Business.com, and the Huffington Post. You can connect with him via TwitterLinkedIn, and Facebook."

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