Eliminate UX Debt — Improving Consistency & Usability — Part 1

A Few Quick Words

When Adobe wanted to expand beyond photo editing and join the page layout market in 1994, it acquired the company Aldus and its product, Pagemaker. They repeated this strategy in 2005, acquiring Macromedia and its numerous software applications — including Flash, which had become a very successful web platform.

Classifying UX Debt: An Overview

First, let’s define UX debt.

  • Time to market — A company might release a product with design debt to meet strategic timelines. For example, Series B startup might release an imperfect mobile app to better position themselves for a faster Series C investment.
  • Focus on new features — A company may decide a “critical mass” release of robust features for a new product is required to gain market share. The team will then schedule design debt cleanup for later sprints.
  • Separation of design and development — When UX is treated as an island, design debt is inevitable.
  • Design by committee — When design leadership needs to satisfy everyone’s requests, the product becomes convoluted. The inconsistency creates UX debt.
  • Lack of access to end-users — If the product team can’t test concepts with end-users, the design is educated guesswork at best.

Technical Debt

Stop and think about the times developers asked for compromises or shot down your designs citing technical limitations.

  • Performance
  • Hardware
  • Database
  • Security

Functional Debt

Functional debt is usually the result of naturally-evolving shifts in requirements (i.e. technology changes, customers needing new capabilities, features added to attract a wider customer base).

Behavioral Debt

Behavioral debt specifically refers to the behavior of the user interface. It’s often a symptom of functional debt, but worth categorizing separately to afford more granular prioritization.

Photo credit: Amanda Linden. Quickbooks before her redesign. A good example of additional tabs required to support more functions.

Visual Debt

Teams with poor communication between developers and designers are especially prone to visual debt.

Documentation Debt

It is imperative that a team leaves behind a visual and written history of its thought processes. Otherwise, the only record of decisions is the final product.

Documentation and asset management in UXPin

Conclusion

Like a financial loan, UX debt should be proactively avoided and diligently reduced when possible.

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