The Anti-Death Guide to User Experience Debt

Over the course of many years, the concept of technical debt has been an important focus for both developers and management, as it can have far-reaching consequences. Deferring repairs and adaptations with the idea that it will be addressed later can result in a significant problem that becomes difficult to manage. If left unaddressed, this situation may escalate, causing security threats, bug issues, and even damaging or destroying new features due to the collapse of the figurative mountain of technical debt.

Addressing technical debt is crucial when developing an application, as users will not remain loyal to a software that is unstable or fails to function as expected. Although, this is not the sole factor that determines whether people will opt to use a software; in the contemporary era of User Experience (UX) design, users anticipate a pleasant and functional experience.

As a result, the concept of user experience debt is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern software development circles. What is the reason behind this trend?

What is the simple definition of UX debt?

UX debt is a term used pertaining to the technology debt applied to the user interface of a software. It is crucial to note that design is not only about the visual appearance of a software, but also the combined components that constitute the design. These include the clarity of information provided, interface performance, loading speed, user-friendliness and accessibility.

Most companies have UX debt, comparable to technical debt. Acknowledging the existence of UX debt means that the user experience is not yet ideal, and users should not be content with anything less. However, documenting UX debt should not be seen in a negative light, as it indicates that the company is conscious that there is room for improvement and intends to resolve these issues in the near future.

It is crucial to invest in keeping track of UX debt because the effort expended in doing so is pointless if time is not allocated to plan on how to address it. Before we delve into a potential sequence of steps that can aid in achieving a more ideal UX for your products, let us consider the current state of affairs.

Effective UX Management

Introducing UX debt management to your development team may potentially create some tension. It is anticipated that product designers and managers may have opposing perspectives on the best approach to take, with designers striving for a more polished solution, and managers prioritizing functionality over aesthetics. Overemphasizing the design of the product may lead to an aesthetically pleasing but ultimately ineffective outcome. Conversely, overly focusing on the technical aspects could result in a functional yet visually unappealing product.

Before proceeding with the project, it is crucial to consider stress levels. Doing so allows for the establishment of a harmonious balance between a design’s aesthetic quality, features, usability, and performance alongside the project’s coding requirements. This equilibrium may lead to the accumulation of user experience debt (UX debt) as certain user experience enhancements are forfeited. In light of this, how can this knowledge be utilized? The following steps provide a guide:

1. Keep a record of UX debts

Keeping a log of any unresolved UX issues is the best approach to track your obligations and establish a foundation for an optimized product. Similar to technical debt, having a backlog of pending issues can provide significant benefits.

To achieve the intended result, it is crucial to comprehend the UX debt incurred during the development process. Two possible outcomes may arise. Certain user experience (UX) features may have been intentionally excluded due to the significant amount of time required to implement them. On the other hand, it is conceivable that only after the product has been launched, it becomes apparent that certain aspects of the user interface were not correctly executed. In this case, the issue was not identified before the release of the product.

Handling the two underlying issues requires a distinct approach. While both obligations may need to be met eventually, it is important to differentiate between a selfless effort and a team error. Developing a User Experience (UX) debt backlog can be advantageous in pinpointing problematic areas and correcting any previously overlooked issues.

2. Prioritize the debt.

Depending on the development process, it is possible to accumulate either a small or a large amount of UX debt. What should be the first steps taken to address this? If the situation is straightforward, it may be possible to tackle the problems on an as-needed basis. However, in reality, UX debt is often a complex and intricate issue that necessitates an organized approach to resolve before any substantial progress can be achieved.

Having identified the problem, the wisest course of action is to tackle the issues that pose the greatest difficulties for users, particularly those affecting the most important aspects of the user experience. While it may be acceptable to tolerate a minor inconvenience within a menu structure, a payment gateway form that leaves customers feeling confused is unacceptable. The former may be deemed irritating, but the latter could result in customers discontinuing business with the company.

As you advance through the development of new iterations and apply patches, you will undoubtedly discover additional items to be added to your UX debt. It is critical to be systematic and thorough in your approach when reprioritizing tasks, as failing to do so may result in pressing matters being pushed down the to-do list and not receiving the attention they require.

3. Make an effort to pay off your debt.

If you have ever been a member of a development team, it is probable that you have anticipated this result: without everyone working in unison to rectify the issues that have been identified, making progress will be challenging. This applies to both user experience debt (UX debt) and technical debt.

Contemporary development teams frequently have difficulty distinguishing between front-end and back-end responsibilities, resulting in back-end specialists being assigned to front-end tasks, as well, causing problems when attempting to enhance the product’s user experience. Such individuals may not have the necessary expertise to accomplish this goal.

It is vital to address any pending debt in a timely manner and involve your most experienced front-end engineers, as they can comprehend the significance of a visually appealing user interface. If you lack an appropriate specialist in-house, consulting external experts may be advantageous in quickly resolving any UX debt and gaining insight into new techniques.

4. Do not ignore feedback.

Design reviews may appear superfluous to some individuals, but they can be exceedingly advantageous in the long run. It is critical to bring the entire team together to review the finished product as a whole. Moreover, the conversations that occur throughout the review process provide an excellent opportunity for the team to establish relationships.

Two aspects of these evaluations should be taken into account. Firstly, they may serve as an official statement indicating that the product is ready for launch. Second, bringing everyone together for a review may lead to minor disagreements. It is crucial to enable these discussions to take place and actively listen to what is being expressed. Such an assessment not only provides a chance to improve the company’s culture but also to identify any previously undiscovered areas for improvement.

In the Realm of User Experience, Being Entirely Debt-Free is Unattainable.

We aim that by following the four stages detailed above, you can keep matters under control and maintain the UX debt at a manageable level. Kindly note that we do not imply that creating a perfect UI/UX for software is possible; only that it can be optimized. This is due to a combination of two distinct factors.

There is often a divergence between our desired user experience (UX) and what is technically viable, creating a predicament where we may have to trade one objective for another. Moreover, UX trends are constantly developing, leading to not only a UX debt but also necessitating continuous adaptations to keep pace with these changes.

Being proficient in user experience (UX) debt is a pivotal aspect of product development that necessitates more than simply learning rules. Balancing the needs of designers, developers, and users is a complex undertaking, contingent on the specifics of the product, the target audience, the people involved, and other external factors. It can be challenging, but with practicality and a solid structure in place, it is undoubtedly attainable. For more insights, you can refer to our article on how to assemble a winning team of user experience designers.

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