Amlan Sarkar

Types of UX debts and how it is incurred

What is UX debt?

UX designers are under perpetual pressure to regularly come up with new features and functionality. The tight deadlines and some irrational project constraints often leads to launching a user interface abruptly. Such hasty launches are usually done without considering the ideal solutions and the best approach. Due to the pressure of the scheduled timeline, UX designers adopt shortcuts that compromise the quality of the final product. As a result, the product falls short of the desired standard. These shortcomings are often dismissed with the casual mentality of promising to fix the problems at a later date. If not addressed on time, such issues cause severe discontent with respect to user experience. Accumulation of such unresolved problems over a period of time is termed as ‘UX debt’.

An analysis of the concept of UX debt

‘Debt’, as we all know, is a sum of money that is owed or due. Similarly, ‘UX Debt’ refers to products or services that are owed and are to be paid at a later stage. UX debt is incurred when the design and development decisions of a UX development agency fall short of the intended standards. Consequently, such decisions negatively impact the users and creates dissatisfaction among them. On one hand, UX designers are aware of the fact that they could have delivered a better package in terms of the quality of the products or services. On the other hand, the users may feel that they are being made to go through an inferior quality of user experience. It is termed as UX debt because, if the shortcomings were duly taken care of before the actual launch of the user interface, the cost could have been much lower. The cost of fixing the problems after the release of the application is always higher than what it could have been prior to its release.

Types of UX debt

UX debt can be broadly classified into two categories: intentional and unintentional. While UX designers must strive to minimize intentional debt, curbing unintentional debt requires a much more proactive approach.

Basic reasons for incurring intentional UX debt

  1. Market Compulsion: Sometimes, UX design agencies launch a product or service hastily with the full knowledge of its inherent imperfections. This is done to meet strategic timelines where the agency is competing with another better-placed agency. If your agency can launch a product ahead of your competitor you can gain a strategic timeline advantage over your rival. This is an example of incurring UX debt intentionally.

  2. Capturing Market Share: At times, you want to garner a fair share of the market in advance with the view of launching new and attractive features in near future. It is with this perspective in mind that agencies sometimes release their products prematurely without incorporating the ideal solutions. Again, this is done purely to capture market share in advance and is a major example of intentional UX debt.

Basic reasons for incurring unintentional UX debt

  1. Syndrome of too many cooks spoils the broth: Design decisions involve inputs of various team members. However, the project head needs to know which inputs are relevant and which are not. Trying to accommodate all inputs leads to confusion and results in complications in the product. These inconsistencies cause unintentional UX debt.

  2. Lack of information about the end user: It is in the best interest of UX design agencies that they get the required information about the end-users. The design concept should pass the test of the end-users. If you are designing a product based on current trends and not actual information about the end-user, you must remember that trends change faster than the blink of an eye. You need to keep your design concept up-to-date with the latest changes. Otherwise, a design concept is an only educated guesswork.

Identifying areas prone to UX debt

So far, we have deliberated upon the types of UX debt and the possible reasons for incurring them. There are certain areas of a UX design that are prone to debt build-up. We further shed light on the areas where UX debt occurs frequently:

  • Buttons, links, and visual styling of the user interface.
  • Navigation structures and content classification within the information architecture.
  • Interaction designs i.e. movement from page to page, scrolling effects, and animations.
  • Accessibility elements such as Text alternatives, contrast, visual focus indicators, etc.
  • Copy, content, and messaging (written text, headlines, and labels)
  • The consistency factor of a customer's journey.

One definite way to detect UX debt is by making use of frequent feedback from the end-users. Frequent user testing also helps identify issues that may hamper user experience.

Final Words

The discussion about UX debt will remain inconclusive until we take a look at the ways and means to prevent accumulation of the same. In the present article, we have discussed the concept of UX debt, how it is incurred, and have listed out the areas prone to the build-up of UX debt. In our next article, we will take an in-depth look at the methods to identify and resolve UX debt.