Intive Blog

The UX Debt: When an Application Is in Debt to its Users

In the world of software development, the “technical debt” concept is well known: the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

The girls in the UX team (Sole Mari, Romi Gómez and Euge Torres) explained us that we can apply the same logic and link the concept of technical debt to user experience design. So, in addition to the all too familiar phrases like “Let’s leave it for the next release,” “We will improve that later,” “We don’t have resources,” “There’s no time for that,” “We are on a tight budget,” we can add:

  • The mistake of thinking that we can train the user (for example, in internal projects)
  • Mistaken assumptions about users
  • A complete lack of knowledge about the user
  • Changes in user needs or expectations over time

The UX Pyramid

Where do we place the “UX debt”? How do we measure it? If we take the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and turn it into a UX pyramid, as in the image below, we can say that:

  • The lower layers of the pyramid represent everything the user finds reliable or useful.
  • As we go high up the pyramid, the layers represent more subjective expectations: a more enjoyable and convenient user experience.


Reducing the UX Debt

Knowing that the UX debt exists is the first step towards reducing it. We should always consider UX as a continuous process, integrated into every project and involving all areas of development. Still, the challenge is to find the business viability of a product that’s easy to produce and desirable for users.

The issues that may arise along such process are lightened when the whole team gets involved, from research, product concept and design, to user testing.

Needless to say, it’s a continuous workflow of trial and error and for that we need metrics, such as the following:

  • SUS (System Usability Scale)

This is a methodological tool to measure an object’s, device’s or application’s usability. Users are asked to answer 10 questions on a scale from 1 to 5.

  • Recommendations: NPS (Net Promoter Score)

This is used to measure the customers’ loyalty towards a company based on their recommendations. Users are asked how likely they are to recommend a certain product or service to their peers, on a scale from 1 to 10.

  • Satisfaction: CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score)

This is used to measure the customers’ satisfaction with the service they received, on a scale from 1 to 100.

  • SEQ (Single Ease Question)

After a usability test, users are asked to tell whether it was easy for them to execute a certain task, on a scale from 1 to 7.

  • Error Rate

It’s the average rate of errors made by users as they executed a certain task.

  • HEART Framework

It’s a series of user-centered metrics developed by Google. The name stands for Happiness, Engagement, Adoption, Retention, and Task Success.

Why It’s Convenient to Reduce the UX Debt

There are many benefits to reducing the UX debt.

  • Business gains:
    • Increase in number of conversions
    • Increase in sales
    • Attracting new customers
  • Gains related to the company’s image:
    • Increase in customers’ loyalty
    • Increase in users’ satisfaction
    • Improvements in brand image
  • Gains for the development team:
    • Greater productivity
    • Development efficacy
    • Better product quality

Thanks to the presentation delivered by the UX team, we were able to understand that working to reduce the UX debt will result in less efforts committed to customer support, less time devoted to user training and a better use of development resources. In this way, we can help reduce the complexity for the user as well as the uncertainty we face when launching a new product.

Paula Becchetti

Paula is the editor of intive’s blog. She holds a degree in Audiovisual Communication from Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) and is a Content Manager specialized in blogs, web content, email marketing and social media. Her extensive experience in the software industry makes her very valuable when it comes to translate technical content into a colloquial language. According to her own words: “I connect with the world through technology, but also through everything that breathes, sport, music and my travels.”

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