Curing the disease vs. treating the symptoms: Why good UX intentions can fail

Let’s start off by first saying this: nobody ever sets out to intentionally create bad UX. But it happens. A lot! Even with the best of intentions, people can make really bad decisions regarding the UX of their products. Here’s why.

 “Nobody complains about our UX, so it must be really good.”

Sound familiar? Well let me tell you, in the 13+ years that I’ve been designing stuff, no human being ever will file a bug specifically about UX issues. NEVER. Why? Because UX problems are difficult to describe in a bug report. Maybe bug tracking systems should be improved so that these kinds of issues can get properly recorded, but that’s a different problem. People will usually just file issues around things that are technically broken, a button not working or a service being down, because it’s easier to describe and no one has time (or patience) to write out thoughtful bug reports. Perhaps even worse, the CS reps that people interact with won’t bother figuring out how to file UX issues, and just tell customers to fill out a “feature request form” or something like that. I personally had that experience recently with Adobe, and it sucked.

Become the doctor for your product

How often do you go to the doctor describing your symptoms? “I have a cough that’s been going on for weeks” or “I have pain in my knee when I move my leg in a certain way”. And then after describing what’s going on, your doctor will do a few different tests to examine your condition, and then give you some determination of what’s going on. Maybe the diagnosis is different (and less severe) than what you expected because you spent all night reading WebMD and freaking yourself out. Maybe not. But being a UX designer is sometimes like being a doctor, and your patient is the product. We have to do things to study the problem the patient is having, and provide recommendations that do more than just treat the symptoms.

Addressing UX symptoms can lead to systemic problems in your product

But treating symptoms is easy to do. You can get results faster, and the patient can show some improvement sooner. And if the patient is improving, it’s all good, right? Well, not exactly.

A recent article ( described “UX debt” (in a far better way than I would’ve written about it). You should read it if you haven’t yet. I’ve personally raised issues like this with former employers, that the decisions we’re making today may help us for the moment, but we’ll incur problems down the road. This is precisely why treating the symptoms of a problem and not “curing the disease” can ultimately lead a product down the road to failure. You end up incurring a kind of “debt” not unlike technical debt. In order to maintain a consistent experience, you may need to preserve decisions that were not meant to be sustained throughout the product, which can then create a track record of product releases that never really fulfill the right customer needs and resolve the problem space.

Good UX design is about curing diseases

The best UX designers seek to cure the disease and not just treat symptoms. They are tenacious and unwavering. Compromise does happen, but they don’t give up on the vision. They dream big, and figure out the small steps to get there. After all, you wouldn’t expect anything less, would you?

Thanks for reading.

Curing the disease vs. treating the symptoms: Why good UX intentions can fail

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