Bloated, perpetually unfinished products are endemic to the software industry. Building gee-whiz features on top of a product whose core functions are broken is like building a skyscraper where each floor is missing half the girders. If we built skyscrapers like tech companies build software products, every day would be 9/11.
And yet tech companies pull this crap all the time. It’s like the people in charge have the attention span of toddlers. The idea of refining the existing product rather than building shiny new features seems to bore them. The UXDesign.cc article offers some explanations that seem suspiciously like excuses to me. I will go over each of them.
“Users are asking for features, and the product team is accepting their feedback directly.”
I actually have conflicting views on this one. First off, any team that blindly acts on all feedback they receive has no idea what they are doing. Design by customer is like design by committee on steroids. The Henry Ford quote about customers asking for faster horses holds true; most consumers know the benefits they want but not the features that can deliver them. However, in my experience, this doesn’t actually happen that often. In fact, the opposite problem seems to be much more common.
I cannot count how many times I have encountered a product that is missing critical functionality, so I contacted the company and I was told where I could send my “suggestions”. I’m not interested in shouting into a void or having my “suggestions”, otherwise known as demands for a functional product, clumped together with mindless feature requests.
If I am being honest, I think that product staff need to actually be more accessible to the public. They need to stand by their work and explain their design decisions to frustrated users. If they do a shitty job delivering what their users want, they need to be named and shamed. Assuming that public accountability will result in feature bloat is flawed, because designers will face at least as much opprobrium for introducing superfluous features when existing features are being neglected. Why not give it a try?
“Business stakeholders create pressure for constant growth, leaving the design team scrambling for new ways to generate revenue.”
If my responsibility is to design the product, and you tell me that you want me to create new revenue streams, you know what I’m going to tell you? Create a new product and stop trying to bloat my product. If you task me with making a good product, I’m going to make a good product, even if that means telling you no. And let’s be real here. The inability to say no is the reason UX designers find themselves piling on pointless features, that is assuming it wasn’t their idea in the first place.
I have discussed at length the problems caused by flooding the industry with low-quality designers from “boot camps”. In addition to their limited technical skills, they tend to have no ability to stand up for themselves or their design work. Strong-willed clients steamroll them. I’ve seen it happen. People whose entire design experience happens in the safe space of academia don’t have the hard-knock upbringing endured by those of us who worked our way to the top and they don’t know how to deal with resistance.
More than anything else, though, the degrading of the UX profession in general is contributing to a weakened bargaining position for all UX designers. A proliferation of entry-level designers who mindlessly do whatever is asked of them conditions management to expect compliance. The perception of UX designers as unspecialized code-graphic-UI monkeys weakens the cohesion of UX teams that would be necessary to resist bad decisions from on high, because UX staff without delineated roles will fight over the rewarding or easy work.
“The performance of the product team is evaluated by the number of features it delivers as opposed to the relevance of those features for the end users.”
I’ll come back to Steve Jobs’s thoughts on the subject:
“Focusing is about saying ‘no’.”
Nobody seems to have the guts to simply say “no”. While the aforementioned low-quality designers certainly cannot be expected to stand up for themselves, and degrading perceptions of the UX discipline may cow even intermediate designers, these are still no excuse. You need to set expectations at the very beginning when you’re looking for a job: your loyalty is to the user experience which means that you will reject any feature requests which compromise that experience.
I don’t get how anyone can be ok with being “evaluated by the number of features they deliver”. If my client complained to me that I wasn’t giving them enough features, I’d offer them my resignation, because I know the value of my work, and I know that I chose to spend my billable hours refining what is already there rather than piling more junk on top of it.
Moreover, it is your responsibility to deliver this value. Get hooked into the metrics of your product and demonstrate how your hard work and limited focus have increased user retention, created sustainable profits, and increased shareholder value. Work extra hours creating proper visual documentation that allows ready evaluation of the product’s functionality and enables you to discuss product-related decisions lucidly. If you aren’t advocating for your profession, you are betraying the rest of us, and I’ve got no sympathy for you.