Debunking five common UX myths that I hear most often

October 28, 2018 | 7 minute read

User Experience Design


Stakeholder Management

Image credit: @picjumbo

Earlier this year, I conducted a workshop on how bioinformatics core facility managers could get started with user experience (UX). Since many of the participants were unfamiliar with UX, I decided to list out some of the common UX myths and misconceptions. Not surprisingly, many of the participants initially believed these myths to be true.

And so, I thought I’d share with you the five UX myths I hear most often and how I debunk them when talking with clients or giving workshops.

Myth 1: UX isn’t quick and will slow down my team’s workflow

It’s true … a substantial portion of my time is spent finding the right users that are willing to participate in research and usability testing activities. Sometimes it can take weeks just to find these users - and then another couple of weeks to create a schedule that works for everyone. And so, I’m very upfront and honest about the fact that proper, well-done UX does take time.

But I also stress that the vast majority of organisations already have considerable amounts of data that can be used for UX purposes. Take for example support tickets. You can review the content of these to understand common pain points, workarounds, and the overall journey a user takes when interacting with your website or service. Similarly, website analytics can also be used to understand the overall user journey and where specific pain points might be causing a drop-off in users or higher non-conversion rates.

While existing data will not paint a complete picture, it offers a great starting point for analysis and understanding. For teams that are short on time, I always say that by reviewing existing data, they can move on to the analysis stage and start to generate actionable insights and research artefacts relatively quickly.

Myth 2: UX is expensive

Similar to the myth #1, I’ve had many clients tell me that they believe that UX is expensive. For teams with limited resources, UX is often competing against other resource needs like additional engineers. And to be frank, investing in UX is sometimes lower priority, particularly in teams that have little to understanding of it.

Yes, UX is an investment and has a resource cost. But it actually reduces development, support and maintenance costs because it leads to better product/service decisions. And in fact, I’ve been on project teams where my UX work has reduced the amount of time spent developing platforms and services that are poorly used or features that are never released.

For example, during a user research project for one of the UK’s leading training institutions, I discovered multiple user needs and pain points that were not addressed with the current workflow. The institution was prepared to spend more than £20,000 on a system that would not address these needs. Based on my research findings and report, they saved that money and instead focussed on understanding how to better support their academics with other services.

And similarly, UX can also increase user satisfaction and retention and can improve brand recognition and loyalty. Users tend to like slick, well-designed, easy-to-use platforms and services and if they find one that meets their needs, they’ll most likely share it with their network and become an ardent champion of your product/service.

So yes, while UX does come with a cost, it actually reduces costs and the need for resource allocations in other areas while also providing opportunities to increase key strategic metrics.

Myth 3: UX requires experts

Okay, I’m going to let you in on a secret and kind of talk myself out of a job …

Getting started with UX does not require an expert. Free training courses and a raft of quality blogs mean that anybody can begin to engage with UX. Combine that with lots of free sources for everything from design and research software to icons and colour palettes, and it’s never been easier to get started.

So why do you need a dedicated UX expert?

Well, some UX professionals bring a fluency in all things UX and are all-around generalists while others offer subject-specific expertise (e.g. interaction design for e-commerce). Personally, I specialise in helping organisations weave together their broader organisational strategy with technical realities and a solid understanding of user needs, expectations, and motivations.

And so, while having an expert is preferable, if resources are limited, there’s no reason why teams cannot and should not dabble in a bit of UX and take advantage of all the great resources available at the click of a mouse.

Myth 4: UX is just for the web

This is one I hear quite often when talking to businesses and organisations that either have dual web/in-person services or primarily offer in-person services.

They can appreciate that UX can be used for their website and are eager to use it to increase conversions and revenue. But when it comes to their in-person services, they don’t think the same principles will apply.

But here’s the thing … core UX principles and practices can be applied to both web platforms and in-person services. Regardless of whether you are designing a mobile app or a pop-up retail experience, focussing on your users and their needs and motivations is key to success.

Need proof of a service that used UX principles to make a radical change?

Take a look at the Starbucks mobile app, which allows users to place their order on their phone and pick it up minutes later. Before the app, you would have to go to the store and stand in the queue to order your beverage. Not anymore … no more standing in the queue for your 8am latte!

Not surprisingly, the app was a direct response to various user needs - from users who didn’t want to stand in line to store managers that improve their employee scheduling and costs. And it has completely overhauled the in-person customer service experience at Starbucks stores.

Myth 5: I don’t need UX because I know my users

This is perhaps the most common myth I hear, but also the one that is most dangerous when left unchecked or uncontested.

You cannot assume what you think the user wants is what they actually want - if you don’t engage and test your assumptions, you risk creating a service or product that nobody uses!

The most dangerous implication of this myth is self-referential design, which is just a fancy way of saying that you design software based on what you would like as a user. This happens often in teams where there is little understanding of actual user needs and motivations. Instead, the team relies on abstract notions of what they think a user needs or what they themselves would prefer.

Yes, your use case for a platform or service might just be one of the many use cases. And yes, it could represent the majority of your users.

But it could also represent an edge case for less than 2% of your user base. And spending considerable time and resources to address a 2% edge case could mean than the majority of your user needs aren’t met and that could lead to lower download, use, and adoption rates.

So, what’s next?

Do I expect to hear variations of these myths in the future? Absolutely.

Do I think these myths will disappear overnight? No.

Are there other myths that impact UX understanding and adoption? Definitely - check out a list of the most-popular UX myths for more examples.

But I think the five I’ve noted above are the most important ones to debunk. They are the ones that I’ve often heard from senior stakeholders who ultimately sign off on a UX project.

And I’ve always believed that by helping debunk the myths that they may have, I’ll build a network of UX champions that can make it much easier to push for the adoption of UX into design and development workflows at an organisation-wide level.