At Mad*Pow’s Health Experience Design conference, Jenka Gurfinkel gave a Lunch and Learn on reclaiming technology as a means of health. In her talk, she revisited the topic of UX cruelty. This (typically inadvertent) practice results in millions of poor user experiences – all because the designers are more focused on “delight” than compassion.
I’ve shared my own experiences with poor UX causing unnecessary stress (though luckily not trauma), and recapped Mike Monteiro’s perspective on UX choices. But there’s more we can do.
How do you prevent UX cruelty – no matter how inadvertent it may be? Here are three tips.
1. Learn (All) Your Audience’s Goals
This may sound obvious, but too many products begin with an exciting “what if people could do this?!” – instead of “I’m hearing from our target audience that they need to do this.”
What’s more, your audience has multiple goals. Yes, some Facebook users want to upload photos automatically. But others (or even those same users) want to keep some photos private. So the key is to learn not only the convenient goals, but all your audience’s goals.
2. Be Honest About Your Business Goals
Most companies hate to admit that one of their goals is to make money, or increase their user base. I don’t blame them! There are plenty of companies putting profit above user needs, which makes smart businesspeople squeamish about the m word.
But not talking about business goals isn’t the same as not having them. And if you don’t acknowledge that you want to (for example) make money, then you’re more likely to overlook the situations where the audience’s needs are at odds with your business.
The better situation? Create a safe space, where you can admit to your UX team that one (or more) of your goals are profit-driven. Be honest about how high of a priority that is, and how much you’re willing to sacrifice short- or long-term to work well with your audience. Ultimately, barring a truly evil business plan*, user experience and profitability should go hand in hand. When UX cruelty rears it’s head, it’s often due to short-sighted decisions, such as using dark patterns to keep users from unsubscribing, or falsifying metadata in the hopes of drawing more organic traffic. (Hint: that doesn’t endear you to your audience, or keep them around!)
3. Build User Flows
I can’t figure out when user flows stopped being so popular. I think the decline began when designers began doing more digital ideation. There is no perfect online tool for user flows – plain old sticky notes are still the best option.
Regardless, thinking through multiple user flows is the best way to catch possible cruelty. When you walk step by step through the flow your audience will take, you’ll start thinking about what they want, and what they’re feeling, at each moment.
Prevent UX Cruelty
I mentioned “safe spaces” earlier. I believe that if we’re more willing to acknowledge our biases, and actively look for new information about our audiences, we’ll be able to create better, more empathic experiences.
*If your business plan involves harming people, then yeah, there’s not much honesty can do to help you.