UX Design Debt
I’ve recently been toying with the idea of whether the same concept behind Technical Debt can also be applied to UX Design Debt.
My rudimentary understanding of the Tech Debt concept was improved recently when I had the good fortune to see Martin Fowler present on the concept. This is how he describes it on his blog:
You have a piece of functionality that you need to add to your system. You see two ways to do it, one is quick to do but is messy -you are sure that it will make further changes harder in the future.The other results in a cleaner design, but will take longer to put in place.
Technical Debt is a wonderful metaphor developed by Ward Cunningham to help us think about this problem. In this metaphor,doing things the quick and dirty way sets us up with a technical debt,which is similar to a financial debt. Like a financial debt, the technical debt incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development because of the quick and dirty design choice. We can choose to continue paying the interest, or we can pay down the principal by refactoring the quick and dirty design into the better design. Although it costs to pay down the principal, we gain by reduced interest payments in the future.
I believe that the same principle holds true for UX Design. A little bit of investment in upfront design can save taking on design debt that needs to be worked off later.
The main difference between the two is the impact of this debt. Tech Debt affects further coding work, making it more time-consuming and technically challenging to refactor. UX Design debt imbeds poor value propositions and design patterns in to a product which become increasingly baked-in to the product. At the end of the day, both become more costly to fix as time goes on.
What I find the most interesting about the idea of UX Design Debt is that it helps explain to technically minded people in their own language why some up-front design is a good thing. This doesn’t mean I’m selling my soul and advocating for Big-Upfront Design, but simply explaining that sometimes that upfront investment is necessary to get a non-debt ridden user-experience.
Thinking further outside the Tech and UX side of things, the ‘Debt’ principle can probably be applied to other areas, such a Business planning where some upfront planning of business propositions and process can help avoid organisational efficiencies further down the track.