The Modern Digital Tragedy / Part 6 of 6

‹ Part 5: Upgrading Visuals in a Vacuum

As development-centered firms pour their energy into functionality at the expense of usability, their digital products grow more complicated and confusing. Their efforts to fix user suffering rarely succeed because they don’t address core problems.

Getting the Boulder Up the Hill

Sisyphus is right back where he started. He has tried everything. Nothing works. Every day that massive rock sits at the bottom of the hill. Every day, he rolls it to the summit. Every day, it rolls back down. The next morning, he begins again. Sisyphus is playing out an ancient tragedy. He will never succeed.

It’s different for us. Unlike Sisyphus, we can reach our goals. Our predicament is not eternal. The boulder represents our digital products. Arduously rolling it up the hill represents our efforts to make that product truly exceptional, loved by users, and spectacularly accepted in the market. When we get the boulder to the top of the hill and keep it there, we’ve achieved something remarkable.

Fundamental change is needed if we are going to emerge from the interface dark ages.

It’s not easy.
We want to make more friendly and usable products, but face unyielding demand for advanced, complex functionality. Competitors constantly push the envelope with better interfaces, simpler interactions, and stronger usability. We know our products must get better. They must evolve. That’s why we work so hard at it.

But that’s the thing. Our efforts often fail.

We pull out all the stops to improve interfaces. We refine internal organization or processes. We seek help from external sources. We teach people to use our products correctly, and we try our hand at visual design fixes. Unfortunately, each of these approaches have one thing in common. They don’t work.

To be sure, some tactics may help slightly, producing uneven results. Some initiatives may yield short-term benefits. Most fail outright. The methods we choose simply don’t create fundamental change. And fundamental change is needed if we are going to emerge from the interface dark ages.

The question remains. Why do we fail?

Development teams are locked in a faulty, incomplete perspective.
Developers, program managers, and software architects do what they have been trained to do. They know how to program, prioritize functionality, plan systems, and manage development projects. This focus on function, while completely understandable, is ultimately myopic. Development teams experience precious little training on usability, user-centered design, or visual interfaces. Can we blame them for lack of understanding?

Development leaders know how to run software firms. They don’t know how to incorporate effective UI, what they call “art,” into their processes, estimates, or deliverables. They don’t know how to identify and hire the right UX or UI people. Nothing in their business experience has prepared them for the new competitive interface landscape. Their perspective prevents them from seeing beyond standard approaches.

Some firms refuse to change.
With the advent and universality of the commercial internet, the world has transitioned from the era when software can be made solely with development resources. Competitive digital products require broader skill sets. Even if they agree in theory, in practice too many firms simply do what other development firms do. Talented developers can be trapped in organizations that blithely accept poor usability. It is par for the course. These firms think they’re doing just fine, thanks. They don’t want to embrace a broader point-of-view and so are vulnerable to savvy competitors. Rarely diverging or evolving, they repeat the mistakes of old methods. Their products ossify. Our Sisyphean boulder rolls back down the hill.

Changing Your Perspective

No one sets out to purposefully create unintuitive, barely tolerated digital products. If development teams can embrace a broader point-of-view on what makes interfaces truly great, they can thrive. They can radically change their organizations for the better.

What must development teams embrace to do this? What must they unlearn? What is the fundamental change that must take place in leadership and corporate culture that will break the cycle of unusable digital products?

We tackle that next time.

The Modern Digital Tragedy

Part 1: The Eternal Quest for Exceptional Digital Products
Part 2: Relying on Process Change
Part 3: Outsourcing the User Interface
Part 4: Teaching Correct Behavior
Part 5: Upgrading Visuals in a Vacuum
Part 6: Why Development-Centered UI Approaches Fail

About truematter

Frustrating screen experiences are everywhere. You deal with them, we deal with them, our older relatives deal with them, and they make us all want to take a hammer to whatever device we’re using.

Truematter exists to make all of our lives easier any time we have to deal with a website, app, or piece of software. Our team is always thinking about how to improve user experience to help create digital products that are usable, useful, and loved. You can read more of our thoughts at


Author: Dean Schuster
Editor: Bailey Lewis
Illustrator: Daniel Machado
Whitepaper Designer: Rannah Derrick