Poor decisions about user experience don’t just affect tiny, individual parts of your digital product. They aren’t just an annoyance on launch day. Oh no, like that old warning about swallowing gum, bad UX decisions stick around FOREVER. (Stickiness pun intended.)

You know the infamous gum warning from when you were a kid: If you swallow a piece of bubblegum, it will sit around in your stomach for seven years. (Yeah, yeah all you doctors and armchair medics, we know that’s not technically true – just sit back and enjoy the metaphor). But at least the gum of legend only sticks around for seven years. Bad UX decisions can stick around much, much longer.

Why Bad UX Choices Have Staying Power

Why do bad UX decisions stay around so long? It’s rooted in the fact that your user experience, good or bad, is in the very fiber of your digital product. And the further along your project, the more deeply ingrained your user experience decisions.

What is a Bad UX Choice?

A poor user experience choice is anything that stops users from easily, effortlessly accomplishing what they want to do. They include (but are definitely not limited to!):

  • Breaking the back button.
  • Disregarding user tasks.
  • Drowning people in seas of paragraph copy.
  • Poor mobile/responsive design.
  • Slow performance.
  • Too dang many choices (navigation, link lists, etc.).
  • Overly trendy design.
  • Building for search engines instead of people.

Hey, you can at least induce vomiting to get rid of gum – if only getting rid of bad UX was that easy.

1. Bad UX can be extremely difficult to undo.

User experience decisions are foundational. They impact and are impacted by every other part of your digital product. UX decisions define structure, layout, basic functionality, design and content strategy for every single screen. So when you realize you’ve made a bad decision, like breaking the back button, you can’t just go fix it in one place. It’s already infected your entire site or app.

Say you cram in a poorly thought out navigation option at the request of the CEO. Now an entire section makes way less sense. On top of it you have to add an unneeded fourth-level page to make the content work and dammit now you’ve screwed up mobile. Weeks or months later, you wonder why mobile sucks, and you reverse engineer your work to get all the way back to that bad navigation choice. But you can’t just change the navigation because now you’ll have to re-redo content, site structure, mobile….

Hey, you can at least induce vomiting to get rid of gum – if only getting rid of bad UX was that easy.

2. It’s never just one bad UX decision.

Digital products rarely have one single bad UX decision. Countless sites and apps out there fail to optimize images for the web, interrupt users with pop-ups for a chat service or newsletter, bury actions in long paragraphs, AND use inconsistent, confusing link colors. And those would just be the most noticeable issues.

Imagine not swallowing just one piece of gum but lots of pieces, hundreds of pieces, hundreds of large wads of gum. You’d have a very big problem.

By the way, it is possible to make one UX decision so bad that it’s the equivalent of swallowing hundreds (or thousands) of gum wads for your digital product: It’s called completely ignoring real users and just doing what the internal stakeholders asked for.

3. It isn’t always apparent from the outside.

You can’t tell by looking if someone has swallowed gum (or even lots of gum, for that matter) and you can’t always tell just by looking at a digital product that its user experience is terrible. At first glance, it may look beautiful, seem user-focused, and have some really neat-o functionality. It’s only when you get past the main screen and start using the site or app that you realize bad decisions are gumming up the UX works (see what we did there?). Usually, it’s because the interface is just a shell and there’s ZERO strategy or thought to users beyond making it “pretty.”

Most bad UX stems from teams skipping fundamental but necessary steps in the process of creating a digital product.

4. Taking the “easy” way out.

Most bad UX stems from teams skipping fundamental but necessary steps in the process of creating a digital product. It’s easier not to talk to real users or observe real people trying to use what you made. It’s easier to kowtow to internal demands to make your clients happy. This is why the CEO’s picture makes it (incredibly) to the home page. It’s tempting to try something complicated and interesting because you can, like a new navigation structure no one has ever seen before or parallax scrolling for its own sake. Well-meaning teams make these horrible decisions day after day and year after year, and the bad UX lives on.

All of this is the easy way out, laziness, the digital equivalent of swallowing your gum because you don’t want to get up and go to the trash can.

Bad UX Decisions Aren’t Harmless

There is one important way that making poor UX decisions isn’t like swallowing gum. Bad UX decision are harmful. For your users, who can’t digest your bad UX, it limits their ability to use your site. But bad UX also works against the success of your digital products, your business goals and your bottom line. In the long run, bad UX costs you money, time, credibility, customers, market share, keeping up with competitors, efficiency – in short, bad UX costs you way too much to allow it to happen.

There’s A Better Way

The great news is, good UX decisions have staying power too. Avoid bad UX that can plague your digital products for a decade (or more!) by making solid UX decisions in the first place. Talk to and observe your users. Don’t assume something works because it looks nice. Insist on great usability, every time.

If you need help getting started, check out our World’s Simplest UX Reading List.

Good UX decisions can be harder to make, but the more you invest in them, the more routine they become.

Take the extra steps and time to make the decisions that serve the real people who use your digital products. It will make them happy. Happy users lead to increased engagement, increased leads, increased sales, and increased progress toward those business goals you’re trying to reach.

Stop taking the easy way out when it comes to your supposedly mission-critical site, app, or software suite. Good UX decisions can be harder to make, but the more you invest in them, the more routine they become. And it’s so worth it. Focus continuously on good user experience. It is one of your best paths to success.


About truematter

Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.

We can’t think of anything happy that sticks around in your stomach for seven years. But if we could, we’d use it as a metaphor for how we approach user experience.

Author: @baileysendsword
Illustration: @djosephmachado
Editor: @ExperienceDean
Illustration of stomach: Lewis (1918) Gray’s Anatomy 20th ed (in public domain)