A new or improved “UX,” or user interface, seems to be high on everyone’s list of priorities these days. I’ve read several analyst reports, blog posts, and roadmaps from other vendors that all list a redesigned UX as either being on their roadmap or among their list of recent accomplishments.

The consensus seems to be that you can simply choose to one day “focus” on UX and easily improve and add to it at any time. Moreover, usability appears to be suddenly becoming a feature vendors see as potentially adding value to their product - specifically, I might add, if analysts start using a vendor’s lack of usability against them.

The truth is if you and your C-levels merely see UX as a feature, you’re never going to win the UX game because you’ll always be lagging behind.

This trend of adding UX at a later stage is similar to how some large corporations noticed that they were no longer attracting the best and brightest new recruits, and decided to become more hip - a feat laughable by definition. To combat this trend, they began trying to re-create the open, fun, and innovative culture found predominantly among start-ups by simply copying some of the startup culture’s defining features: adding fun slides, free lunches, pool tables, quirky posters, bringing in puppies, enforcing a casual dress code. Job well done, right?
(But I don’t want us to sound like we think we’re cool, because that’s not cool).

Wrong. You can’t simply “add” company culture as a strategic goal. You need to be cool to be cool, you can’t just adopt it as a new “best practice” at a board meeting. The same is true of good UX. A good interface needs to be the foundation of a software solution, not an afterthought.

Reading about companies that are only now realizing the value of a good UX always makes me wonder what they were thinking about when they were creating version 1.0. It’s way too late now, guys! Slapping on a new flattened design while leaving the actual layout and usability the same might in actual fact make things worse. The same goes for increasing/decreasing font sizes, adding “bootstrap” (interface blueprint) or adding some colorful stock images to the background. That’s just a makeover - same as putting lipstick on a pig.

The truth is, there are no shortcuts to good usability. For the best user experience, you need to be prepared to rebuild the entire application, something most non-UX believers will never think is worth the effort and, as such, will never authorize spending months of development on.

So good UX isn’t a design thing, it’s all development. “Wait, what?” I hear you ask. Here’s the thing: the more you develop and configure your UX, the more challenging it becomes technically to make the UX work. We’re talking days of finetuning javascript just to get a list scrolling indefinitely without it becoming sluggish. We’re talking hours rewriting APIs just to reduce one mouse click in a workflow. We’re talking optimizing your UX for different browsers and screens with endless testing routines.

UX really is a technical challenge, not simply a cool idea of how to make an interface look pretty. Making a UX function smoothly is equally or arguably more important and difficult than any other type of software development. It also means that a good UX is very, very expensive. Anyone who’s ever done any design will agree you’re throwing away a lot of sketches and designs to reach the final version. And even after you’re done engineering your interface, you might find that you still have to go back to the drawing board because, even though your new UX works just fine, there’s still room for improvement.

Like good design, an easy-to-use UX isn’t something you can just add or suddenly decide that you want to excel at. At the end of the day, you can spend a fortune and still end up with a UX that people don’t want to use. Moreover, creating a good UX takes lots of things: full commitment from everyone involved, true understanding of what a good interface is, and lots and lots of extra effort and time to make even the smallest of improvements.

These reasons among others is why I’ve exclusively only hired designers that know how to code (and fired those that couldn’t!) I need my designers to understand HOW design works technically, from every perspective, and they need to be able to prove it because around half of our development team is consistently working on the UX. We spend countless hours on continuous improvement without even adding any new features.

If you’re considering a redesign of your UX in order to have a new feature under your belt, I’d advise you to think about what you’re committing yourself to if you want to get it right. Everyone on your development team must “get it” - “it” being the importance of a good UX - otherwise it will be a waste of your time and money.

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