“Why, daddy,” says the curious toddler. “Why?”
No parent has yet found a way to escape this exasperating line of questioning. We should be grateful. For as frustrating as the interrogation becomes, its purity of purpose cannot be denied. Focus on the why. The honest, unrelenting desire to understand requires us to rethink, reconsider, and clarify motives. In a similar way, UX designers and product managers can employ this technique to resist the impacts of “experience rot.”
In this episode, hosts Sean and Joe speak with UX design authority Jared M. Spool about the experience rot paradox, a phenomenon that arises when product owners perceive new features in a way that reinforces the “if one is good, more is better” philosophy.
When he coined the term “experience rot,” Jared described the counterintuitive struggle designers feel when pressed to add new features to a design without first embracing the problem to be solved. In this discussion, he helps us explore ways to recognize the temptation to choose feature-based solutions over problem-based ones, examines the magic of pre-work that drives a problem-focused design philosophy, and describes ways in which an organization can integrate this philosophy into its culture to resist the experience rot trap.
Solutions vs problems
“Great designers don’t fall in love with their solutions,” Jared points out. “Great designers fall in love with the problems they solve”.
The temptation to innovate by adding flashy new features often gets in the way of actually solving real problems. Pursuing the integration of new product features as the pathway to competitive advantage is an example of jumping to mere solutions rather than allowing problem-driven action to guide you.
Innovation is not about invention, Jared points out. “Innovation is about adding value that makes the lives of our customers better. We get to innovation not by generating additional features, necessarily, but by investing the time needed to study problems.” Performing this research takes a bit of work, he adds, but the effort is more than compensated in the long run.
The magic is in the pre-work
Experience rot, therefore, is frequently a function of insufficient research. It’s the result of failing to take the time needed to thoroughly research and articulate problems to be solved. Inevitably, solutions that drive business forward have to come, but understanding problems at their very core must be the primary focus throughout the project.
This thinking applies to newer projects as well as those that undergo continuous innovation over time. Research into design features that address real, measurable problems contributes immense value. The key is for organizations to recognize the difference between problem-focused design and feature-focused design. The former adds to the organization’s competitive advantage; the latter adds unnecessary complexity.
When features proliferate beyond the problem-solving objective, complexity increases, and the user experience goes down. Simple math tells us that design solutions with many features are easier targets for experience rot because creators have unwittingly linked these features with competitive advantage. The risk, though, is conceding that same advantage to competitors who have invested time to do the research, to embrace the problem, and to apply solutions to only the problems they thoroughly understand.
Jared offers powerful examples of companies, like Basecamp, that have effectively navigated experience rot not only by taking a problem-focused, research-based approach, but also by weaving this philosophy into their organizations’ culture. He goes on to explain why it is critical for every project team member – from senior executives to interns – to appreciate their influence on the project’s level of achievement.
To learn more about a problem-focused approach to innovation, check out The Product Momentum Podcast – Episode 7: Resisting Experience Rot.
Jared M. Spool is a Maker of Awesomeness at Center Centre/UIE. Center Centre is the school he started with Leslie Jensen-Inman to create industry-ready User Experience Designers. UIE is Center Centre’s professional development arm, dedicated to understanding what it takes for organizations to produce competitively great products and services. In the 39 years he’s been in the tech field, he’s worked with hundreds of organizations, written two books, published hundreds of articles and podcasts, and tours the world speaking to audiences everywhere. When he can, he does his laundry in Andover, Massachusetts.