Critique: "Thoughtful" UX Design

This is a response to a well-written article on Medium, entitled Becoming a More Thoughtful User Experience Designer, by Jake Lee Haugen. Read his article first, and follow him if you like it. Then read on.


I am “of two minds” about Mr. Haugen’s article.

On the one hand, it is promoting a healthy view of user experience, and it is selling user experience as something that can attract users, be good for business, and help people feel good at the same time.

Those are all good things. 

Those are all things you should do.

The main premise of the article is that you should try to go above-and-beyond when it comes to thinking about the user and their situations.

I love that. No complaints so far.

Mr. Haugen also makes a good point about trying to add function-less details that make the user happy. I want to be clear: that’s also fine. Go for it. More personality and more emotional affect often means more sharing.

He even mentions that sometimes those things are subtle, and not always funny or clever. I particularly liked that part.


What I didn’t particularly like:

The article implies a pretty shallow view of what “UX” is, and then uses that idea as the thing you should be “more thoughtful” than.

At the beginning of the article he says “good” UX is: functionality + usability.

I strongly disagree.

That is minimum UX. If your design doesn’t work or it’s hard to use, it just sucks. 

Saying a UX designer has to make something functional and usable is like saying a chef has to make food that you can eat.

Functionality and usability doesn’t make something good. That’s what startups call an MVP. A minimum viable product.

After all the attention (in the article) goes to small emotional details that will only affect your users in small ways, he almost ignores all the things that will make users stay forever.


Your conscious “experience” is a small fraction of what a UX designer is supposed to design. 

Your SUBconscious experience is, by far, the majority of a person’s experience, and they can’t tell you about 99% of it, because it isn’t conscious.

Anybody who disagrees with that just doesn’t understand basic psychology. (<< Click that link to learn some).

UX is just as much psychology as it is design.


He wrote: “Understanding and applying UX research and design methodologies with care is a great way of making sure a product is functional and meets the needs of real users.”

Uh…. yeah. I can’t stress enough how low this is setting the standard of “good”. Please aim higher than this. If you don’t achieve that level of design, you have failed. 

That’s like saying you’re a good mother or father because your kids are still alive.

There is a lot of space between “not fail” and “good”.


He wrote: “When a user has an amazing experience it means they’ll choose that product over others.”

Wait… what?

When I read that I twitched. Read it again. Then think for a second.

If you can’t see the problem, you’re not alone. A lot of people think this logic makes complete sense, but it’s actually in reverse order.

Users choose a product based on the website or the app store description or press articles or word-of-mouth or whatever.

THEN they have an amazing experience.

If they have an amazing experience it increases the chance they will tell someone else, and the other person will “choose” the product too.

But once a user has chosen, those “delightful” or “thoughtful” details actually have very little impact on the long-term loyalty of the user. User psychology and information architecture, for example, are 1000 times more important for long-term loyalty/interest.


He wrote: “We don’t always have enough time to fully understand our users before we need to boot up Photoshop.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

First, if you don’t understand your users, you shouldn’t go forward. 

Second, there are several major steps between user research and designing the UI.

Third, as a UX designer, you may never use Photoshop. Don’t get me started on the difference between UX and UI.


He wrote: “Before you design or sketch anything, talk to key stakeholders about how thoughtfulness is a key design principle you’ll be focusing on.”

Fuck that. You should be talking to them about the fact that you don’t understand your users!!!

If someone said this to me, all I would hear is: “I’m actually gonna put some effort into this project instead of doing a half-ass job like I usually do.”

Being “thoughtful” should be something you do all the time. Not a special thing that you have conversations about with non-designers.

Trust me: if “thoughtfulness” is the only part of UX that the other stakeholders are not familiar with, you won’t have trouble convincing them.


The end of the article blurs through the rest of the UX process in bullet-list form.

In my head, it had the tone of someone without much experience passing on basic UX ideas as “wisdom”. That doesn’t make it wrong — in fact most of it is right — but it does make some pretty normal things sound almost religious.

You should consider Mr. Haugen’s article as a description of fundamental UX ideas… not a UX process that is unique and special in some way.

Aim to be “thoughtful” all day, every day, for the rest of your career. Not just in key moments when you’re feeling particularly inspired.

If you do that, you will be doing good UX, for real.

When you’re doing great UX it goes much deeper than thoughtful details. Your designs will literally change the direction of companies in measurable ways, on a large scale, and make increases in revenue that are significant for the organization’s future.

Great UX defines a product.

Sometimes a company.

Occasionally an industry.

Facebook’s Like Button and external login buttons. Foursquare’s check-in and gamification. Tinder’s swipe-to-choose. Reddit’s up-or-down voting system and sub-reddit structure. Pinterest’s staggered layout and viral structure, and so on.

Great UX design is not measured by the experience of individual users. It is measured by the experience of millions of users at the same time.


In my opinion, Mr. Haugen’s article is worth reading, but you should consider his major point the minor point, and his minor points the important part.

And you should expect more from UX. A lot more.

UX is a process with many steps, and many things to consider. Adding delightful little thoughtful details is super — do it — but if there is anything you are going to “kill” because you don’t have enough time in a project, it should be those details.

Not the part “before Photoshop” where you actually start to understand your users.



Read the original article on Medium