The Vicious Product Cycle

There is a way you can destroy a whole product by trying to do something good. All you have to do is believe that you are a good designer and be data-driven in your work. Wait, what?!


If you are a human, you probably believe that you are good at what you do. In one study, 93% of people believed they were “above average” drivers, which is impossible. Just for example. 

Welcome to human intuition. :) 

Normally, the solution is to be more data-driven, so the objective numbers guide you to better decisions.

That’s great. I strongly support using data in your design choices.

But human intuition doesn’t give up so easily. It will try to believe you are talented and innocent in weird and wonderful ways. One of those ways is the Vicious Product Cycle.


The Vicious Cycle works like this:

Step 1: Have a strategy.

Step 2: Design it badly.

Step 3: Measure it properly.

Step 4: Decide that it does not work.

Step 5: Abandon your strategy.

Step 6: Avoid that strategy in the future.

Step 7: Lose a lot of money because you did a bad job, once.


Step 1: you need a mobile website for your business. So you make one.

Step 2: your new mobile design is actually hard to use. Not to you, of course, because you designed it and understand it perfectly. And not to your colleagues, of course, because you explained it to them personally. But for everyone else in the world, it’s hard to use.

Step 3: you sell a lot more on desktop than mobile, and mobile traffic is low. All your data says that mobile shoppers buy less and spend less time on your site.

Step 4: You decide that people don’t want to buy your stuff on mobile, and you have the data to back that up. “Our customers seem to prefer shopping on a big screen,” you say. 

Step 5: You stop updating the mobile site. “It’s not worth the effort. We made a mobile site and nobody uses it,” you say.

Step 6: You cancel or push back on any project that would spend time on mobile visitors. “We want to focus on low-hanging fruit, and the mobile site is not a priority right now,” you say.

Step 7: You lose half of your sales because your mobile site was garbage from the beginning.

Do you see what happened there? You designed something badly, and in the end your conclusion was that it was the strategy, the users, and the idea that was bad. Not you.

But why not you?


The problem:

By following this process, you will believe that you have proven the strategy was bad. You will feel like you are doing a good job, and everyone will agree with you.

In fact, the harder you worked on a solution, the more it will feel like it must be good.

If it was someone else’s strategy it will be even easier to believe that conclusion. To you, it will seem obvious that their strategy is broken. 

But you’re wrong.

It will seem like data “proves” that the strategy was wrong. It could also prove that your design was shitty, but that’s not the information you’re looking for, is it?

And that’s where the mistake happens. Instead of treating that data as a problem to solve, you are trying to prove whether your strategy was right or wrong.

It’s subtle, but that’s your ego working to make sure you put the blame on anything except yourself.

Like many things in UX, ego hides the real problem.

Quality is not made by spending a long time on something.

Quality is made by spending time on the right things.



1) Treat everything digital as a work in progress. There is no such thing as a “finished” digital product. Everything can be improved, whether it is a little personal blog, or Facebook. You are never “done” with a design.

2) Assume that you could be part of the problem. Even if you work hard on something and love it with all your heart, it still might suck. You know that mom who thinks her ugly horrible child is beautiful and amazing? That might be you. Conversely, someone else might create something you hate, and it might be amazing. 

Data has no meaning until you give it meaning. Ask yourself, “could this data mean something else?”

3) Don’t try to prove things with data. Try to learn things from data. It’s just information. Data doesn’t validate your ideas. It just says what is true. The data says that people aren’t using your mobile website very much. You don’t know why unless you ask them.


The Vicious Product Cycle is tough to spot in real life. Even if you use a “lean” UX process, you can still fall into this trap.

Take the time to ask, “what if the strategy was good, but we did a bad job of executing it? Would anything be different now?”