A pile of dirty dishes in a sink

We’ve all had this feeling: as more dirty dishes pile up in the sink, we become more reluctant to deal with them. By the time it’s absolutely necessary to start washing them, clean utensils of any kind have run out and the sink has filled up with a formidable Jenga of oily, smelly dishes with food crumbs from 2 weeks ago.

This feeling sucks. But at least you can resolve it by taking some time to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

The ‘Dirty Dishes Phenomenon’ exists in the field of user experience, too, except resolving it is not quite as easy as shoving everything into the dishwasher. The design shortcuts that designers and developers often take to save time and meet deadlines result in dirty UI and accumulation of ‘UX Debt’ that, until it is paid off, will cost the company customers and a good fortune in the meantime.


How UX Debt accumulates

When building a user interface, teams are often faced with a choice:

Either they can rely on quick solutions that will make the product work but create gaps between the desired, optimal design and the actual product delivered;
Or, they can methodically jigger and adjust every detail from big to small and take care of every bug and glitch until the product is exactly right.

But the product cycle calls, and with tight deadlines most UX teams are forced to cut corners and push out a somewhat messy MVP.

What this eventually leads to over time is an accumulation of UX Debt that can ultimately compromise the usability of the product and push customers away in the long term.

What’s worse, after a product has already been in use for some time, some users might become accustomed to the non-optimal design, making it even more challenging for the product team to clear off UX Debt later on without frustrating continuing users.


Structure under construction


What can you do about UX Debt?

The key is to acknowledge your UX Debt and actively manage it. This doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be right the first time — that will almost never be possible — but it does mean fixing UX issues in a timely fashion.

For product managers, therefore, it is important to keep track of the design shortcuts taken in each design cycle and set time aside in each sprint to correct the most important of them.



An iterative design flow is crucial to this process. Iterating on your product allows the team an opportunity to rectify previous design debts and bring the product more into line with what it ought to be.

However, each iteration also brings new usability issues, whether unforeseen problems or more shortcuts to meet new demands. Leaving some time during each sprint to clear up glitches and dirty interfaces is essential to keeping a manageable level of UX Debt. Another option is to reserve a sprint just for repairing and refactoring.

Learn more: user testing better products and user testing new products



The other important factor when it comes to resolving UX Debt is collaboration. For example, efficient and clear communication between designers and usability researchers can help the team to make educated decisions that optimize usability the first time around.

Keeping developers informed on the purpose behind each design decision can also prevent misunderstandings when they are turning the mockups into the real product, so that the product that is built is the product that was intended.


It’s always better to clean up your dishes right after using them. Same with UX, it’s always easier to keep UX Debt down by nipping it in the bud. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”


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Join us for a discussion on resolving UX Debt at #ourUXflow webinar this Thursday!

By Jenny Cang

Jenny loves telling stories. At TryMyUI, she helps designers build more usable products by drawing upon UX stories from users' perspectives. Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor's in Economics - Accounting and Legal Studies at Claremont McKenna College. She'd love to chat about her story and hear yours! Reach out to her at jenny@trymyui.com

4 thoughts on “How to avoid a UX Debt crisis”
  1. […] So for the researcher under time constraints, UXCrowd is a great way to narrow down all the issues to just a few critical ones to work on for the next build. Given the vast number of problems every usability study is certain to uncover, this speedy prioritization is the most valuable contribution that UXCrowd makes (though sooner or later, every issue should be addressed). […]

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