Clunky interface

Just Enough UX


User Experience and User Interface design are overrated.

That’s my default answer when I hear someone advocating for more UX.

Here is why:

  • Value delivered always comes before any UX/UI shenanigans.
  • Users will jump through hoops and slay dragons to get to value.
  • UX is a must up to a point. After that, its value quickly deteriorates.

Focus on core features instead of obsessing over UX and UI candy. If UX/UI is your core, be obsessed with it.

The rest of the post elaborates on the above claims. I will refer to user experience and user interface design as UX.

A little disclaimer

The rest of this post will get rough, so it makes sense to start with a disclaimer. Here we go.

I come from a software engineering background with a cybersecurity blend. UX/UI design isn’t my thing; I have no formal education in UX (is there even one?). My primary exposure to UX is working with colleagues and experiencing some of the processes. Earlier in life, I wanted to become a UX professional but failed miserably (this post might be the result of that early failure 🙃 )

While most points are IT related, the claims can be generalized across industries.

What follows are my thoughts. Don’t take these as universal truths. They may contain biases and generalizations and are built on impressions from personal experience. I am, of course, open to criticism. Do sound off in the comments section at the end.

Read through the whole piece before passing judgment. It is a provocative conversation starter. Please, do not get offended. I am not saying UX is useless; far from it. I am advocating for a rigorous review of how much effort you spend “doing” UX and how you do it. Apply it strategically to get the most value. The end of the post talks about how to do that.

Here we go.

Value delivery and UX

Value delivery is the primary goal. UX exists only to serve this purpose. Sometimes, this servitude means getting out of the way. It isn’t no UX; it is doing UX differently.

UX is the friction users experience while getting to value. The better the UX, the lower the friction. It is better to have less friction, but not at the cost of lowering the value.

UX as a speed bump/roadblock in the value chain

If UX slows down your value delivery or outright blocks it, you are doing it wrong. And people are often doing it wrong. Usually, UX is integrated into an agile model using waterfall principles. This creates speed bumps and roadblocks.

Wait before building that; I will have THE design ready in 2 weeks. Just need to get some interviews scheduled…

That’s a speed bump. It is excellent if UX efforts are always months ahead of development. In agile, this will never happen. Plans often change. You can pin them down, losing some of your agility.

Here is what I mean by agility. Some time ago, we introduced a new feature to allow training participants to sign in. The first trial was called off after 3 minutes because the UX was horrible. And yes, we did it during live training. We observed, made some changes, and deployed a new version. The subsequent trial was the next day.

It worked better, but the trainer had difficulty seeing who signed in and who didn’t. Bad UX. Again, we observed and made changes, but we did it in less than an hour. That interface is still live now, with minor modifications. It worked great for 100s of participants and lots of events. No genuine UX person has ever seen it. We spent less than 2 days on this feature from conception to just enough UX. Setting up a user call in such a short timeframe is challenging, let alone creating a validated design.

Would you give up agility to UX processes? Good UX is iterative. Live with changes and fight for cross-functional teams where UX capabilities are embedded into the team.

Every feature needs a UX “stamp” before go-live.

That’s a roadblock. UI consistency is excellent, and so is a pleasant user experience. However, pushing this responsibility to UX people alone is damn wrong. Asking them to police is even worse. I have seen this in action. The lack of UX resources caused developers to routinely bypass this. Which resulted in tension rising between DEV and UX. Comments like this were regularly flying.

That padding is off. Has anyone from UX seen this?

Who cares about that padding? We have got more important things to worry about. Besides, we have been waiting on that wireframe for a week now.

UX wasn’t core. It was a typical B2B SaaS offering. To our credit, there were teams where UX worked better.

Is it really that valuable?

While some UX is measurable (mainly after the fact). Lots of times, it is assumptions built on other speculations.

Take, for instance, user interviews and usability tests. While these are fantastic techniques during the conceptualization phase, they are severely limited. They rely on a couple of measurements highly “contaminated” by the user’s life. It’s full of interruptions and context switches. This is closely related to the fact that we are humans. We, UX researchers and humans in general, often mistake noise for signal, especially if we observe a chaotic system like another human. Add to this that we, users this time, have a limited ability to do introspection. We are bad at articulating how and why we feel the way we do. We are good at confabulation, though.

No, these techniques are not useless, nor is UX in general. However, making go / no-go decisions based on these is a bad idea.

Ship it, measure it and iterate. Don’t ever let UX block you from getting value out the door.

Product ❤️ UX

A decent product manager is 80% of the UX, which might be just enough. UX is not a separate entity from the product. Lots of things people consider user experience are just common-sense product criteria. Looking through a couple of UX technique lists, most of what they describe is 100% product management without ever caring about “how the user will feel when they see that button”. I am exaggerating, but you get the point.

Lots of times, what people describe as outstanding UX is just proper product management and innovation. Spotify, with its personalization, is a great example (no. 9 on this list). No need to drill into the senses of the users. So, no user empathy maps only if UX is your core.

All hail UX

Focusing too much on UX takes away resources from your core. You don’t want people pushing UX when your core isn’t great. I have done this with security and seen people (UX and non-UX) do it with UX. While doing this, I did not understand how security fits into the value the company was offering. I pushed for best practices all the time. It was a reasonable thing to do, or so I thought. I have seen the same thing happening with UX. Once I matured as a security engineer, my focus shifted from how to enforce best practices to how to enhance the value we are already offering. This is how UX should operate. Don’t do UX for UX’s sake, and definitely not because someone tells you it is the most important thing.

Take a critical look at the cost of improving your UX and leaving your core. Is it really so bad that you would lose clients over it? Or rather, a rounding error in the satisfaction surveys. Focus on value with good enough UX. Fundamentally, this is a resource question, improve your core or do better UX. Do core.

The UX differentiator

You need to rethink your product if great UX is your main USP. UX makes a big difference if the core functionalities are very similar. This is red ocean territory. Needing UX as a USP means your core might be less unique than you would like it to be.

UX isn’t new, although it was less prevalent earlier. The term comes from Donald Norman in 1988, and it is still booming today. Everyone wants to be a UX professional; vast resources exist. The demand is also there from companies. The leading cause is the lack of significant innovation in other areas. Markets are crowded, and organizations are turning to UX to help them differentiate. It is, after all, a relatively cheap way to improve your product without touching your core.

If you consider yourself an innovator, don’t differentiate yourself with UX only. Do it with your core values.

Users are heroes

The universe doesn’t care what we think, and yet humans thrive. Users face and defeat obstacles every single day. It is a worthy pursuit to try to make their lives easier, but don’t overdo it. Because they do not need it.

Users know value when they see it

A strong core offering will let you get away with suboptimal UX. Heroes travel around the world, blind Cyclopses, and survive the siren’s songs to achieve their goal. Think of your users as little Odysseuses and Ithaca. They will get to value if it is worth pursuing, and they can’t get it elsewhere.

Here are some examples.


First, banks. Have you ever heard of someone switching banks because of bad UX on their site or mobile apps? This is usually the first counterpoint I hear when I tell someone that UX is overrated. Here is what I come back with.

How do you choose a bank? Based on their UX or their financial offering?

The primary focus for banks is competitive finances, not UX. Most people only switch banks if they encounter a better financial offer (the core value of a bank). Anything from loans and credit cards to investments.

Why are there banks with good UX, then? Core and good UX are not exclusive; they have a clear priority order. And if your core isn’t proper, UX ain’t gonna save you.

Google products

Google is well known for having bad UX. Analytics is my favorite example; after that it is GCP and GSuite Admin. So why don’t people leave and free themselves from the pain?

Because these products have a strong core, that’s why. The values they provide outweigh the costs, and users will happily learn about these products and use them daily. It’s the same with Facebook’s Ad Manager. A strong core, suboptimal horrible UX.

Pre-training information page

Here is a story. We had a UI; it was clunky and ugly, something I, and colleagues with similar UX skillsets, designed. It served its purpose for years. I had people advocating for making this more user-friendly for a better user experience. I successfully fended off these initiatives for a long time. Then, I gave in, and we hired a UX specialist to recreate this page.

She did it all in a couple of months: information architecture, user flow analysis, persona definitions, competitor analysis, inspiration gathering, best practice research, wireframes, usability tests, mockups, design, and user interviews. To her credit, the end result looks and feels fantastic. I have read the user interviews, and yes, the old page had “bad” UX. The new is incomparable to what we had before.

Was it effort well spent?

Our users went to that page to achieve a goal. Find their pre-training instructions, download a PDF, join the training, and open their VM. Out of thousands of trials, the success rate was 100%. In the new version, finding information takes less time (measured in seconds) and causes less frustration (measured in sighs). And with all that, our KPI needles (How satisfied are you with pre-course information?) didn’t move a pixel.

Why did we do it, then? UX was only part of the story (not the main one), as this allowed us to implement core features and opened up new possibilities.

Streaming providers

How do you choose streaming providers? Apple Music vs. Spotify vs. Tidal vs. Amazon Music? Netflix vs. Disney+ vs. HBO Max?

It probably isn’t their UX, right? It’s their core: selection, quality, features, compatibility, and ecosystem. Core, all of it.

These providers managed to differentiate without needing to resort to UX. They all have okay UX; it may not be great because it doesn’t need to be.

B2B SaaS companies

Salesforce and SAP are famous for their complexity and the frustration they cause to users. They aren’t doing this on purpose. At least their goal isn’t horrible UX; it’s a rigorous focus on their core. They are pushing out new features that provide more value to their customers than having a friendly UI and feeling great when using the app.

There is another crucial point at play here. In B2B, the decision maker is usually not the user of the services they purchase. This is elementary; whoever pays for the product is not the user. The purchaser is after the value and doesn’t care much about the UX.

Would great UX increase customer satisfaction? Yes. Will it change your bottom line? Maybe. However, focusing on your core will likely have a more significant impact.

Do just enough UX; more on this later.

When UX is core

There are cases when UX is critical. First, it is core when you make it core. Think Apple.

Here are some generalized examples.

It’s all about money

UX is core when it drives money directly. Better UX = more profit.
Directness is key. No retention, user satisfaction, etc. Direct purchase, period.

A good enough UX is needed to handle user retention and satisfaction. It has to be superb if it’s a direct purchase.

So what gets into this category? Here is a quick list (it’s definitely not complete):


If your users are about to purchase, make it as frictionless for them as possible. This is true for classical e-commerce sites and brick-and-mortar stores as well. Great examples are Apple’s webshop, Amazon’s 1-click purchase button. App stores are also great examples.

I am hesitant to put this here, but here we go. Casual stock trading apps like eToro. They take a relatively complex set of actions and simply them down to pressing a button. And remember, every trade is profit for the platform. UX is core!


You play games for the experience they provide, so UX is obviously core here. It is even more critical when combined with direct purchases like pay-to-win titles. The best example I can think of is Diablo Immortal. It has captivating Diablo gameplay and a “super-elegant” micro-transaction system.

Engineered for addiction

If you are in this business, do great UX. While we call it UX, this exploits human psychology to remote control people. A prominent example here is any social media platform. The more time you spend there, the more ads you see, and the more revenue this generates for the company.

Personally, I consider these “services” e-drugs and believe that they cause more harm to society than good. These platforms are also great for shepherding the herd. UX doesn’t just remove friction. It also guides the user toward taking actions that will benefit the company. Sharing and liking are so effortless, right? This is a whole other post.

A more morally acceptable example would be Duolingo. It’s engineered for addiction as well. We could call this white-hat human exploitation as it nudges people to learn a language instead of focusing on the profit side. It is no charity, though.

What about X?

A strong core and good UX are not exclusive. You will find some companies with a very potent core offering and superb UX. Again, these are not exclusive; they have a priority order.

Although whenever you encounter a company like that, ask: is UX their core? Does it make money for them? Does it addict the user?

If your core is excellent, do spend time perfecting your UX, but remember: most of the time, the core must come before UX.

Final thoughts

Focus on core features instead of obsessing over UX and UI candy. If UX/UI is your core, be obsessed with it.

Do just enough UX

No, UX is not the most essential factor. In fact, I advocate doing as little of it as possible, but no less. While this might seem a paradox, it isn’t. You must have a usable product that can be achieved with relatively low UX effort. Once this level is covered, increasing it becomes more and more costly, and its returns quickly vanish.

UX is much like security. It is expected to a level, but nobody will care if your core isn’t okay. Most apps and services do not need UX to be a delighter; they need to cover the basic needs. UX must never be a speed bump during development. Set up your processes so DEV and Product never need to wait for UX. And please, never block value delivery.

You might consider me an enemy of UX. It’s okay, I am not angry, and I still think of you as my friend. If you are doing any UX work, here is my friendly suggestion. I have been here with security before, and it worked wonders.

Don’t do UX stuff. Show it and spread it. Realize when UX is not the core and help in doing just enough. Lay a strong foundation with a design system, defined personas, and general guidelines. Teach engineers to use these tools wisely. Educate them about the main principles, and invite them to user calls. Make them feel like the user. And finally, shift left in the value chain as much as you can, and strive to be an enabler. You are the expert.

Your knowledge and work are precious, and I call on you to apply them to maximize the impact.

The best combo is a strong core, true innovation, and just enough UX.

Just enough, no more, no less!






3 responses to “Just Enough UX”

  1. Peter Pepe Avatar
    Peter Pepe

    (just came across this, and since you wrote it’s a conversation starter… 🙂

    A lot to talk about here, even within the broader UX / design community some of the questions you’ve raised here don’t have a clear, generally agreed-upon answer – which tells me our understanding of how to build digital products and services still rapidly changes and evolves.

    One general reply though (from a designer person) on advocating for more UX. The general impression from UX folks is that most products don’t even do enough UX, so they need to push for more to get to the minimum level (going beyond is a dream). I could even argue that products do get better because of this push industry-wise. Obviously, if someone has the jobtitle “UX something something” they would want to have more UX, but this goes beyond that. UX efforts can make companies more efficient, products more valuable, and in general people happier. Maybe it’s just some UX people with a hammer in their hand don’t see the right nails the hit, so advocating for UX the wrong way. Asking “how can we make friction less” instead of asking “how can we get more users through the flow”. But context matters for such conversations. So maybe it’s the discussion missing sometimes on what we consider just enough UX.

    (Hope you will write an article titled “Just Enough Security” 🙂

    1. Daniel Szpisjak Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Having enough UX improves the product. I think I put the “enough” bar pretty low for the reasons above 🙂 However, I was “over-UX-ed” in the past multiple times, and honestly, it was always for the better. That is a good point on the missing discussions around enough.

      The just enough security post actually exists from 2016 :), here: How much security is enough?

  2. Gabor Suhajda Avatar
    Gabor Suhajda

    what I learned from working with developers, engineering managers, product people, decision makers and others is that it’s really harmful to completely ignore or discredit any of the stakeholders if you’re aiming for great user value and a good collaboration across departments.

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