User Experience Myths

Keith Lang has temporarily abandoned his usual digs and written an essay for Titled Top 10 UX Myths, it contains a number of common false or misguided beliefs about user experience design. It's worth checking out the whole well-researched article, but I want to pick out a few of his myths and comment on them.

Myth #10: If the Design is a Good One, You Don’t Need to Test It

Don't believe anything you read on sites like this one. You can't follow a bunch of recommendations and end up with a usable design. You will always end up with a design that has silly usability issues, and these issue will always be in places you never even thought to think about. It doesn't matter how good you are, even the most simple usability test will give you half a dozen things you need to fix every single time.

Myth #7: UX Design Stops at the Edges of the Product

The example Keith mentions is installing applications. Another one is the manual. You need to invest time into having a usable manual. A lot of companies have guidelines telling writers exactly how to document the product. Avoid saying "I" or "you" and avoid colloquialisms because that makes us look unprofessional, avoid screenshots because that makes it harder to update the manual if the software changes, assume that the user knows nothing...

Applying these rules results in a manual that is absolutely useless. Nobody will read the manual, and those who try will fall asleep after the first sentence. Everyone will end up pestering your support department instead. The manual and copywriting in general is part of UX design and needs to be treated with the user in mind, not with how professional your company looks if the manual is all serious and business-like.

Myth #6: If you Have Great Search, You Don’t Need Great Information Architecture

Research shows that some people default to search, while others default to browsing. Jakob Nielsen writes:

Our usability studies show that more than half of all users are search-dominant, about a fifth of the users are link-dominant, and the rest exhibit mixed behavior. The search-dominant users will usually go straight for the search button when they enter a website: they are not interested in looking around the site; they are task-focused and want to find specific information as fast as possible. In contrast, the link-dominant users prefer to follow the links around a site: even when they want to find specific information, they will initially try to get to it by following promising links from the home page.

You need to support both types of users. Even spatial user interfaces benefit from search.

Myth #5: Can’t Decide? Make it a Preference

I've written about this. If an item in your preferences window is not a vital configuration that changes how your product works, there's a good chance it can be removed. Keith puts it perfectly:

Every preference which is not really needed is a design choice that I’m offloading to all the users of my product or service.

Myth #4: Design Always with Implementation in Mind

I've written about this many times, but I think one of the most poignant examples of this can be found on In an essay titled "Round Rects Are Everywhere!", Any Hertzfeld tells the story of how Steve Jobs convinced Bill Atkinson to implement rectangles with rounded corners for the original Macintosh.

Atkinson, being an engineer, avoided implementing round rects because he felt it was too hard, ran too slowly on the then-current hardware, and wasn't really needed. Jobs, not being an engineer, would have none of it and insisted on having round rects, purely because he felt it afforded a better user experience. By not being encumbered by implementation details, Jobs was able to get a better user experience, where a designer who cared about the actual implementation might have given up on the idea.

Myth #2: People Read

Yeah. That doesn't actually happen.

And finally...

Twitter's search engine is hopelessly broken, but Google has some more Myths I've listed on my Twitter stream.1 And now go read Keith Lang's article (and also read the comments, some interesting thoughts are buried down there).

  1. Another myth is that the things in my Myth tweets are actually true. I must categorically deny this myth! ↩︎

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designed for use cover

But wait, there's more!

Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.