When UX is no longer about the users

Most big tech companies have two things in common: they position themselves as having a “customer first” mindset, and they focus extensively on good UX design. It’s surprising then, that some of the biggest tech platforms in the world — social media leaders like LinkedIn and Facebook, whose success depends on having a broad and active user base — deliver such a poor user experience.

So poor, in fact, that dissecting their poor UX has become its own sub-genre. Jason Clauß, a UX designer-turned-critic, skewers companies who fail to deliver in his “Bad UX Roundup” series. His roundups on Facebook and LinkedIn emphasize how these global leaders neglect best practices and frustrate their users, despite having (theoretically) fantastic resources and user data.

How did these companies become — and how do they remain — so successful in spite of their bad UX?

The question is: how did these companies become — and how do they remain — so successful in spite of their bad UX? Maybe it’s because, despite frequent and vocal complaints from users, they think they’re too powerful to fail. Or maybe it’s because when they say they have a “customer first” mindset, they’re not actually talking about their users. (Hello, advertisers!)

LinkedIn might be terrible at UX, but they effectively have a monopoly on the social business network. As Jason Clauß observes“LinkedIn consistently exhibits a cheerful disregard for even the most commonly known best practices, whether it is the lack of click-drag to upload files or the fact that clicking on your network doesn’t actually take you to your network.”

And Facebook is no better. Granted, a big reason people complain about Facebook has nothing to do with its UX. Still, their user experience is so bad that some people have taken to writing articles just listing all the problems they encounter. And quitting Facebook is an increasingly popular topic among tech writers (#deleteFacebook), including Jason Clauß, who writes: “Facebook is less a product in your life than your life is a product inside of Facebook.” How’s that for an inversion of traditional UX principles?

Even so, Facebook is still the most widely used social network in the world. It’s because of the strength of their networks that companies like Facebook and LinkedIn are able to make money. And for many social media users, there is no attractive alternative to these networks.

However, that doesn’t mean these networks are untouchable. For the first time since it launched in 2004, Facebook’s general user count has been decreasing. As the average age has increased, the percentage of 12–34-year-olds using the platform has declined from 79% to 67%. This is a big shift for the network that began as a platform exclusively for students.

Today, young people — that elusive demo for advertisers — are flocking to Snapchat and Instagram. Is it a coincidence that these platforms focus on a more modern, mobile-first UX? In fact, some have argued that Snapchat’s appeal to teens and millennials is partly due to how difficult it is for older people to learn how to use it.

Of course, companies that position themselves as UX leaders have the most to lose by releasing bad UX updates. In 2018, Snapchat released an update — moving their “stories” feature to the general chat window — that tanked the UX so badly that they lost 3 million users.

Worst of all, this update awakened the wrath of social media royalty. One tweet from Kylie Jenner reportedly decreased Snapchat’s net worth by $1 billion.

Companies that position themselves as UX leaders have the most to lose by releasing bad UX updates.

Instagram should take heed. Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2012, Instagram has remained largely independent. However, Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are leaving the company, rumoured to be the result of Zuckerberg’s increasing control over the platform. While we don’t know what the future holds, Instagram should certainly remain vigilant, lest it repeats the mistakes of the social media giants of yore.

If we’ve learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that no network is eternal. While Facebook and LinkedIn seem secure in their market position now, neglecting their UX leaves them vulnerable to disruption. To maintain their networks, these social network giants need to focus relentlessly on delivering top quality UX, not just for their advertisers, but for their actual end-users.

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