The features investors want are not the ones your users need

Why UX should care about the business… but not too much.

Credit to Erika Hall for the brilliant graphic

By Lindsey Wallace Ph.D

Since the beginning of the tech layoffs last year UX thinkers and leaders have been soul searching about why research and design have been particularly hard hit in corporate downsizing. Have UX and particularly UX research over-rotated to caring about the interests of the user, forgetting that they are part of a capitalist enterprise and should be prioritizing the needs of the business? In industry R&D the logic of business and the need to maximize shareholder value and drive revenue is the water we swim in and the air we breathe. In a moment where we face big and disruptive technological and social change and the future of work itself is in question we need to be thinking about the needs of people and imagining our futures with a lens beyond profit and shareholder value more than ever, so why are we so quick to give up the lens centering people that differentiates UX?

I’ve been struggling with this article for a while now, trying to put my finger on why the idea that UX practitioners should become more business-focused felt so wrong to me. The other night, I had dinner with a brilliant UX designer and former co-worker and when I asked her how things were going, she said (paraphrasing). “It’s difficult because the features that make the stock go up are not the ones that users need, so we sit in a lot of user studies where people are like, “I don’t want that, I would never use that, and they don’t understand why we aren’t building stuff that’s useful for them.” Her words stuck with me ever since and really point to the heart of the problem. The features that get investors excited are not the ones that users need, and the overwhelming focus of businesses are the desires of investors, however much they talk about being customer-focused. Ultimately, though, deprioritizing the needs of your users consistently dooms your business.

Why are investors and users’ interests in conflict?

Investors think with a business-first perspective approaches every new idea with the question: what is the revenue-generating potential of this idea? In a business-first perspective, companies exist primarily, almost exclusively, to…

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