Users can’t be experts anymore

Dom Corriveau

Dom Corriveau

The problem with frequent UI updates: Preventing users from becoming experts. Elements of a website being moved by three people and a crane.

User experience for most of the web is broken. This is a particular ailment of enterprise software attempting to emulate consumer services by forcing their behavior on B2B users, including the ability to constantly disrespect their existing customers by always prioritizing the new user experience.

Problems start at login

A personal frustration is the log-in process for most websites and apps, which emphasizes new over existing users. It is easy to tell just by looking at the size and prominence of logging in versus signing up. This makes it blatantly obvious that the most important user on the site is anyone new, with the experience of existing users shuffled to the side, feeling like it is hidden on purpose. This may be necessary for new services and start-ups, but for enterprise software, this is unforgivable.

To continue the existing user hostility, many sites break the log-in process into multiple screens. For example, instead of offering the log-in fields directly on the homepage, the user must click a link to get the opportunity. Then, only the email field is presented, along with the "sign-up now" options. This indicates the website doesn't believe that the user is, in fact, registered. Instead, the site wants you to prove it before giving the option to provide the password. Of course, this causes auto-login issues for a lot of password managers. Once you confirm to the website your email address is, in fact, registered; finally, the password field is exposed. If you have 2FA enabled, that is another page.

So we are clear, this is how long it takes to log in to a service you use daily as part of your job:

  1. Homepage
  2. Email verification page
  3. Password authentication page
  4. 2FA entry page
  5. Finally, the user dashboard

This wouldn't be such an onerous process if it wasn't because it is designed for enterprise users who use it to get real work done. Couple this with unskippable feature walk-throughs that hop all over the page plus pop-ups and interstitials for webinars, mobile app ads, and to enable notifications, the user experience is downright hostile.

Preventing users from becoming experts

At the heart of my complaint are the perpetual UI changes that make all web services and mobile apps feel like they are forever stuck in beta development. The cycle of interface changes keeps users from ever genuinely learning how to effectively use the service because they are always stuck being a beginner. Why learn how to use a feature knowing that it will be moved, changed, or removed in a future update. In turn, no one becomes an expert at using the service, limiting what is possible for the user to accomplish and driving them to always look for a new, better service that solves the problem they have.

The persistent interface changes also bring fear to enterprise users. We are expected to do a job, and if the tool we use to do that job is in constant flux, a pending update is a warning that the way you've been working is about to change, whether you want it or not. The changes could include a minor tweak that makes doing the job better or could be a complete refresh that leaves the user confused and angry for weeks.

I can empathize with the marketing and development teams at the enterprise service as I have worked in those types of environments. The marketing team hears feedback from users and sees the data on engagement, plus are fed trends analysis from every publication on the planet. This drives them to push for redesigns, especially when one of the primary metrics used to measure marketing success is new users. The marketing team then has to contend with the devs that have chosen a stack that may be incompatible with the UI/UX design marketing demands. Finally, there is the battle between marketing and devs in the value of frontend development and the demeaning view of frontend languages.

This often leads to both teams delivering a product neither of them likes. The marketing team concedes on features while the devs give up time on foundational backend development for expanded allocation on frontend adjustments.

As someone in marketing, my personal opinion is the user interacts with the frontend. I give zero effs on what the backend is using. The frontend matters most because that is where the user engages with the product and ultimately pays everyone's salary by subscribing. The user could not care less about MySQL versus MariaDB or Postgres as the database or how the Kubernetes cluster is managed.

This is why it is even more infuriating that the UI changes so frequently for the user. The goal of marketing is to convert a prospect to a user and then maintain that relationship. In perpetual frontend refreshes, it urges the existing userbase to shop around. They already have to endure constant changes to the interface. What is the difference between jumping to a new service compared to always learning the one you thought you knew?

I'm not saying interface updates aren't valuable. But the never-ending cycle of UI updates isn't to make the user experience better. Instead, they are to put onto a slide for the C-suite to show what marketing has accomplished in the last year.

As a user, I would prefer a much more nuanced approach. Subtle tweaks to improve effectiveness are much more valuable than a full refresh. Small, slow changes will help me do my job better over making the service look more like a competing service, so it is easier for new users to transfer. Spend more time streamlining workflows over forced user onboarding pop-ups because every menu item has moved.

Until then, let's stop asking for people to be experts in enterprise services because, with so much change, no one ever gets the chance.

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