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UX Design
11 minute read

Danger Ahead: Telltale Signs It's Time to Bring in a UX Expert

Miklos is a UX designer, product design strategist, author, and speaker with more than 18 years of experience in the design field.

Often, considerable resources and a whopping amount of money are put behind a product that is nevertheless just not living up to expectations. Warning bells clang, stakeholders panic, and the project is suddenly on life support. When a website or app is not performing as hoped for, it may be time to bring in a UX expert. Why? Industry surveys show that every dollar invested in UX brings a return of between $2 and $100 dollars.

There could be many reasons why a product is not performing as anticipated—that it’s not solving a critical issue, the usability’s poor, users are finding it hard to navigate, or the UI is confusing and inconsistent are just a few examples of less than ideal performance.

What Is UX? A Quick Recap

User experience, or “UX,” covers all aspects of a system (website, app, product, service, community, etc.) as experienced by users. Great UX design can mean the difference between making it or breaking it as demonstrated by the success of Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Uber, Airbnb, and Google.

User experience design is the discipline of what UX designers do, and user-centered design (UCD) is the UX design process. Design thinking and human-centered design (HCD) are other terms that are widely used. No matter the approach, all of them typically include user research, customer journey maps, sketching, wireframing, prototyping, interaction design, visual design, user testing, and continuous iteration on designs.

Design thinking is one of the many UX expert skills.

Design Thinking 101 from the Nielsen Norman Group

Some Clear Signs It’s Time to Bring in a UX Expert:

No. 1: People Are Complaining That Your App Is Frustrating to Use.

The most likely reason for this is bad usability, which could include:

  • An inconsistent user interface
  • Information overload, too much noise
  • Lack of functional clarity: users are not sure how to use the product
  • Confusing navigation: people are getting lost

A UX expert would:

A) Consider your content and core functionalities and come up with a minimalist design approach:

Minimalism is a design philosophy that focuses on the simplification of form, achieved by making use of the simplest, most essential elements in a design. Minimalist design essentially reduces a system (website, app, product, service, etc.) to the most critical elements and offers the following benefits:

  • Lightens information overload: focuses on content
  • Strips the product down to its most fundamental features
  • Makes navigation clearer, and therefore easier
  • Keeps users focused, and headlines your unique value proposition
  • Makes your product more timeless
  • Helps boost conversion rates
  • Enables faster performance

Minimalist web design is one of the many UX design principles.

Minimalist web design

B) Dig deeper with user research and testing:

The first requirement for an exemplary user experience is to meet the exact needs of the customer, without fuss or bother… – Don Norman & Jakob Nielsen

A good UX expert will define who your users are and set up user testing. User testing is known by many names: product testing, design testing, usability testing, design validation, etc. and is the process of testing designs with real users in real scenarios to better understand their concerns and usability issues. User testing will:

Save money by reducing development time and decreasing the cost of customer support:

  • An estimated 50% of an engineer’s hours are spent reworking issues and costs up to 100 times more than if the errors had been avoided in the first place.
  • Proactively testing and adjusting the problems users report, and using the findings to inform future designs, will dramatically reduce the burden on the support team.

Increase revenue by improving conversion rates as well as customer retention and loyalty:

  • Find out where users get frustrated, how they have trouble understanding offerings, and what keeps them from converting.
  • Make fast changes to the design and copy to immediately boost conversions.

Give a competitive advantage by helping a business gain competitor insights and keep ahead of the game:

  • Running user tests on competitors helps to find out what they’re doing right and whether users trust them over you.
  • These days, users expect good UX and are increasingly intolerant of bad ones. If they have an easier time doing business with a competitor, then they may be lost as customers.

User research performed by UX experts

C) Perform a heuristic analysis:

Focusing on usability, a heuristic analysis is an evaluation method in which one or more UX experts compare a digital product’s design to a list of predefined design principles (commonly referred to as heuristics), and identify where the product is not following those principles. A heuristic analysis by a UX expert will:

  • Improve the usability of a digital product
  • Improve the efficiency: the speed with which a product can be used as a direct consequence of better usability: quality components such as learnability, discoverability, memorability, flexibility, user satisfaction, and the handling of errors

No. 2: Account Signup and Conversion Rates Are Dropping.

Dropping conversion rates indicating poor UX design

A conversion rate is the percentage of users who take a desired action. Typically, this means people buying a product from a website, but can also be applied to other actions such as newsletter signups, video views, etc. A drop in conversion rates and the number of users signing up to an account could mean:

  • The landing page does not follow best practices
  • The customer journey map is not designed well
  • The mobile app onboarding is not designed well

A UX expert would:

Review the landing page, customer journey mapping, and onboarding, and suggest/implement best practices.

A) Review the landing page:

Landing pages are essentially about acquiring and retaining visitors as well as converting them into buyers and subscribers and are currently one of the most popular tools marketers use to gather leads.

Here is a short list of landing page best practices:

  • Visual simplicity: Reference minimalist design above.
  • Great media: Use of relevant still images and video demonstrates a product effectively and creates a personal connection with visitors.
  • The effective use of color influences visitor psychology.
  • Mobile audiences are considered by implementing responsive design.

Landing page design following great UX design principles

Catchy and concise headline on Taster's Club landing page

B) Review the customer journey map:

Mapping out the customer journey is an effective way to understand what turns a viewer into a long-term, loyal customer. – Kofi Senaya, Director of Product at Clearbridge Mobile

A customer journey map can take a variety of forms, but essentially it is a visual representation of a customer’s experience with a product or company at various touchpoints over time.

Here are some examples of journey mapping best practices:

  • View the journey from the customer’s perspective first.
  • Identify which departments do what and when, and set up a clear and robust communication flow between them.
  • Define and share success milestones.
  • Get feedback from trusted customers to validate your data.
  • Measure results and optimize the journey regularly.
A customer journey map template from Columbia Road

C) Review onboarding practices:

Users try out a lot of apps but decide which ones they want to ‘stop using’ within the first three-to-seven days. For ‘decent’ apps, the majority of users retained for seven days stick around much longer. The key to success is to get the users hooked during that critical first three-to-seven day period. – Ankit Jain, Head of Search and Discovery, Google Play

No matter how great an app may look, if users cannot learn how to use it easily, they are more than likely going to abandon it.

Here are some onboarding best practices:

  • Emphasize the value proposition.
  • Highlight core features.
  • Only ask for what you need.
  • Don’t overwhelm users: Avoid text-heavy explanations and use visuals instead—screenshots and illustrations.
  • Don’t waste time by stating the obvious: Most users are familiar with icons for liking, sharing, and favoriting.
  • Make signup easy: Signup can be a barrier to adoption—make it fast.
  • Give users the option to sign in through existing social media.
  • End with a call to action.

User onboarding by Google follows great UX design fundamentals.

User onboarding by Divan Raj

No. 3: Your Online Store Is Not Performing as Well as Expected.

In 2017, eCommerce sales in the US alone reached around $434 billion and continue to reach new heights in 2018. By 2021, eCommerce sales worldwide are expected to reach almost $5 trillion. An eCommerce site is more than just a typical website—it is an online shopping experience that, if done effectively, will convert passive shoppers into paying customers.

Several factors determine the overall success of an eCommerce website; for example, product quality, brand recognition, shipping costs, return policies, trustworthiness and customer service. However, thoughtful user experience design is also key to providing customers with a satisfying, friction-free experience. It will not only convert potential clicks into actual eCommerce transactions but make customers come back time and again.

Here are some issues a UX expert would look out for:

  • Trustworthiness: Most shoppers are concerned about privacy and whether the site will protect their personal data by providing a secure transaction. If the website does not feel trustworthy, they will simply choose to shop elsewhere.
  • Design considerations: The look and feel of a website is the main driver of first impressions. Research concludes that people will determine whether they like a website or not in 50 milliseconds.
  • Navigation: Navigation is about how easy it is for people to move around the website and finally take action. The eCommerce shopping experience should be seamless so shoppers do not drop off halfway through the process.
  • Special offers: Shoppers are always on the lookout for special offers, discounts, or best deals. Even if the price differences aren’t that great, the psychological sense of saving some money creates an illusion of having an upper hand.
  • Shopping cart: The shopping cart is an essential component, as it is where customers review their selected products, make the final decision, and proceed to checkout.
  • Checkout design: The success of an eCommerce site is simply measured by the number of completed purchases—a well-designed checkout page will significantly contribute to the conversion of passive shoppers into paying customers.

An eCommerce online store when guided by a UX expert will perform well.

eCommerce store concept by Virgil Pana

No. 4: Your Business Dashboard Is Not Giving Users What They Want.

An effective business dashboard shows actionable and useful information at a glance. A great dashboard is clear, intuitive, and customizable. It simplifies the visual representation of complex data and helps stakeholders understand, analyze, and present key insights.

A UX expert would:

A) Make sure your dashboard design decisions are guided by:

  • Clear project goals
  • The nature of the data
  • The needs of users

B) Review the design to ensure your dashboard adheres to these dashboard design best practices and data visualization best practices:

  • Uses “progressive disclosure,” a technique used to reduce clutter
  • Enables users to accomplish most actions in just a few clicks
  • Reduces complexity and provides clarity on actionable data
  • Conveys a clear story to users by making use of suggestive visuals and labels
  • Reveals data and information at the appropriate time, in a drill-down system
  • Uses data visualization to expose information in a meaningful way
  • Communicates information quickly, clearly, and efficiently
  • Shows trends and changes in data over time effectively
  • Presents the most important widgets and data components effectively in a limited amount of space
  • Is easily customizable

Business dashboard design with data visualization when designed by a UX expert will be successful.

No. 5: Your Website Is Under-Performing. Users Complain It’s Difficult to Use.

This symptom is typically a result of usability problems, and the customer complaints could be due to:

  • Ineffective information architecture, content layout, and navigation, impacting usability and discoverability
  • Poor UI design trying to do too much and overwhelming users
  • Inconsistency throughout with the way information and functionality is presented
  • Functionality and search results pages not designed with the user in mind

Following fundamental interaction design principles and standards contributes immensely to great interaction design, which in turn will contribute to greater user experiences.

A UX consultant would:

A) Review the site’s UI design to ensure it is consistent and follows widely-accepted interaction design principles, conventions, and standards:

  • Review navigation, information architecture, usability, and discoverability
  • Check for clear signifiers—these are tied to discoverability and give clues to the actions people can perform
  • Look at how search is integrated into the site (including the search results)

B) Review the site’s UI design for heuristics (empirical rules of thumb) and interaction design best practices:

  • Discoverability: If the user cannot find it, it does not exist.
  • Signifiers: Ensure that affordances (possible actions) are clearly indicated in the UI.
  • Feedback: It is critical that users are kept informed about where they are in the UI and what’s going on at all times.
  • Conceptual Models: A good conceptual model helps users understand the system and gives them a sense of control.
  • Mental Models (cognitive maps): These are the images in a user’s mind that inform their expectation of a certain interaction and how something works in the real world.
  • Mappings: Mapping is the relationship between controls and their effect in the world—in the case of interface design, it’s the relationship between a control and its resulting function.
  • Constraints: Constraints in design make sure only specific things are enabled, or even visible, in order to guide the user towards certain interactions.
  • Patterns and Learnability: Common components or patterns provide instant learnability. Once you’ve learned how to use a spoon, you will always know how to use a spoon—the same construct applies to the UI components we use every day.
  • Consistency, Standards and Heuristics: To prevent user error and make an application easy to learn, it is essential that an interaction model be consistent.

A UX expert would perform usability heuristics on your website.

Susan Weinschenk and Dean Barker (Weinschenk and Barker 2000) researched usability guidelines and heuristics from many sources (including Nielsen's, Apple, and Microsoft) and generated this set of 20 Usability Heuristics to check against.


As more and more personal and professional business is conducted online, users have come to expect an optimized, friction-free digital experience across all platforms and devices; when they visit a site or hit up an app, there are only seconds in which to engage them. In this saturated digital environment where people have become demanding and very savvy, investing in UX is pretty much mandatory in order to gain their trust quickly, ensure their loyalty and build brand recognition.

Recent findings from Forrester Research suggest that a well-conceived, frictionless UX design could potentially raise customer conversion rates up to 400%. As company stakeholders begin to recognize the impact it has on the ROI of their online products, user experience (UX) is becoming more mainstream, and can no longer be considered simply a competitive advantage, but an important contributor to a company’s bottom line.

If an app is getting low ratings, bad reviews, and complaints about its usability, or a website is not generating the expected conversions—or any of the signs listed above hit home, it may be time to bring in a UX expert.

• • •

Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:

Understanding the basics

What is the meaning of UX design?

UX design covers all aspects of a system (website, app, product, service) as experienced by users. User experience design is the discipline of what UX designers do, and user-centered design (UCD) is the UX design process. Design thinking and HCD (human-centered design) are other terms that are widely used.

What is the difference between UX and UI?

The interface is not the solution. UI (user interface) design generally plays an important role in the work of a UX (user experience) designer, but it is not the only part. Think of it this way: UX design is the journey and the UI is the destination.

What does a UX specialist do?

A UX specialist is someone who applies a UX design process. The UX design process is the practical application of empathy used to observe, analyze, and evaluate a user's engagement with a digital product. It's a broad field with opportunities to engage in research, user testing, wireframing, prototyping, and more.

What does a user researcher do?

User researchers use a variety of research methods such as surveys, observations, diary studies, focus groups, and competitive analyses to develop an understanding of users and what motivates them. They then generate "personas" and user research reports for product managers and UX designers.

What does a user experience researcher do?

User experience research is an integral component in the UX design process. It involves a range of techniques used to extract behavioral patterns, add context, and give insight into the design process. There are many types of user research tools and techniques available—it's all about choosing the right "lens."