Weird to find myself saying good things about startup culture in several conversations lately. The theme was UX, and my point was that growth-obsessed companies have seriously upped the stakes in how much thought we put into interfaces. And that's a good thing—there was (and remains) way too much "RTFM" mentality in open source culture, and corporate software houses still don't really seem to get UX at all.

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Also, a lot of the UX innovations developed on VC money can be conveniently absorbed into the general culture and be applied in other contexts.

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@marijn they optimized growth, not UX. A lot of apps, web UIs etc from startups are using design not to create never-ending “engagement” and not to let people do things better. There’s tons of regression where we used to have better interfaces to do things which are now taken over by ever simplified and dumbed-down “experiences”

@marijn go to example: voice-based interfaces. At best pretty much useless, at worst biased and racist. (I’ve spoken English for 30 years, Siri still can’t understand me.)

@marijn other example: hiding functionality behind “discovery”, there’s tons of apps especially in mobile that require you to learn obscure gestures to access functionality, which are pretty much impossible to discover yourself; instead you need to acquire arcane knowledge from wiser elders (or wise youngsters). See e.g. Snapchat, etc.

@marijn and then there’s the never ending cycle of “but this new thing will revolutionize everything”, in this decade so far that has been 3D screens, voice interfaces, chat bots, VR, foldable screens and this year we will hear a lot about 5G (instead of say don’t use ginormous JavaScript monoliths)

@marijn I go on, the banking web app that I used 20 years ago in Austria (immediate transfers, very easy to use) is still better than what American banks have now, even tho the apps have chatbots and AI and AR and seventeen other buzztechs

@thomasfuchs I'm not claiming they are an example to emulate in all respects—yes, growth hacking creates terrible incentives. But a lot of that money was spent on just being more usable than the competitor, and that did lead to useful innovation.

Anyway, banks are pretty much the antithesis of startup culture, and meant to be included in the jab I made about corporate software.

@marijn @thomasfuchs I’m inclined to agree. Most of those examples are where things have gone wrong, not right.

I just saw a presentation from a local startup doing it right at a meetup, this week. They’re following all the startup best-practices and their UX design is obsessive about teaching people to use all the features, but well-balanced to account for use case variations - because that’s what’s driving growth for them.

While everything you wrote is true, it has some downsides.

Commercial UX takes an enormous amount of time and experience to do well. I've seen friends do it. Open source projects I know of would be hard-pressed to do that. I see some projects with very collaborative teams start in that direction, so maybe some good practices that are manageable by FLOSS projects will become more doable.

And then at least some of that growth-obsessed UX is about addicting people to your app...
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