Ugly websites. We have all come across them, stupefied by how bad they look, wondering how they could even be published, sharing them for a good laugh. Heck, some people even make a hobby of collecting them for fun.

The websites mentioned above are the obvious "digital monsters": easy to spot, often easy to fix. But there are also quieter and subtler monsters out there. They can damage the user experience of your digital product nonetheless. And that's the last thing you need, right!?

What are digital monsters?

A digital monster is a digital product that fails to support the primary goals and needs of its target users.

See? Nothing about being sore to the eyes. It is a monster if it was created for a purpose and does not do its job. It was not intended in this form, and it harms.

How do digital monsters arise?

“Let’s create this product. It does not help our users or us, but we don’t care, let’s ship it anyway.” - No one, ever.

When you're involved at the start of a digital project, you genuinely want it to succeed. You want users to be satisfied. It means that something happens during the project that turns the intended Prince Charming into the Hairy Beast. Most digital monsters are not created by bad designers. They are created by bad decisions.

What different types of digital monsters exist?

We can classify digital monsters in 3 categories:

  1. The “Shiny rainbow” monsters
  2. The “Ivory tower” monsters
  3. The “Perfect snapshot” monsters

In this article, we'll have a closer look at the first category. Later, we will also discuss the other types of monsters. So stay tuned!

“Shiny rainbow” monsters: UX is not a universal thing.

These monsters arise when a design solution is made not to solve a problem, but instead to try to recreate the success of existing products artificially.

There are 3 types of shiny rainbow monsters:

  1. Technology monsters

    These monsters force a piece of technology into the product. For instance a conversation interface, virtual reality, or a mobile app.
  2. Feature monsters

    A video banner, a promotional pop-up window, or a sticky header: all popular features that these monsters try to fit into the product.
  3. Copycat monsters

    Copycat monsters try to mimic the UX provided by popular digital products, by blindly copying their UI.

How do these monsters harm?

They give the illusion that they are an easy solution, a silver bullet to success. If it works for them, it should work for us, right? Well sorry, but UX is not a universal recipe.

These technologies, features, UIs are not creating good UX out of the blue. They are a conscious design choice to solve a specific problem for a specific group of users. Unless you have the exact same parameters, chances are it will give your users something shiny that does not help them with their task at hand.

How do you spot them?

When someone in the project team (that include clients, stakeholders, sales - anyone involved in the creation process) suggests an existing solution, often early in the project: “Hey, we should have [name of shiny object] in our product!”

How do you slay them?

Your best weapon for the job: define the problem you are trying to solve with your product. And make sure it is the right problem for the users via interviews, top-task analysis or observation. The earlier you have determined the problem and the clearer you make it for everyone, the better. Does someone suggests/request a shiny object? Put it next to the problem and ask how it helps to solve it.

It's easy to see if the idea has potential. Just put it into a realistic context. Is a tablet app with a Tinder-like swipe selection of food a good idea for our restaurant? Draw the user journey, roleplay it, validate with user interviews, observations or reactions on a prototype. Anything to quickly see if it actually makes sense for the users.

Last trick: if someone in the team wants the feature because it's trendy, show how fast it can become outdated and how much it would cost to build. It is your job to stand your ground and make something that performs, not something that fit this year’s fashion.