Graphic designers working with UX/UI designer planning application template layout framework

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the phrase “fail fast, fail often.” It’s become one of those garden-variety bits of business advice like “push the envelope” or “think outside the box.” The idea is to make frequent mistakes to accelerate learning and growth.

Sounds like a good thing, right?

Maybe it’s just semantics but personally, as a user experience designer and researcher, the notion of failing fast and often has never inspired me.

Do we really have to “fail” our users and customers?

Or is there a better way to avoid exposing them to undiscovered usability issues in our products and systems and provide the people we serve with the best possible experiences?

Speaking from experience, I know there is.

The pitfalls of failing fast and often in user experience

I love the idea of experimentation and collaboration. By including customers and stakeholders early in our process, we not only validate our work with them, but we innovate with them.

My gripe with “fail fast, fail often” isn’t just about the “fail” component, but the “fast” and “often” parts. These words don’t carry the sentiment of how we work. We don’t fail; we experiment. In user experience design, working fast by skipping steps like understanding the problem, collaborating, and working iteratively tends to create friction. Why? Because users don’t like change. The more you change—and the faster you change it—the greater your risk of alienating the people whose experiences you intend to improve.

For example, think about your experience using Google.

Screenshot of Google's homepage

Imagine how you would feel if, one day, the search box and the logo switched places.

Screenshot of Google's homepage with the search bar moved above the logo

Now, imagine that it moved to the lower-right the next day…

Screenshot of Google's homepage with the search bar moved to the bottom-right corner

…and moved up again the next day—with the “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons swapped for good measure.

Screenshot of Google's homepage with the search bar moved to the upper-left corner and search buttons switched

At that point, I’d probably start using a different search engine.

Being thoughtful about how you implement change is part of the user experience ecosystem of your product.

In this example, it’s not necessarily that the changes themselves are mistakes. From the perspective of Google’s (theoretical) Product Managers and UX Designers, maybe there are good reasons for moving the search bar to different locations on the page.

But the updates above would have happened too quickly, too dramatically, and too closely together. They wouldn’t have been delivered properly. As software engineer Alex Connolly writes in UX Collective:

“If you aren’t careful with the way you impose change on your users, they will hate it regardless. It doesn’t matter about how much time you spend on it, how awesome it looks, how much research you did or how awesome the technology is.

If you don’t deliver changes the right way, people will hate your changes regardless of how great they are.

For most user experience updates, the “right way” is the deliberate, methodical, and inclusive way. In many senses, it’s the opposite of failing fast and often.

That doesn’t mean you have to sit back and keep things exactly the way they are ad infinitum, however. Google’s homepage, for instance, has evolved quite a bit since its launch in 1997:

Screenshot of Google's homepage in 1999

So, how do you implement updates the right way? Let’s look at a few ways you can make changes to user experience and try new things while ensuring ease of use throughout any transition.

4 steps to optimize user experience—without failing fast, often, or otherwise

1. Start with the big questions.

Successful design is intentional design. It serves a purpose. In other words, whenever you want to create or update something, make sure you have a reason behind it—a reason beyond “because it needs to change” or “because it will look cool.”

To determine your intentions for a user experience update, ask yourself and your team questions such as the following:

“What are we changing, and why?”

What element or elements of your user experience are you revamping? Why is the change necessary? Who asked for it, and who is it for?

The people involved in the project need to have a shared understanding of the “why” behind the change.

“How will this change improve users’ lives?”

Will it make something easier, faster, smoother, or more efficient? Will it give users enhanced or expanded options? Will it provide greater accessibility? Will it make people happier, safer, better informed?

“How will the change be delivered?”

What does the rollout schedule look like? Will you implement the change for all users at the same time? Keep in mind that every form of user experience optimization is a process, not an overnight flip of the switch. It should be planned and delivered over an extended period, typically weeks or longer.

2. Use the scientific method.

Whenever we work on a user experience update, We try to approach it as a scientist would. Doing so allows us to not only think as objectively as possible about the what and why of the design, but also understand the various steps and resources the work might require, so we can plan accordingly.

We follow a version of the scientific method, which starts with observation (noticing the problem) and questioning (which we explored in step 1).

From there, we come up with a hypothesis. Think of this as a proposed solution or an if–then statement. It’s the guiding principle and framework for the change.

“Successful design is intentional design.”

“Successful design is intentional design.”

For example, let’s say you’ve observed that a significant number of people visit your website every month, but that relatively few sign up for your mailing list. You know you’d like to change something to improve the number of signups. After giving it some thought, you determine that you’d like to redesign the “subscribe” button in your mailing list form. Specifically, you’d like to make it larger.

Here’s where you would come up with a hypothesis: If you make the button bigger, then more people will sign up. No, you don’t know that that will happen for sure, but you can make an educated guess.

To prove a hypothesis, you need to test it. Then test it again, and again, and again, and again… You get the idea. The more you test your hypothesis, the more information you’ll gather about what change is truly necessary and how best to implement that change.

3. Collaborate.

User experience doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Every design decision affects multiple people—your customers and clients, as well as your team members—and involves multiple decision-makers. The best user experience professionals know how to work across departments and functions, gathering input from various stakeholders along the way.

Successful user experience designers also understand that not everyone feels comfortable using the same channels to provide feedback. Some people like to talk during meetings and calls, for instance, while others may prefer responding to anonymous surveys.

Designers Linn Vizard and Rachel Grossman explored the role of collaboration in-depth in a wonderful article on Adobe’s “Thinking Design” blog, by the way. Read “Putting User Experience in Context: Tips for Using Collaboration to Improve UX Maturity in Your Organization.”

4. Take an active role in helping users navigate changes.

The work doesn’t end when a change is decided upon. Implementation takes time, effort, and a diverse team of people helping to deliver the change. Particularly for large-scale updates, an active approach to helping users navigate changes can make the difference between positive and negative sentiment, engagement and disinterest, adoption and abandonment.

Set expectations early. When you know a change is coming, think ahead and determine how you’ll communicate it to the people it affects. You don’t need to tell everyone everything, but continual glimpses and teasers help people feel comfortable about the change and whet their appetites for what’s next.

“Everyone’s experience matters—don’t listen to only the loudest voice.”

“Everyone’s experience matters—don’t listen to only the loudest voice.”

In many cases, it’s a good idea to roll an update out in stages, for different groups at different times. If the update you’re working on affects dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people or more, changing everything for everyone at once could overwhelm your team and systems.

Once the change has been implemented, maintain a long view. It’s important to squash bugs quickly, but keep in mind that a seemingly major day 1 concern may be a non-issue by day 30. In some cases, users just need time to adapt to changes. If the change is a positive one, they’ll forget entirely about the previous iteration given enough time.

Finally, make sure to keep the conversation going. Continue collecting and acting on feedback. You’ll earn your users’ trust and gain valuable insights into how to make the next change even more useful to them. Remember: there’s a spectrum of stakeholders, and everyone’s experience matters—don’t listen to only the loudest voice!

The bottom line? Effective user experience design is intentional, expansive, and often quite slow. It requires a great deal of planning, testing, and collaboration.

Mistakes will certainly happen, of course, but they shouldn’t be the goal. Anything that draws attention to itself doesn’t exactly serve the user. After all, good user experience is invisible. Many of the best updates are the ones users don’t notice.

So, instead of failing fast, failing often, try designing deliberately and inclusively, failing sometimes, and communicating often. No, it’s not as catchy, but it’s better for you and the people you serve.

Terri Haswell is Sr. Director of UX & Customer Research at Ruby.

By the way, these same considerations apply not only to product design, but to every element of your customer experience.

To provide your customers with the best experiences possible, make sure to continually, actively, and thoughtfully optimize your customer service. Ruby has distilled everything you need to know into a handy checklist. Find it here.

Additional reads you may find interesting...

View All
Content marketing and social media tips: side view of photo editor working in a creative office
Small Business Tips

Content marketing & social media: 4 easy tips for getting started

A single pine tree on a rocky summit
Small Business Tips

Meeting customer expectations during a holiday season like no other

Person at desk in front of computer waiting on phone
Receptionist Tips

Have trouble handling the emotional weight of phone calls? You’re not alone.

Choosing a business number: overhead view of faded yellow vintage telephone with notebook and numbers on monochrome background
Small Business Tips

What your phone number says about your business

How to find and analyze your website traffic: two people look at a computer in a bright office space
Small Business Tips

How to find and analyze your website traffic

Using virtual receptionists for part-time answering - Ruby

Using virtual receptionists for part-time answering

What is a conversation worth: illustration of a confused person with complicated calculations hovering above their head
Small Business Tips

What is a conversation really worth? We calculated the exact dollar amount.

Top 3 legal marketing strategies for 2022: man looks at laptop
Legal Practice Tips

Top 3 legal marketing strategies for 2022

24/7 live chat: a Ruby chat specialist and a potential new client use computers in split screen with a live chat window between them
About Ruby

How Ruby’s 24/7 live chat solution grows your business and saves you time

Why empathy matters for your business: person listening to another person in cafe with laptop, papers, and coffee
Small Business Tips

Why empathy matters for your business

SEO and branding: star-crossed lovers—an illustration of two people with crowns surrounded by flowers
Small Business Tips

SEO and branding: star-crossed lovers

Title card: Authentic small business marketing with Jamie Adams of Scorpion

Ruby partner feature: Authentic small business marketing with Scorpion

Using chat as a sales tool: hands using laptop
Small Business Tips

4 ways to leverage live chat as a sales tool

How to attract more law firm leads: smiling woman in professional attire talks on phone while using laptop
Legal Practice Tips

Treading water? Here’s how to attract more law firm leads.

Needs-based selling: woman using laptop in well-lit office next to large window.
Small Business Tips

Needs-based selling 101

Try Ruby Risk Free

Call to talk to a live virtual receptionist and hear why 10,000+ companies Ruby.

Call Ruby Sign Up
Sales Support

Already a Ruby customer?

Let’s get started.

Ready to turn more callers into customers?

Missed connections translate to lost revenue. With Ruby, you have a partner in gaining and retaining customers. Plus, we’re so confident you’ll love our service, we offer a 21 day money-back guarantee*.

*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the canceled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner. Some restrictions may apply.