We had a discussion with an economist about the concept of UX Debt. At a certain point, I wanted to explain that not all UX processes can be measured in a quantitative or monetary way, but that there are processes that can only be measured using qualitative methodologies. And that they have a "return", only that it is not measured in the same way as an economist would do.

Example of this is Urban UX, some forms of CX, some forms of branding, etc.

The question is: is there a name or concept similar to "Return on Investment" only for these measurements that are not quantitative, but qualitative and symbolic?

  • Payback. Also what happens if you play dirty in a game.
    – PhillipW
    Commented Nov 26, 2020 at 20:43
  • I missed this question somehow and UX debt is something that I have considered quite a lot in the past few years, especially in my area of expertise around optimizing design work and improving their design maturity. Was hoping this might get more attention from the community but glad someone is raising this topic :)
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 5, 2021 at 0:18

1 Answer 1


My understanding of the concept around 'debt' is that it can be a value or cost that is transferable (i.e. across qualitative or quantitative measures) but which cannot be erased unless some additional effort is expended to erase it (so kind of like interest owed on the debt).

So I think the term return on investment still applies whether you are talking specifically about measurements that are qualitative or quantitative. Lets look at the examples of the types of UX debt to be solved in the article that you referenced:

  • Consistency - this has effort in both design and development (quantitative) plus inefficiency and confusion around design and development decisions (qualitative but can also be converted to quantitative measures)
  • Branding - relatives to consistency of organisation/service/product and the experience of the user, which can translate to value of brand (qualitative) and spending by customers (quantitative)
  • Baseline metrics - this is an important one for creating benchmarks and also measuring change/improvement, which can be both qualitative and quantitative
  • Meets user needs - reduces the amount of rework of the service/product, reduces the amount of customer support required, improves customer satisfaction (and a range of other measures)
  • Findable - this relates to basic user needs/expectations
  • Usable - this relates to basic user needs/expectations
  • Personalized - this relates to higher user needs/expectations
  • Persuasive - this relates to higher user needs/expectations
  • Accessible - this is becoming increasingly important due to legal compliance requirements as well as meeting basic user needs/expectations for a wider audience group

When I have had to do analysis around how the various processes and sprint delivery output add up, and how there are UX debt being accrued or erased during successive sprints, I think a good understanding of the relationship between what you are classifying as qualitative and quantitative provides a good foundation to capturing a holistic view of the costs associated with UX design activities.

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