A process that a user has become accustomed to, can sometimes receive reinvention for a number of reasons:

  • The process can be simplified
  • The process can become a experience unique to a certain entity
  • Aesthetics

Amongst others.

Whilst I see and can understand the reasoning behind taking the reinvention approach, how can it be justified in terms of UX? After all, the user habitually knows what to do, having to learn a new process so as to produce the same result is surely a bad experience.

Here's an example:

Car manufacturers, particularly those of sports-cars, often opt to change the process of opening a door on the vehicle, that differs from the norm (i.e a door handle). This can be in the form of a button on a key fob, a button located beneath the wing mirror, a hand gesture over a sensor, etc.

I sense that, more often than not, this is done for aesthetic reasons. Or to offer something unique to the consumer.

So where's the line? At what point can introducing a process that, more than likely, damages the overall UX be justified?

4 Answers 4


Relearning a process or how to do it has a cost to the person doing the relearning. So it comes down to a perceived cost benefit analysis.

The perceived benefit in present value needs to exceed the perceived cost.

As an example, I recently learnt a new keyboard layout (Colemak). It was a huge pain to give up my Qwerty typing speed to learn, but I did it because my perceived present value (similar to NPV in finance) exceeded the pain.

The tricky part is in managing the perceived value, as that changes from person to person.

  • John beat me to the punch with the keyboard example. Research has been around for half a century showing DVORAK as being significantly faster than QWERTY. We learned QWERTY because of typewriters. They had to space the commonly grouped letters apart so the mechanical hammers didn't jam. Now that we have computers, we don't need to keep the QWERTY layout. Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 18:36
  • @TylerLangan I would admit a certain amount of path dependence but there is also research that states that DVORAK is not significantly faster than QWERTY.
    – Dan D.
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 13:56
  • What Dan said. The evidence that DVORAK is faster that QWERTY is... poor....
    – user597
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 18:03
  • See See utdallas.edu/~liebowit/knowledge_goods/economistqwerty.htm for example.
    – user597
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 18:11

While JohnGB's "The perceived benefit in present value needs to exceed the perceived cost" generally holds true, sometimes the rule needs to be broken because users won't immediately recognize the value of an innovation.

For example, when Twitter started I didn't appreciate the 140 character limit (to me, at first, the cost in UX seemed to greatly outweigh the present value of any benefit). Now I see Twitter's 140 character limit isn't a drawback - it's a tremendous strength.

  • +1 Good Analysis! It's true about how change resistance happen in certain environments due to politics and failing to "see the big picture"... I think this is one of the challenges that UX Designers face the most...
    – edgarator
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 0:07
  • I agree with you, but I would argue that that isn't changing a habitual process. It's a feature limitation, and in the case of twitter, they didn't impose a 140 character limit because they thought it would make the system better. They did it because it was needed to make use of sms's.
    – JohnGB
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:19

Convention beats innovation most often. Time of day is an example. Why don't we just go 11am 12 13 14 15? For that matter, why do we use 60 seconds, 60 minutes, and 24 hours? We could have 100 Danielseconds, 100 Danielminutes, and 10 Danielhours. Convention rules.

Good design is using constraints. Make car doors so they can only be locked from the outside. We'd never lock our keys inside the car again.

If a new feature is a burden, I'm assuming someone in marketing equated more features with a more viable product or someone in engineering thought they were being helpful by making something cool. The engineers and marketing people often become CEOs.

What's viable and what's actually desirable to the user might be different things. Marketing people are taught you are going to buy based on number of features. Maybe that's true. UX people are taught to ask if a feature is really necessary and appropriate to this solution. What happens is companies compete against each other for number of features and the user suffers.

  • Good question, Daniel. It's a very important concept to keep in mind when designing. Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 18:32

Another thing to consider, in addition to the cost of some people having to adapt to a new system, is the ongoing cost of all new users having to learn and use the more ineffective process.

You might damage the experience of current users, but make it massively more attractive to all the future users encountering the system.

To be extreme about it: Even if all your current users hate the change so much that they abandon the current system it still might be the best choice to change.

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