With a background in marketing, design, and technology, Dave Burke focuses on bridging disciplinary gaps to create web products that delight both users and business owners. [More...]

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The UX Hierarchy of Needs To Be Fixed

This is a poster presentation for the 2011 IA Summit. Download the poster PDF here.

Here's a summary of the proposal:

The UX Hierarchy of Needs To Be Fixed is composed of a graded set of user consequences for UX defects. The idea is that, when facing a backlog of defects in a product nearing launch, you should fix defects in the more severe categories — the ones at the bottom of the pyramid — before tackling ones that are higher up. The categories are, from most to least severe:

Goal/Task Loss. The defect consistently blocks the user from completing a critical task or goal, either due to system failure or severe usability issues. Such issues include unexplained data loss, unrecoverable errors, and critical browser incompatibility.

Confusion. The defect leaves the user unable to find the path to task completion without considerable effort or multiple missteps, causing a high risk of task abandonment. Examples include multiple unclear paths, requests for information that the user does not understand, and unrecognizable calls to action.

Frustration. While the defect does not cause the user to lose the path to task completion, it adds considerable effort and cognitive load, ultimately creating a moderate risk of abandonment. Examples include missing desired features, difficult language or jargon, and requests for information that the user cannot obtain without considerable effort.

Inefficiency. The user can complete all tasks and goals, but completion takes more effort or inconvenience than is necessary. Examples include multi-step processes that could be completed as one, system slowness, and annoyingly strict security requirements.

Love loss. The defect has no impact on task completion or efficiency, but it reduces the brand affinity or overall delight that the user feels. Examples include typos, misaligned graphics, and misuse of color.

The hierarchy is intended to qualify the impact of a defect on a single user. But to prioritize defects, product managers must also consider other factors including:


  • the business criticality of the affected features
  • how many users will be affected
  • the business importance of the affected user segments
  • the effort required to implement a fix


These factors are represented on the poster as well.

The hierarchy is informed by my own work as UX designer and product owner on various web projects as well as collaboration with other UX professionals, but it is still a work in progress. I hope that presenting this poster at the IA Summit will spark some conversation, and help me refine and clarify the hierarchy further.