Spooky slowdowns. Blood-chilling blind spots. Disproven ideas rising from the grave. With the stakes so high when it comes to UX, and plenty of room for missteps along the way, it’s enough to give digital marketing and design companies quite a scare.

With over 20 years of experience designing successful interactive initiatives for leading regional and global firms, longtime Filter member and UX Director Robert Lasker has seen many clients fall prey to costly (and avoidable) UX pitfalls. We asked Robert to share his most frightening UX encounters, and how he’s helped his clients move past and learn from them.

Gather round and turn off the lights; it’s time for some UX horror stories that will scare you silly!

Attack of the Upsell

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A global ecommerce company was haunted by a UX mystery: though plenty of users were coming to their website to register, the completion rate was abysmal. With only 16% of potential customers finishing the registration process, they know something wasn’t working.

Robert was brought in to solve the case. The reason for the high drop-off rate, his investigation revealed, was that users were being bombarded by ads and upsells throughout the registration process. These interruptions were leading potential customers away from the site… or annoying them to the point of giving up altogether.

The solution was incredibly simple, Robert says: hold off on the adds until registration is complete:

“It’s crucial to prove yourself to your users before asking anything extra of them. Let them complete the task they came to do, without added distractions. If you stand in the way of what they want to accomplish, you’re likely to derail the process and compromise their impression of your brand.”

The change was beyond effective: the instant, dramatic increase in completion rates was enough to break the registration system. By establishing a baseline relationship with their users before introducing other offerings, they resolved the problem and then some.

The lesson? Earn your customers’ trust first — or risk driving them away.

The Hidden Culprit

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Something’s wrong with these users, thought Robert’s client, a leading DVD rental company. Since expanding their successful model to the Europe, they were seeing an influx of new usability complaints. European customers cited slow delivery times, wrong titles, and other system issues that hadn’t been problems in the US. Clearly, they concluded, these people didn’t understand how to use the service properly.

It didn’t take Robert much time to uncover the real problem: the company was applying the exact same mailing protocol they used in the US. Due to a lack of research, they hadn’t realized that their existing system wouldn’t work in Europe, where mail is much slower. You can’t just apply one model to a completely new context and expect it to succeed, Robert says.

“The customer isn’t always right — but neither are you. If you run into a usability problem, try looking in the mirror first; make sure you understand the market and ecosystem before chalking it up to a customer issue.”

With this knowledge, the company was able to adjust their model to the European market. And the next time they hit a UX roadblock, Robert says, they’ll be less hasty to blame their customers.

The Hypothesis That Wouldn’t Die

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Soon after being hired to lead a product redesign, Robert realized he was up against a serious challenge. With each meeting it became increasingly clear that though the project leaders knew they needed to “bring in UX,” they were extremely unreceptive to it.

The team didn’t understand why Robert needed to “bother them” with questions about internal and external personas and other critical information. “There was only so much I could do to persuade them,” Robert recalls, “so I said, fine: I’ll do the best I can without their help.” He moved forward using the available information, and came back to the founder with his recommendations — which were immediately shot down.

The founder informed Robert that he already knew exactly what their customers needed; his approach was to throw out any findings — even empirical evidence — that didn’t support his own ideas. Concerned, but determined to make the best of the situation, Robert spent the next two months developing a UX proposal that he knew wasn’t the best fit for the product’s users.

Soon it came time for the founder to present the plan to the project shareholders. “Surprise, surprise,” Robert says, “they could tell, as I’d told him, that this strategy wouldn’t work — and they absolutely had his head.” Rather than taking responsibility for his mistakes, the founder placed the blame squarely on Robert, claiming that “UX had let them down.”

At this point, there was no question that the project was heading for disaster — and Robert jumped ship. Robert explains that of all the UX issues he’s dealt with, this kind of stubbornness is probably the most harmful.

“There’s no point in incorporating UX if you only use the findings that back up your personal hypotheses. If you’re not ready to listen — and to be wrong — you may as well bypass UX strategy altogether.”

The Takeaway

The common thread between these terrifying tales? When companies are willing to let go of their preexisting ideas and listen to the UX experts they’ve hired, they can find and fix pretty much any usability issue. “The key to steering clear of these problems is to keep your pride and assumptions in check, Robert says, “and to be ready and willing to adjust your course.”

What are your worst UX horror stories? Let us know in the comments!

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