UX considered harmful

A metaphor

I live in a region without public transport (but plenty of public roads) and at some distance from the nearest city. When I need to go into town I have three options to choose from. I have a bicycle, a motorcycle, and a car.

The bicycle experience is the worst. In the summer I experience the heat in full effect and in other seasons the cold and wind. When it rains I get wet. I might be able to pedal hard enough to keep my body temperature up but I am still encumbered by my wet clothes. When I sweat it gets into my clothes, when my clothes get salty they take longer to dry, and when they are dry they are stiff and abrasive. I can't carry much cargo. On long distances I have to trespass onto farms to find water and I must eat more to maintain a metabolic rate sufficient to power the vehicle. When the road is rough my butt and hands are assaulted by vibration. As I bicycle I must monitor vehicle performance and perform preventative maintenance. Many roads are too busy to ride on and I must make detours. The user experience is poor.

The motorcycle experience is better. With it I travel at the highest speed of the three and over almost as many paths as the bicycle. The motorcycle seat is at the same height as the bicycle but it is softer and I can sit straight up. I have larger panniers and can carry more gear and it can fit one or two passengers. It is the loudest of three. My helmet dampens the noise of the wind but it should not dampen so much noise that I cannot hear the engine. I must pay attention to the sound and vibration of the engine and manually shift the transmission gearing to maintain speed. I can wear more clothes than the bicycle but the wind is colder. The weight of the vehicle requires more traction than the bicycle and it handles poorly in rain, ice, and snow. Of the three the motorcycle puts the user in the most danger.

The car usually has a better experience than the motorcycle, depending on the weather. I sit in an enclosed cabin with temperature control. Vibration is mostly imperceptible and I experience no wind. I sit in a bucket seat, I can lean back, I can adjust the height and pitch, and it is even self-warming. I can comfortably carry four passengers and twice that if necessary. I can listen to music and watch videos from the car's console. I must follow the laws of the road more closely than I would with a two wheeled vehicle, but feel much safer and I don't pay as much attention to other drivers and the road surface. I can eat and while diving (when I'm not shifting gears).

Clearly the car has the most optimized user experience and provides the most user safety. It would be easy to always choose the option with the best experience.

Unfortunately life is complicated, and in this case the best experience has the worst long time outcomes and the most moral hazard. That might sound like a bold claim but I am legally required to have that moral hazard audited and insured against by a third party.

Is there a trade-off here between your user-experience and inflicting death or crippling injuries on the people around you?

Does having a touch screen vehicle entertainment center optimize your engagement?

Does a taller and heavier vehicle optimize your safety?

Discount user-experience, optimize social-outcome.

A person with a personality disorder marked by antisocial behavior, a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.

A person who makes stupid decisions; a fool.

idiota (Latin), ἰδιώτης (Greek):
A private person, one not engaged in public affairs

A person that "optimizes user-engagement" either a sociopath an an idiot in the thrall of a sociopath. I attribute my level of engagement with software to personality flaw, but I do it because I believe I can make a better outcome for others, and my optimized outcome is one with minimal software engagement. I won't go into detail on why UX is bad, because if you have a strong preconceived notion of what a two-letter initialism means, you are too close to the problem.

To make another metaphor, I enjoy going to the university library and reading dusty computer-science books. The experience is not as optimized as watching videos of talks or indulging in cyberpunk stories, but after starting for hours at black squiggles on bleached tree pulp with only ambient lighting, it makes the colors and the conversation of the world outside the library more vivid. I choose the lesser experience because I prefer the richer outcome. I engage with a book at my own pace, on my own terms, and so long as I can take something from it after I put it back on the shelf.

Most of the students I see at the library have a different experience, they do not take the stairs to up to the stacks. They study in the cafe or in the glass cells on the ground floor, where in any direction you look you will see no less than two video displays. The university wants it made explicit that it puts a tremendous effort on optimizing the user experience of prospective high-school students.

Watching a how-to video is certainly more optimized than a learning process that leaves your hands sore and bleeding. Upvoting a friends comment you agree with is more optimized experience then emphasizing with a stranger you disagree with. I see no end to a list of examples where "user-experience" degrades outcome.

If optimizing experience over outcome ever gives you a feeling of shame, don't disregard that shame. That is your common sense overriding a shallow and temporary sense of accomplishment.

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