Website Design Debt Explained in Simple Terms

Website Design Debt Explained in Simple Terms

Most projects have a design debt. Like technical debt, website design debt is a natural decay that arises as the project matures-you add new features, old features grow stale, and the codebase starts to get unstable.

Mostly, startup projects thrive on shipping which is not a bad practice. After all, this is a grand strategy to learn and grow. Therefore, a startup site or app naturally gets larger, but the code language evolves. This often leads to design debt—the nature of the iterative development approaches.

The frequent updates of features and experimentation require restructuring of the existing code to be better, efficient, and more readable without changing the outward behaviour of the site or app. But first, what is the relationship between the product cycle and design debt?

Product Cycle and Website Design Debt

When there is a new product cycle, a new product design arises. The new design often introduces new features and more buttons on a page. Moreover, it would be necessary to optimise the design to meet the needs of potential customers and increase the conversion rate.

And there is nothing wrong with adding new features to a project as they trigger business growth. However, problems start when the design stretches beyond its original limit without checking on the user experience. Features begin to add on top of other features, and landing page on another landing page.

And over time, an unchecked page will no longer be scalable. Then it gets messy for the users, ruining their experience with the app or website. To return everything in order, you`ll have to perform code refactoring. But before that, how does design debt start?

How does Website design debt creep up?

Design debt piles up without a warning until it is late. The more new element you add on a design, the more disjointed the design becomes. The debt then starts to compound itself over time. The changes are often minimal, and it takes time to notice their effect until red flags go up.

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The design then starts to get confusing. It can narrow down to contradicting colours or the topography of the app or site. In turn, contradiction makes it difficult for the user to use your design. But some projects quickly pile up design debts than others. Which are they?

Who Frequently Experience Design Debt, Small or large companies?

No matter how dedicated a company is, whether a startup or a more established business, their project will have design debt. However, startups are more likely to experience design debt? They make frequent feature updates and may not notice their design deteriorating.

All mistakes stem from having multiple teams that lack proper coordination and cohesion to keep track of the bigger picture. A company ends up piling design debt.

And the problem continues to compound until the business assigns specific professionals to watch over the design. Startups mostly appoint one or two experts to watch over the design holistically. But what is the root problem?

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What causes design debt?

Basically, a design debt is a result of a website or an app getting more extensive and its language evolves. It may start to reflect different design thinking that they are the older features. The key triggers to design debt include:

Running a project with an under-skilled workforce. For instance, your team can focus on building a recent and possibly excellent feature without paying attention to how it fits into the Singapore business website design holistically.

Or your team can aim at putting a new experimental feature in front of many people as possible. Instead of figuring out where in the design fit the experiment feature, they place it directly on a place that gets the most traffic.

Moreover, you might be aiming at improving the user experience by working on your design debt, but you are too scared of the results. This commonly happens when a company is so worried about a temporary traffic drop after launching a new redesign.

It is true; many sources of design debt appear to have the same root. They all stem from a lack of insight that the long term goal is to ensure a comfortable user experience. Of course, there are plenty of other reasons that cause design debt. But overlooking the importance of a long term good user experience is the primary cause of design debt.

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However, Are some Companies Prone to Design Debt than Others?

Some companies acquire design debt more frequent than others. Platforms like Yahoo, MySpace or MSN, Social networks, News site, classifieds and all-in-one-go-to platforms will more likely experience design debt for two reasons.

First, they need to run a lot of experiments to keep pushing features that will keep their users coming back. Second, these companies typically need to have multiple functions to attract the type of traffic they are aiming to attract.

Moreover, the industries of online retail and online gaming are not left out too. For online retailers, they are always aiming at selling as much as possible. They`ll always add many features on their website. On the other hand, game developers might be tries to add small features to expand their gameplay. In both cases, the design expansion intends well. However, these small changes create clutters which might limit user experience.

What about AB test?

AB test is insightful too for anyone aiming to optimise his design for good user experience. Andrew Chen said, “Show me a site that has an impressive visual appeal, and I’ll attest that they do not carry out regular A/B test.

What Andrew means is that companies who are no longer experimenting and instead learned enough to stand their ground reduces design debt and improves user experience on their sites or apps. This shows the reason why established companies don’t need to experiment.

In conclusion, there is no perfect, debt-free design out there. No project has infinite sources. Regardless of whether a huge corporation or startups build a design, the project will have some flaws. Contact us today for professional website design services in Singapore. 

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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