January 7, 2023

It’s an old saying that whenever you are not paying for it, you are the product. I don’t think that this is true in most cases - instead, I think if you are not paying for it, someone else is the customer (which is a bit of a truism, but bear with me for a second). The classical example for people being the product would be Social Media, where people, or their interactions with ads, are the actual product the companies are selling.

An example where people are neither the customer nor the product is B2B software, where the user interface is, sometimes hilariously, sometimes unbearably, horrible to use - SAP software being the canonical example.

The reason for that is that the goals of the person buying the software does not always align with the goals or wishes of the actual users - ease of use vs. price, for example. Concur, the tool discussed in the link above, is actually a good example where this tradeoff kind of makes sense: In many companies, the tool is crucial to have, but rarely used, and a shoddy UX would be worth the cost savings.

Often, though, this phenomenon is due to misaligned goals, because of course does the UX have an effect on the efficiency of the people using it, especially when they rely on the tool for their day to day work. If cost saving is more important than mid term efficiency, then a poor UX is acceptable.

As a side note, I have done my fair share of last-minute preparation of half-assed features just to get the software through a sales pitch, and I, too, have heard the lie of “fixing it later” once the contract is finalized. Typically, the presentation in the sales pitch is tailored around the capabilities of the software, and the minute someone asks the presenter to click somewhere outside of their script, things start to fall apart. Consequently, handwaving was a crucial skill for our sales colleagues.