Design Debt: How can it be managed?

One of the most common struggles of product managers is, often, how to manage a relationship between design and engineering while also trying to build a great product? And why shouldn’t that be a concern? Nobody wants to accrue debt. Neither financial nor technical. Sure the aspect looks intriguing and also a challenge at the same time. Managing design debt is a common challenge faced by product managers, designers, and developers. But in order to answer that question, we’ll have to go in-depth and take a look at what design debt actually is.


What is design debt?


Many times development teams try to launch a product in a hurry. So much so, that they don’t pay much attention to the fact that there might be some issues with the design that could be harmful for them in the long run. This gives rise to design debt or UX debt.


Design debt can be defined as any ongoing problems in the experience due to launching a fast, easy, or careless solution that later negatively impacts users.


Where does design debt come from?


Here are some of the situations that can give rise to design debt.

  • When a team begins with a project without any research and just proceeds on the basis of assumptions.
  • Sometimes there is a lack of time or budget to work on every little feature with the same care.
  • Sometimes designers overload a website or an app with different features, only to give rise to confusion and hampering the user experience.
  • When user testing of the interface isn’t carried out before its implementation.
  • Not analyzing the product and how it’s doing in the market.

4 ways for managing Design Debt


Design debt is a crucial aspect that should be handled in time. Ignoring it will only lead to its accumulation that can be very harmful to your business or product in the long run. Here are 4 ways in which you can, if not get rid of, lessen the chances of accruing design debt.


1. Design reviews can be helpful


A million code reviews take place in an ongoing development process. Just like that, you should also make design review a thing. This method will help you add an additional filter for user demands before your product launches. Just go for a simple review session including both design and engineering teams. This way you will be able to prevent design debt in the first place. 


2. Keep a debt backlog


In order to maintain your debt, you have to get to the root of it. Chances are that it was the result of conscious decision-making at the time of launch. In such a case, you know the consequences and still go on with your decision. 

On the other hand, if the design debt has been incurred due to a careless development process, that is a whole different problem. In that case, you have to have a word with your development team and talk to them clearly about the problem and its consequences. 


3. Work on design debt clear-ups 


Many times product development teams don’t do anything about the careless designs. This leads to design debt pile-ups that are harmful to the product in the long run. The best way to get rid of it is to give some time to make amends and cleanups. Also, hire front-end specialists as they will have better knowledge and an eye for the tiniest design details. This is a crucial step as traditional programmers might care less about the design and visuals. 


4. Prioritize based on user journeys


User journeys are not always the same. Therefore, different UX debts will have a different impact on your product. For example, you might be able to recover from a small design issue that is causing a component to render badly on the invoice generation page. But if the same problem occurs on your eCommerce checkout, it will have a comparatively bigger impact on users. 


Implement regular user testing sessions in your development processes. It will help you prioritize what is important and what is not. This way you will be able to know different situations that might lead to user debt. 




In order to save your product from design debt, ask yourself if getting to the market quickly worth the risk of negatively affecting user perceptions? Also, don’t forget that the costs of fixing issues, later on, will be much higher.⁣ Developing a well-planned product will only be beneficial in the future. 


Different teams have different opinions about design debt and its management. So there is no best way.  But the first step you can take to avoid it is to spend some time reviewing your projects.  Try to identify the situations where something should have been done differently. Or maybe taken notes and discussed. As it’s rightly said, the first step of solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.

Vaishali Uniyal Written by:

Vaishali Uniyal is a content writer. She is also an avid reader and a mental health advocate with a dream to travel every nook and corner of the world.

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