Is your UX a PR problem?

Summary: UX research can help mitigate risks such as bad public relations from a UI or UX mishap. It is wise to mitigate risks than to let them go public. If your design does generate negative attention, it is important to address it immediately by fixing your UX issues.

It will be if you don’t do something about it. This case study illustrates…

At Experience Dynamics, we recently lent our expertise to a Fortune 10 client engaged in enhancing the usability of a product through usability testing.

The client directed our attention to a blog titled “The Worst Experience Ever,” where a blogger recounted his interaction with the specific process the program manager aimed to improve through usability testing. This post captured the product team’s full attention (yes, they’re actively listening – keep those posts coming!). Consequently, we sought out the blogger and invited him to participate in our usability test. Needless to say, both our client and the blogger were thrilled with the outcome. As it turned out, the blogger and other users faced the same issues, but he was the one who took the initiative to voice his concerns.

The Takeaway: Dive into bulletin boards, forums, blogs, private reviews, and analyst evaluations, including user comments, to gather valuable insights and feedback about areas of weakness in your products, brand, website, or features. User researchers now mine these sources for insights into user sentiments, opinions, and perceptions of product usability – a practice now known as “virtual ethnography.”

A robust and enduring User Experience holds the key to effective public relations.

In 1998, Google embarked on a journey to provide a consistent and streamlined search user experience, from the search box interface to search results. This strategy cultivated Google’s popularity within the dot-com sphere and among IT professionals, a legacy that persists even today. Google brilliantly executed a public relations campaign by consistently nurturing a positive user experience. On the down side, Google also suffered from poor privacy UX.

In the digital age, content democratization is the goal, as bias, whether inadvertent or inherent, is no longer acceptable. Word-of-mouth advocacy has transformed into a crucial concern for online marketers worldwide. Studies show that UX profoundly shapes perceptions, loyalty, and word-of-mouth endorsements.

What if a UX expert criticizes your product?

When a UX expert critiques a product, their evaluation can be quite harsh. Usability offers a unique perspective, examining issues from various angles – business, technology, marketing principles, and the user interface itself.

The golden rule for handling the critique of a UX expert is simple: If your application or product triggers criticism from a UX advocate, promptly address the issue. This advice stems from a UX consultant’s perspective.

Examples of UX PR diasters

  1. Apple: Usability guru Bruce Tognazzini dissected Apple’s Dock interface in his article “Top Ten (Nine) Reasons the Apple Dock Still Sucks.” Tognazzini’s conclusion underscores the need to cater to serious users with the required tools.
  2. Adobe: Usability expert Jakob Nielsen scrutinized PDF files in his piece “PDF: Unfit for Human Consumption.” Nielsen asserts that PDFs pose a usability challenge for online reading.
  3. Microsoft: CNET’s article “Five things you love and hate about Vista (Beta 2)” highlights users’ mixed reactions to Windows Vista, emphasizing both its strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Sharp: An illustration from our experience involves the Sharp Zaurus PDA. Experience Dynamics review exposed the Zaurus’ subpar usability compared to other popular PDAs, sparking a backlash from Sharp’s PR firm.

What to do if your UX is a Public Relations problem

  1. Swift Remediation and Transparent Communication: If users voice complaints, promptly address the issue and communicate your actions.’s CEO responded to an angry blogger’s performance-related complaint, demonstrating transparency and a commitment to improvement.
  2. Usability Testing for Alignment: Leverage usability testing to identify discrepancies between user expectations and task flows. Aligning user desires with design elements can prevent cognitive dissonance, ensuring a smoother user experience.
  3. Engage Analysts and the Media: Keep analysts and media informed about your actions. Analysts often share similar experiences when users face challenges and write about them. Ensuring proactive communication helps manage potential PR crises.
  4. Tactful User Engagement: Interact with disgruntled users in a tactful manner. While Typepad managed criticism adeptly and nurtured positive sentiments, other companies like Basecamp struggled to handle user concerns gracefully, leading to a backlash. Said Jason Fried, CEO Basecamp “@JWright, thanks for the advice on how we should develop our products, but we feel like we have it under control. We know what we’re doing.”
  5. Prevent it long-term with User Research. UX research is the answer to determining if your design will have a problem.


Poor UX PR can be avoided. By incorporating these strategies can help your brand foster a positive user experience that enhances public relations while simultaneously avoiding pitfalls that could tarnish your reputation.

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