Design debt, a term often whispered in the corridors of software and product development, casts a long shadow over the industry. It’s the unseen cost that accumulates when teams opt for quick fixes over the best solutions, leading to a backlog of issues that need to be addressed later, often at a much higher cost.

This phenomenon is pervasive, affecting virtually every product at some point in its lifecycle. For product managers, the challenge of balancing quality, time, and cost is similar to tightrope walking, where design debt lurks as one of their top challenges.

The key to preserving the integrity and user experience of a product lies not in avoiding design debt entirely, which is nearly impossible, but in recognizing and managing it effectively from the onset.

Addressing design debt proactively can prevent it from undermining your product’s experience, ensuring that it remains robust, user-friendly, and competitive in the fast-paced digital marketplace.

Understanding Design Debt

Design debt is the residual work you collect by taking shortcuts during or after the design phase.

Bansi Mehta, CEO, Koru UX Design

Design debt is the accumulated consequences of design decisions that prioritize immediate convenience over the perfect solution, leading to extra work in the future.


  • Multi-functional enterprise products often struggle with design debt due to their complex requirements and frequent updates.
  • Legacy systems are prone to accruing design debt as they evolve without comprehensive redesigns, leading to inconsistent user experiences.
  • Apps designed for wide-ranging tasks face design debt challenges as they try to accommodate diverse user needs without a unified design approach.

Causes of Design Debt

Causes of Design Debt

By understanding these causes and actively seeking to manage them, teams can reduce the impact of design debt on their products and ensure a more consistent and user-friendly experience. The three main causes include:

Shortcuts in Design Phases

When development teams prioritize speed or ease over the best solutions during the design phase, they accumulate design debt. This approach often involves taking the path of least resistance, which can lead to a backlog of design issues that require future correction, increasing the cost and effort needed for refinement.

Rapid Prototyping Without Proper Integration

Rapid prototyping is a valuable tool for innovation, allowing teams to test ideas quickly. However, without fully integrating these prototypes into the product, it can lead to inconsistencies and gaps in the user experience. This disjointed approach contributes to design debt by creating a patchwork of features that may not work cohesively.

Focus Solely on Time and Money

In a survey conducted by Pendo, 72% of respondents said they have encountered issues with user experience in their organization, with 30% attributing these issues to a lack of investment in UX design.

When product teams prioritize meeting tight deadlines and sticking to budget constraints over ensuring quality and optimal user experience, they inevitably make compromises that contribute to design debt. This short-term focus can lead to long-term challenges, as the resulting design debt requires additional resources to address, impacting both the product’s quality and its cost-effectiveness.

Recognizing Signs of Design Debt in B2B Digital Products: A Checklist

Strategies to Manage and Reduce Design Debt

Strategies to Manage and Reduce Design Debt

Effective management of design debt requires a comprehensive approach, blending strategic foresight, continuous refinement, and the empowerment of design teams to make informed decisions that prioritize long-term product health over short-term gains.

Role of Design Leadership

Strong design leadership is crucial in monitoring, managing, and minimizing design debt. Leaders must foster an environment where design is not only about aesthetics but also about functionality, usability, and sustainability.

A prime example of effective design leadership is Samsung’s approach with its in-house innovation and design team. By investing in a dedicated team focused on innovation, Samsung has been able to maintain a leading edge in the competitive smartphone market, introducing groundbreaking products like the Galaxy Flip and Fold series.

Design debt

This strategic decision not only propelled Samsung ahead of its competitors but also highlighted the importance of integrating design leadership into the core of product strategy.

When we had our place in the organization, we started caring about the future of the company.

A Yong-Il, vice president of design strategy, at Samsung

Leaders in design are responsible for instilling a culture that values the reduction of technical debt as much as the introduction of innovative solutions, ensuring that design and technical teams work in tandem to address and mitigate design challenges proactively.

Adopting a Scalable Design Approach

Scalable design considerations are paramount in preventing design debt from becoming a barrier to growth. By focusing on scalability, product teams can ensure that their design can accommodate future needs, changes, and features without necessitating complete overhauls or generating significant debt.

This approach not only mitigates the accumulation of design and technical debt but also supports sustainable growth. Scalable design means picking frameworks, UI components, and design practices that are flexible and adaptable, allowing the product to evolve seamlessly with the market demands and technological advancements. Such foresight in design planning reduces the need for constant reworking and refactoring, thereby saving resources and maintaining a high-quality user experience.

design debt Bansi podcast

Maintaining a ‘North Star’ for Product Design

A design system or style guide serves as a ‘north star’ for product design, providing a consistent reference point that guides all design decisions and helps avoid the accumulation of design debt. This cohesive set of design standards and components ensures that, regardless of how many teams or individuals contribute to the product, the output remains unified and aligned with the overall vision.

Keeping these frameworks updated and in sync with the product’s evolution is critical. Regularly revisited and refined design systems prevent discrepancies and inconsistencies in the product experience, making it easier to integrate new features and technologies while maintaining a coherent user interface and user experience. This strategic alignment minimizes the risk of design debt and ensures the product remains agile and adaptable.

Conducting a UX Audit to Address Design Debt

Conducting a UX Audit to Address Design Debt

A UX audit is a critical tool in identifying and addressing design debt, offering a structured approach to evaluate the user experience aspects of a product comprehensively. By examining the current state of the user interface, interaction design, and overall user journey, a UX audit provides actionable insights that can inform strategies to mitigate design debt.

This process involves a thorough analysis of the product to uncover usability issues, inconsistencies, and areas where the user experience does not meet the intended objectives or user needs. Conducting a UX audit helps in pinpointing the root causes of design debt, whether they stem from outdated design practices, rapid scaling without adequate design consideration, or the accumulation of ad-hoc features that disrupt the user experience.

UX Audit Will Help Identify Current UX Maturity

  • Assess UX Capabilities: Evaluate how well current design practices align with industry standards and user expectations.
  • Pinpoint Gaps: Identify discrepancies between the intended user experience and the actual product performance.
  • Highlight Opportunities: Uncover areas for improvement and innovation within the existing design framework.
  • Benchmark Against Competitors: Compare the product’s UX maturity with that of competitors to understand the industry landscape.

A UX Audit Will Further help Develop a Roadmap for Improvement

  • Prioritize Findings: Rank the identified issues based on their impact on the user experience and the complexity of addressing them.
  • Set Clear Objectives: Define specific, measurable goals for enhancing the product’s user experience.
  • Allocate Resources: Determine the necessary resources, including time, budget, and personnel, to implement the roadmap effectively.
  • Establish Milestones: Create a timeline with milestones to track progress and ensure accountability.
  • Iterate and Evolve: Treat the roadmap as a living document, revisiting and adjusting it as you make progress and as new insights emerge.

By conducting a UX audit to assess the current level of UX maturity, organizations can develop a targeted, actionable roadmap to systematically address and reduce design debt. This strategic approach not only enhances the product’s user experience but also contributes to the overall success and sustainability of the product in the competitive market landscape.

Turn Design Debt into Design Dividends: Start Today

Recognizing and managing design debt from the early stages ensures that your product remains agile, user-friendly, and competitive, avoiding the pitfalls that can lead to user dissatisfaction and ultimately impact your bottom line.

We cannot overstate the significance of taking proactive steps to address design debt. It’s about making conscious, strategic decisions that prioritize long-term success over short-term gains. Starting early in identifying and managing design debt helps maintain a healthy balance between innovation and consistency, ensuring that your product evolves without losing sight of user needs and expectations.

For those looking to delve deeper into the nuances of design debt and how to effectively manage it, our UX audit services offer a comprehensive solution. At Koru UX Design, we specialize in conducting thorough UX audits that not only help identify the current state of your UX maturity but also provide actionable insights and a roadmap for improvement. Our expert team is equipped to guide you through the process of understanding your design debt, measuring its impact, and implementing strategies to mitigate it, ensuring your product’s design remains on the cutting edge.Get a UX audit done today and rid your product of the haunting design debts that are holding it back! Consult our experts.