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It’s time to dust-off the cobwebs, break out the Windex and put some elbow grease into making all things seem shiny and new again.

When it comes to design, that means polishing design debt. If you are new to the concept of design debt, it is the result of incremental changes over time that compromise the User Experience. Addressing design debt is critical because it can prevent the user from achieving their goals.

So, how do we clean-up design debt in a practical and meaningful way? There is a multitude of approaches to creating and implementing design and each has its merits, serving the project, team and time period in which it was conceived. That said, let’s consider a basic approach to clearing out design debt. In general: Get organized. Prioritize issues. Collaboratively make a plan to address issues in an ongoing fashion. Now, we’ll explore each of these initiatives in more detail. 

Organizing Design Debt

If you do not already have well-documented Information Architecture, including a content, navigation, asset, or design library, create one. Make sure the library is up-to-date and use it to log and note issues that need enhancements. There are a number of tools you can use to create your library, including a simple spreadsheet.

Prioritizing Issues

Work with technical and business groups as a team to prioritize issues based on the Customers’ goals. I’ll say it again: prioritize Customer goals. While focusing on glaring visual issues first is tempting, improving the customers’ ability to achieve their goal is paramount to the success of the business. Work collaboratively and cross-functionally to determine which issues create the most severe pain points, preventing customers from achieving their goals.

There are a number of methods to qualify this; a solid starting point for prioritizing the severity of an issue is to quantify the frequency in which it occurs as well as the ability of the user to complete a task and achieve their goal. Although the issue may occur frequently, it may not prevent the user from achieving their goal, potentially making the issue less severe. Assess the issue occurrence to task completion ratio to help determine the severity.

Still, many design debt issues will require further information to properly prioritize and assess. Cross-functional collaboration that includes customer insights can serve as a first-pass method to further identify and clarify problems and work toward design debt solutions. Finally, there can be no substitute for direct customer feedback through surveys, interviews and product testing. Regularly collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback from customers through task-driven exercises to help prioritize design debt issues.

Making a Plan

Making a special investment in time for initial projects and once annually can be helpful for larger projects and to make substantial progress on your list. Yet, to ensure effective management of design debt, design teams need to address issues on a ongoing basis. Build time into your design process to regularly capture debt issues.Sam Implementing Plan

Implement Your Plan

Ensure that all necessary team members have visibility to the priorities and plan for cleaning-up design debt. Use tools like Trello, Asana, or Google Sheets to plan and project manage issues and track progress. Use or develop a comprehensive and dynamic design guide to ensure consistency in design implementation – tools such as Zeplin or Sympli can assist your efforts.


No matter how you approach it, take advantage of Spring Cleaning season to prioritize and clear-out design debt.

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Amanda Morgan

UI Designer

Amanda Morgan
Amanda Morgan

Amanda Morgan

UI Designer

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