Design Debt

The dilemma with debt is that it is easily incurred but, inevitably, there comes a time when you will have to pay it back. The problem with design debt is that it is even easier to amass it. Design debt? Yes, like technical debt but for designers.

Tight deadlines, feature creep, competing agencies, changing teams, or simply having different designers working on a project: There are many reasons why design debt accumulates. And we’ve all been there. A quickly defined new button style, another headline variant, a few images that don’t fit the corporate style that well, a new typeface (only for this one project), a less-than-ideal interaction pattern, or simply wrong assumptions: Keeping the design language of a product, company, or brand consistent is hard work. And making sloppy and hasty decisions now can lead to a lot of accumulated design clutter later. This makes it harder to create a consistent brand experience and will reduce the perceived quality and appeal of your interface and even increase the cost for future projects.

Design debt can’t be avoided completely, but when you know that it’s there, you can at least try to reduce it. Create a design system. Avoid rushed solutions and make conscious design decisions instead. Ask yourself what the long-term consequences of variants and additions might be and also discuss this with your team. But also understand that just like music, great design isn’t always monotonous and predictable but needs moments of surprise, playfulness, and fresh perspectives. Creating and maintaining a design that is both consistent and versatile is a balancing act that requires zooming out a bit from time to time to see the bigger picture and evaluating if you are still on track.


This is the 54th post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.


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Baldur Bjarnason
“Design Debt · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer”…