UX: Update experience

(A.K.A. why I’m writing this and not watching Netflix)

I’m going to start doing short blogs about UX things that bug or excite me that I see . So, you know what really grinds my gears? Software and device updates.


Updates suck. To a consumer updates are sporadic. Sometimes software on your computer or tablet has to update, but sometimes something more physical such as my XBox or TV has to update (yes, it’s software but you get what I mean).

When I boot a device I don’t use often (looking at you, third Chromecast) I’m turning it on for a specific reason — maybe I finally have 20 minutes to try a game I downloaded, or I want to throw on Netflix while I eat. For all you product managers out there wondering, here is the master list of exactly what I want to do in those moments:

  • Watch the thing
  • Play the thing
  • Use the thing

And here’s what I definitely don’t want to do (but maybe you think I want to?):

  • Watch my TV update for 10 minutes
  • Watch my XBox update for an hour
  • Watch as the Chromecast downloads a firmware update and hangs at 80%
Warning: foul British language

Why? Why. Why?? Why do you do this? Why does your device force the update at the exact time I want to use the product? You literally know what I want and still give me the exact opposite!!

“The right time to update is at the end of a session or when the product isn’t in use.”
- You, hopefully

Okay, maybe your update was security-critical. I get that. But you should not be just absolutely ****ing (messing) up a user’s day because you can’t be bothered to properly plan and implement updates.

I get it, your new feature is going to blow my socks off. I bet it is, hotshot, but maybe wait til I try to use the new thing and maybe ask me if I want to update then? Did you stop to think that maybe, just maybe, I booted up your product to use it how I have, you know, the last hundred times I used it?

No way, that would be crazy. I obviously wanted to try the new feature that I’d never heard about until you dumped me into an unskippable tutorial that taught me just how much I don’t need it.

But that’s not nice to code for!

I’ll admit it - I’m a UX guy (come at me), but I also write code. Actually, everyone on my team writes code too, and we all write way more code than we want to. It’s not because we’re shoddy (well, they aren’t), that extra code is for the user: we make things as simple as possible and let them do what they want to do. Sometimes that makes it more work for us, but that’s the price you pay to make things people love.

Developers and designers create extra work for themselves to please their users all the time. Heck, these days user experience is the main value prop in half the products I use. But for some reason, no one looks at update UX.

We’ll all go to great lengths to to be able to do the little thing like push a happy birthday banner to users or to celebrate Halloween on their screens. We spend hours tweaking shopping cart icons to feel more “magical” and “fun” and we’ll work late nights coding because we think that users would prefer live chat to email help. But, I swear no one ever unplugs their own products and lets them sit idle til after an update when they really wanted to use them, because if they did this problem wouldn’t exist.

My ask

Start designing architecture so that not every update has to be a mission critical brick wall preventing me from loving what you made me. Sure, every so often you’ll need to push an update because multiplayer has to work or because you needed to patch Heartbleed. I get it. But every new color change, photo section, store category, and minor bug fix doesn’t need to put a hard stop on me enjoying your product when and how I wanted to.

Pretty please, let me use it how it was yesterday, just for one more day. After I finish, go nuts. Update it, skin it, tweak it, and tutorial me later, but today I just wanted to watch Scrubs :(

Hint: The Janitor in this gif is my television