The Expertise Trap in UX Critiques

From an article in TNW about the UX of posting and commenting on LinkedIn:

As haphazard as lots of the design is, there does appear to be a goal: driving up in engagement. That makes sense, but where the real joy comes from is the batshit way this is approached.

The article highlights two features ostensibly designed to drive engagement: LinkedIn’s canned responses, which, according to the author, have produced “a terrifying world filled with reams of identikit comments that come across as inhuman and deeply insincere,” and its “add hashtag” feature. Most of the article focuses on the latter.

As someone who posts on LinkedIn regularly, I’ve used this feature. It shows an autocomplete list of tags that are somewhat related to what you’re writing, and spells out why you’d want to add tags to the thing you’re writing. (To “help the right people see your post.”) It’s somewhat useful if a bit clunky. (The article’s author admits that the feature’s reason for being is “genuinely sensical.”)

That said, the micro-interactions for the feature aren’t elegant; there are lots of little details that could be improved. I was expecting the critique to focus on these. Instead, it centers on the “add hashtag” button itself:

why have anything that says ‘add hashtag ‘at all? Surely when the suggested hashtags appear that’s clear? Or, if LinkedIn feels the call-to-action is required, why make it actually add a hashtag?

In other words, the article suggests that the presence of suggested hashtags makes the “add hashtag” button redundant, and questions the label add a hashtag for the button.

This critique assumes that the user understands hashtags. But that’s not a safe assumption given the broad non-technical audience LinkedIn serves. I’m willing to bet there are many LinkedIn users for whom hashtags aren’t clear at all. The presence of this button seems like a way of making this feature more discoverable and obvious to these people.

One of the hardest things about critiquing a product is putting aside our understanding of how things work and striving to imagine the experience from a less proficient user’s perspective. It’s a lesson we learn by conducting and observing product tests with real users: things that appear “surely clear” to us can be challenging for non-expert users. Don’t assume they know as much as you do.

The LinkedIn ‘add hashtag’ button is the epitome of befuddling design