The weakest link

November 7, 2009

As the saying goes, “you’re only as good as your weakest link.”

It is unfortunate, but far too common, that extremely well-engineered systems, and the amount of work and talent on which they are based, may be eclipsed by a bad User Experience (UX), often regarded as a minor detail.

How often have you been frustrated when being squeezed in the train at peak hours, and complained about how incompetent the railway companies were by not allocating more trains ?

If the frustration, engendered by a bad UX, escalates to the point where it obfuscates the complexity and effort put into providing the service in its entirety, then, it is by no means a minor detail and needs immediate consideration. Customer loyalty can be heavily influenced by hasty opinions in a crisis situation.

It’s nothing earth shattering, but sometimes it’s important to be reminded that every single link of the chain matters.

The overall quality of the UX does not equal the sum, but the product of the individual experiences.

Let the Apple/AT&T deal illustrate our saying. On one hand, we have Apple — famous for striving towards excellence. On the other hand we have AT&T, renowned for less than stellar network coverage. Taken separately, the iPhone is the jewel of the Apple Kingdom. I will let History decides whether its release was a revolution, or just an impressive evolution of the smart phone industry, but many praise its technological wonders. I have yet to come across such a consensus about any of the services provided by AT&T. Lumped together, the iPhone experience — and to some extent Apple — loses some of its shine. It doesn’t matter if your device sports the fastest mobile web browser if the network is dead slow.

The exception being the “Visual voicemail feature” which proves itself quite handy during dropped or missed calls due to network issues. :)

This applies to any situation where responsibilities are chained, where all links are interdependent. It may be a bit cliché, but small or middle-sized Open Source projects are often impacted by this chain reaction. It works well, but it looks terrible. Due to the lack of design/aesthetics skills the projects stays anonymous, despite high quality code.

You can spend hundreds of thousands of $$$ to hire the programming rock star of XXX’s fame, if the product you are building, or the service you are providing depends on someone else’s skills in order to be completed, then, your product or service, will only be as good as the weakest of its parts.

Let’s not forget that weakest does not mean weak, so before we exploit social media tools and abuse the influence and the responsibility they entail, we should step back and look at the efforts made on every other part of the chain. That will certainly soften even our most legitimate frustration. There’s always room to improve :)

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Hi, I’m Tim. I’m a Software Engineer at You can read more about me or follow @pims on Twitter or ask me almost anything on