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  • Writer's pictureJakob Nielsen

UX Roundup: User Retention Metrics | UX Writing | Kano Model | Mobile First Harmful | UX Soloist

Most companies use the wrong user metrics to measure retention | New book about UX Writing: yes, it’s a thing and different from other writing | The Kano model to predict user delight doesn’t work for technology-driven products | "Mobile-First" design is often bad for desktop users, due to content dispersion | How to grow professionally if you are a solo UX researcher | Jakob’s Law vs. the Mere Exposure Effect

UX Roundup for October 16, 2023. My articles from the Jakob2.0 reboot project are at UXtigers.com. You can get a fast visual overview at the UX Tigers Instagram.


Typo Fix: Citation Count in Last Week’s Roundup

There was a typo in my UX Roundup for October 9: the entry for my citation count in Google Scholar was wrong. The correct number of citations to my work is 123,824. Sorry for the error.


How to Count User Activity

The head of growth for Dropbox claims that most companies measure user retention wrong. Her full article is worth reading, but here’s a summary to whet your appetite:


Retention (keeping users from churning) is the lifeblood of any subscription business, yet the metric is often misunderstood and poorly measured. The first cardinal mistake is defining retention activity incorrectly; for example, focusing on logins instead of more predictive metrics like “performed a useful action.” The second misstep is failing to measure habitual frequency — Daily, Weekly, and Monthly Average Users (DAU, WAU, MAU) should reflect consistent engagement rather than one-off activities. (Somebody doesn’t become a daily user because they were on the service one day.)


Misconceptions also abound in freemium models where the focus is skewed toward paid users, ignoring the value of engaged free users in expanding your customer base and contributing to viral loops. Similarly, retention should only be measured for users who have reached the aha! moment and completed the first habit loop; otherwise, you're trying to retain users who haven’t even fully activated.


In the B2B landscape, measuring retention at the user level can be disastrous. The focus should be on the business or team level, as the health of an account is the sum of its users and not any single individual. A failure to recognize this can result in a futile effort to sell enterprise plans, even if hundreds of individual users within a company are engaged.


Accurate retention metrics are a nuanced blend of properly defined activities, habitual frequencies, and a clear understanding of which users to focus on, particularly in freemium and B2B models. Make these mistakes at your own peril.


Analytics is like counting the footprints in the sand after the users have visited your service. For proper subscription retention, you should let the metaphorical tide wash over the daily footprints and only count sustained user behavior. If somebody visits once, he or she is not really a user. (Beach by Leonardo.)


UX Writing Book

A book about writing digital content. Oh well. (Actually, I agree with the authors’ decision to publish a book: the two media forms are different, and to learn something, it’s often best to use immersive media like the good old book format.)

Old-school book writing produces an immersive experience for the readers, which is often better for learning than the fragmented experience of online content. A book about UX writing may seem like a paradox, but it may benefit you. (Monk by PlaygroundAI.)


Kano Model Makes No Sense for Tech Products

The Kano model is a simplified analysis based on a two-question customer survey, where users are asked to imagine their reaction to proposed new features. The answers are used to classify the features as must-have, performance, attracting, unappealing, or indifferent. Chris Chapman offers a scathing critique of the Kano model, explaining why it doesn’t hold water:

  • The two questions make no sense because the response options often overlap. Garbage data means that any conclusions built on top of this data will be suspect.

  • The feature classification is inappropriate for technology-driven products (like most of what UX people work on) that are in rapid flux. It may be more appropriate for traditional consumer products that have well-understood functionality that rarely changes.

  • Users can’t predict their future reactions to a hypothetical feature they have not actually used. (This last point is mine, not Chapman’s.)

The Kano model constructs a gorgeous edifice on top of a foundation that is on fire. You don’t want to live there. (House fire, Leonardo.)


“Mobile First” Considered Harmful

📱 "Mobile-First" design is often bad for desktops!

🖥️ Content dispersion haunts desktop screens 👻

🤔 Ever found desktop websites hard to read? This is why.


A new usability study provides an in-depth look at the negative repercussions of adopting a "Mobile-First" web design strategy when such designs are viewed on desktop computers. In recent years, web designers have prioritized the mobile user experience, leading to pages optimized for smaller screens. However, this approach has resulted in significant usability issues when these designs are rendered on desktop platforms.


The content becomes overly dispersed, necessitating long-scrolling pages filled with expansive white spaces, large images, and enlarged fonts. This scattered layout hampers the user's ability to efficiently consume and understand the information. Instead, we need a balanced approach that considers the usability needs of both mobile and desktop users to ensure a universally effective design.


Avoid “content dispersion” on your website, please!

It’s no good to make your mobile users happy if you make your desktop users miserable. Image by Dall-E 3.


How To Grow If You Are a Solo UX Researcher

🎥 Are you a lone UX researcher? Watch my 2 min. advice video!

🚫 Avoid being the only UX specialist early in your career.

👩‍🎓 It's crucial to learn from experienced peers rather than trial and error.

🌟 With 5-10 years of experience, you can shine as the solo UX pro in a startup.

👥 Joining established UX teams = unparalleled learning opportunities.

❌ No team? Commit to self-improvement with relentless practice.

🤔 Reflect and critically analyze your methodology.

📹 Use video reviews for a clearer view of your user test interactions.

🔄 Theory is good, but action (doing, iterating, self-evaluation) is the key to honing your skills!


How can you still grow your UX research skills if you are all alone (so sad!)? I answered this reader question in a recent 2 min. video.


However, my main recommendation is that any UX newbie tries to avoid jobs where he or she will be the only UX specialist. This is true for both researchers and designers. Learning from senior colleagues is much better than figuring things out for yourself when you’re new to the profession.


Once you have 5–10 years of experience, it may be the time to be a hero as the only UX person in a startup or other small company. By then, you’ll have the professional chops to pull it off. Since I know this career progression isn’t always realistic, the video has my advice for professional growth if you find yourself alone as the only UX researcher in your company.


I advise novices to join well-established groups to benefit from experienced colleagues. When this isn't feasible, self-improvement can be achieved through relentless practice and introspection. A researcher can refine his or her approach by conducting research and critically analyzing one’s methodology, primarily through tools like video reviews of user tests. Don’t rely purely on theory but emphasize action: doing, iterating, and self-evaluating are ways to improve your skills consistently.


“Loneliness” by Midjourney. I don’t recommend this for your first UX job.


Jakob’s Law vs. the Mere Exposure Effect

My recent article about Vocabulary Inflation (the tendency within the UX field to make up new words for the same old things) received the comment that Jakob’s Law of the Internet User Experience might seem like a case in point because of its similarity with the Mere Exposure Effect. To summarize the two:

  • Jakob’s Law of the Internet User Experience: “Users spend most of their time on websites other than yours.” This means that users typically approach new websites or platforms with expectations set by their prior engagements with other web interfaces. This cognitive framework suggests that if a site deviates too radically from the established norms, it may result in disorientation or frustration, thereby hampering usability. Therefore, designers should consider the broader digital ecosystem and existing design conventions when crafting new user experiences.

  • Mere Exposure Effect says that individuals develop a preference for a stimulus solely based on their familiarity with it. Numerous experiments, particularly by Robert Zajonc, have shown that repeated exposure to a stimulus increases an individual's affinity for it. For example, if you’re a cave person with two possible caves to spend the night, you will feel most comfortable sleeping in the one you have slept in 20 times before. You will be apprehensive about overnighting in a cave you have never slept in. This is a survival trick because the new cave is more likely to house a cave bear. This phenomenon underscores the importance of frequency in shaping attitudes and can be observed in various contexts, from advertising campaigns to interpersonal relationships.

I think there's enough difference between the two to justify different names. Jakob’s Law is about usage expectations for new websites based on the cumulative user experience from previously visited websites. Mere Exposure is about liking something based on having seen it many times but not about being able to use it better. Two key differences:

  • Use vs. See

  • Expectations for a new experience vs. preference for the same experience

If all these ATM machines from different banks work the same way, Jakob’s Law says that you can easily move between banks. If your bank has yellow ATMs and you have used ATMs looking like that hundreds of times, the Mere Exposure Effect says that you will prefer a yellow ATM when you walk up to a row of ATMs, even before seeing the logos on the machines. (ATMs by Midjourney.)

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