Silicon Valley has a UX Problem

Warning: This contains major spoilers if you aren’t caught up with HBO’s Silicon Valley.

I’ve waited two weeks: I hope you are all caught up with HBO’s show Silicon Valley, which I have loved from the start. It’s so frustratingly perfect I find myself watching with the same kind of I-have-to-get-up-and-pace-right-now anticipation as I have when I watch Game of Thrones.

OK, so I’m a big nerd.

Let me give you a quick synopsis of the last few episodes of Silicon Valley and why it was driving me so crazy: Pied Piper has been able to get their platform ready for beta, despite three seasons of setbacks. A huge triumph. When they ask a few people about the platform before they launch it, they all love it, with one exception: Monica, their advocate who works at their VC company.  She says she just doesn’t get the platform, which Richard, the founder, dismisses and moves ahead with the launch.

People join, it looks like they like it. Then, user interaction flat lines. People stop joining. The staff is confused: Why aren’t more people sharing and interacting?

Then it comes out: The people that Pied Piper asked about the beta platform were all engineers. Not end users. Turns out, most of their users were just like Monica: They didn’t get it either. So of course there are a series of hilarious focus groups, and Richard just can’t understand why no one gets it. He then spends loads of valuable time trying to educate people on his over-engineered, extremely thoughtful and powerful yet complex platform.

Now we all know things like an iPad or Facebook, a fitbit or Amazon are extremely complex under their interfaces. These brands also spend a huge amount of time and money listening to their end users.

The next part of the show almost made me lose my mind. With around $600,000 left, how did Pied Piper decide to fix their user problem? By BUYING USERS at a click farm. That’s right. Instead of spending a small percentage of that budget on some user testing that would result in actual site improvements to the UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience), they bought fake users to click on things.

Now, I know it’s a TV show. But in real life, UX research is a simple fix and any decent VC firm or board of directors should have understood that:

  1. You don’t launch a product that you spent millions to build without testing it with real users first and
  2. If you find yourself there, you can always do some user research and fix issues from most to least important with some design, logic, copy, and user interface design.

I know it would make for a way less interesting show, but I kept yelling: I’d only need a SMALL AMOUNT of that 600K to fix all your problems! Call us! Gah!  It would change your lives!

And I was so interested to see how they would portray their human-centered design UX agency, too. I’m sure it would have been hilarious with their piles of post-its, white boards, and fancy glasses. Hopefully we get to meet them next season.

BTW: We did this very thing for IssueLab: check it out.

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