Enemies of UX and how to kill them: #3 UX Lookalikes

UX lookalikes


Know your enemy and know yourself, and you will win a hundred battles without defeat… Know neither your enemy nor yourself, and you will succumb in every battle.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Is that Dolph Lundgren swaggering off the set of The Expendables? Nope, it’s Macaulay Culkin stumbling out of a warehouse rave.

Can you imagine being repeatedly confused for someone (or something) that has superficial similarities to you, yet couldn’t be more different in character and substance? There are a few doppelgängers people wrongly confuse for UX research.

Like when someone says they’re “optimising UX by running an A/B test”. The letters aren’t the same and neither are the two things.


LOL wut?

LOL wut?

I’m not saying Macaulay Culkin doesn’t have a role to play – he’s the star of hits like Home Alone.

I’m just saying you turn to Dolph Lundgren when you need an experienced, reliable hand to hit a home run.


UX Lookalikes

“Optimise your usability with a tool that doesn’t optimise usability!”


  • Diet UX
  • UX Lite
  • A/B testing, multivariate (MVT) testing, session recording, surveys etc.


Often found:

  • Infiltrating teams who manage websites and giving them a false sense of security
  • In eCommerce businesses, getting people hooked on quick and easy… before suddenly not being quick and easy
  • On the b-ball court, making one slam dunk and then bragging about being able to throw better 3-pointers than Steph Curry


  • Rat King – an easily-eradicated cluster of small pests
  • Nessie Monster – a rarely-seen giant that wreaks havoc beneath the surface
  • Cthulhu Rage – a cosmic power requiring only a glance to induce insanity 


If you aren’t convinced that A/B testing and others like it aren’t synonymous with good UX, head to Harry Brignull’s dark patterns website. There, you’ll find a suicide squad of techniques that’ll win any A/B test and boost conversions… but also leave customers swearing never to return to your site.

For example, in “The Deceptive Danger Hiding in Your A/B Testing Data”, Russ Hennebury talks about a dark pattern that was on the Audible checkout page.

Basically, Audible didn’t tell people when they were signing up that they’d be charged a monthly rolling fee. Even worse, a little digging told me that they had another dark pattern on the cancellation page. When users tried to cancel, Audible made it look like they had cancelled when they were actually being offered discounts to not cancel.

As the Crazy Egg post says, Audible corrected this as soon as there was a backlash… but that’s my point – UX lookalikes can lead you to choices that make customers unhappy.

Audible probably didn’t mean to trick people. But if all you’re focussed on is conversions, you’ll incrementally build a site that tricks and strong-arms people into doing things they don’t want or mean to do.

Here are some other dangers of UX lookalikes:



…because of all the horrible experiences customers have had there

Skull and crossbones


…because that lift in conversions doesn’t cancel out the damage to your reputation

Skull and crossbones


…because you keep treating the symptoms and not the cause

Skull and crossbones


…because you only see what’s happening on your site but don’t understand why


Leonardo Da Vinci’s kitchen


UX Lookalikes


A/B testing has its roots in conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and apparently… CRO has its roots in Leonardo Da Vinci’s kitchen, where he created conveyor belts to automate culinary processes.

More recently, the bursting of the dot com bubble led Internet companies to compete aggressively for growth at the turn of the millennium. None other than Google supposedly ran the earliest A/B tests and the company is said to have run 7000 A/B tests in 2011 alone.

Perhaps the myopic focus on conversions that we see in some practitioners of optimisation has its roots in the do-or-die circumstances from which CRO was born.


Good Intentions




Most people who turn to UX lookalikes do so because they have good intentions about improving the user experience of their site or assets.

They usually either don’t know that user experience testing exists or that it’s now a very cheap thing to do. So, they turn to popular heat mapping, A/B testing or session recording tools.

But why simply see where people are clicking when you can also hear what’s driving them to click there? Why simply go for a “quick win” when users can show you what will make them convert and keep coming back for more?

Why watch mouse cursors dart silently across the screen when you can also hear the thoughts and feelings of users?



Car falling off cliff

A and B might get you started on the list of alphabets, but U and X are closer to the finish line – focus only on early results and you’ll miss bigger opportunities down the line.

For example, you might spike conversions… but also increase complaints to your call centre and sabotage repeat purchases. ClickMechanic showed how you can make exponential improvements, across several areas, by focussing on the user experience.

The company increased conversions by 50% while decreasing calls into its contact centre by 14%, despite a substantial increase in overall site traffic.


Cheapskates (both time AND money)




It’s easy to be charmed by the promises of “quick set-up and results” made by UX lookalikes. I get it – why the hell would I sit and watch people use my site when I can have an A/B test up in 10 minutes?

But in UX, as in life, you get out what you put in. When you’re stingy with the pounds and hours you’re willing to invest in UX, the results you get back will be mediocre, at best.

The best companies invest heavily in UX and get 5 to 10 times the invested amount back, while increasing productivity.

Running remote UX tests now costs less than most companies’ monthly lunch budget.

Are burritos really more valuable to you than the experience users have with your brand and the opportunity for 5x growth?



Strong armSPEED

If you’re looking for the Speedy Gonzales of website optimisation, then you’ll lean towards UX lookalikes. But “quick” and “money” go together like “fuel” and “matches” – an eye-catching but potentially dangerous combo.

Aside from the fact that you can set up, launch and get remote UX testing videos in a matter of hours, remember that user experience is a matter of quality, not speed.

No one gives you a medal for running the world’s quickest experiments – but people will give you their money if your website makes it effortless for them to do so.

Strong arm


It is supremely easy for anyone to watch a session recording, run an A/B test or read survey responses and draw conclusions – correctly or incorrectly. With UX lookalikes, you see only one dimension of data about users, then guess what the missing pieces are.

And guessing is fun! It’s also often costly. Why leave unknown what can be known about why your website, app or other digital assets are costing you money?

Strong arm


“What’s the most resilient parasite? An Idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules.”

This quote, by Inception’s Dominick Cobb, summarises one of the biggest strengths of UX lookalikes – they’re popular ideas. They entered popular consciousness before UX testing because they became affordable earlier than UX testing.

Now that UX testing is affordable, it isn’t easy establishing a new idea – that you need to run UX tests alongside other optimisation tactics (because each method optimises something different).

Weaknesses… aka limitations of lookalikes and how to elevate yourself beyond them

Prototype Designs




If all you’ve got is a paper prototype, wireframe or even a full design that isn’t live yet, A/B testing, session recording and heat maps will not help you.

They can only be used to assess and improve live assets.

However, UX testing can be used to improve damn near anything – no matter how early you are in the design process. Reevoo took advantage of this fact when it speedily tested and improved a prototype of an experimental site.


Answers too complicated to be conveyed in 1s and 0s


Does not compute


So you want to know what first impression your site gives people who land on your homepage?

Or maybe you want to know whether people think your checkout pages look trustworthy?

Are you a charity worried that the overall branding on your site makes people reluctant to donate?

Are you a company that needs to know more than simply where people clicked? Do you need to know why they behaved as they did and how to change that behaviour? UX lookalikes can’t help you.

Only UX testing can help you tackle these kinds of problems. Even the much-touted surveys won’t help because of the gaps between what people say they’d do and what they actually do.

The Nielsen Norman Group is so reticent about surveys that it says the first rule of usability is “Don’t listen to users”.





While UX lookalikes give you huge amounts of data… they also require huge amounts of traffic.

To draw reliable conclusions from quantitative data, you need statistical significance – basically a standard for making sure that the results you’re seeing aren’t down to chance or random probability.

But even if you were to achieve statistical significance, Peep Laja of ConversionXL breaks down why that doesn’t mean your results are valid.

On the other hand, testing with 5 users is all you need to uncover roughly 80% of usability issues.

You could run 50 A/B tests on a page, on-by-one, and spend 6 months optimising it. Or you can run remote UX tests with 5 users and get answers to multiple questions in one day. One of the many limitations of A/B testing is that you can use it to improve only one thing at a time.

Even with multivariate tests, where there are several differences between variants, you’re still measuring the impact of these differences on only one metric e.g. conversions.

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UX lookalikes are good at doing their jobs… they just can’t do the job of UX testing

As my earlier Macaulay Culkin analogy suggests, I think UX lookalikes are incredibly valuable in certain situations.

Even at WhatUsersDo, heat maps and A/B tests are rampant. I’ve got a heat map on this blog post! UX lookalikes are good at giving you quantitative data, which tells you “how many and how much” – i.e. how many people are doing what. They’re also good at showing you how all of the people using your assets, in real-time, are behaving. It’s impractical to try to get this kind of data from UX testing – that’s not what it’s for.

Which brings me to my point – problems only arise when people think these tools can replace UX testing.

If you want to improve user experience, you need to run user experience tests – in a lab and remotely. UX lookalikes simply won’t give you the answers you’re looking for.


Combine UX lookalikes with umm… actual UX testing and get better results

If you’re serious about optimisation, then you really should enhance your A/B tests, survey data and heat maps with insights from UX testing.

This is what we advise – use your superior knowledge about why people behave as they do and their thoughts in the moments of action, to get better results from your other tools.

You can develop better hypotheses for your A/B tests, understand the reasons behind your heat map data, and spot gaps between how people say they’d behave (as stated in surveys) vs. how they actually behave (as revealed in UX tests).

Still mad? Check out the other Enemies of UX!

Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

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