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Most Users Don’t Like Change

I’ve been reading a lot about the new user interface design on Facebook and how much users have pushed back on the changes, ironically through a survey launched as a Facebook App.

They don’t just dislike the changes, they despise them:
Facebook Survey

As someone who reads and observes design quite a bit, I appreciate the simpler design (I hated their miserable navigation before) but I am a bit miffed that they simply stole Twitter’s simplicity and built their page into a stream.

I’m unsure of the process that Facebook utilized… first in what motivating them to make the changes and second to push a wholesale change with so many users engaged. I do respect Facebook for taking the risk. There aren’t too many companies with their volume of traffic that would do this, especially since their growth is still on the upswing.

It’s important to note that change is always difficult. If you roll out a new user interface for an application that people have been using for years, don’t expect the emails to come pouring in thanking you. Users hate change.

How did it Start?

I’m looking forward to reading more on the methodology Facebook utilized. My experience tells me that they probably enlisted some power users or a focus group to do the design, paid a big ‘ol stack of money to some human computer interaction and user experience experts, and formulated a plan based on the majority decision. Majority decisions suck, though.

Majority decisions don’t allow for unique individuality. Read Douglas Bowman’s announcement on quitting Google, it’s an eye-opener.

Focus groups suck, don’t work either. There is a ton of evidence that suggests that people who volunteer or are recruited to focus groups walk into the group compelled to provide criticism for any design. Focus groups can derail a great, intuitive and radical design. Focus groups tend to bring a user interface down to the least common denominator rather than something new and refreshing.

Why did Facebook Change?

Another question for Facebook – why did you opt for a forced change? It seems to me that the new design and old design could have both been incorporated with some fairly simple options for the user. Empower your users to utilize the interface they’d like instead of forcing it on them.

I’m confident the new design was initiated to remove some of the complexity of the old navigation system. It will be a lot easier now for a new user to get up and running (in my opinion). So – why not make it the default interface for new users and offer additional options for experienced users?

What does Facebook Do Now?

The (multi) million dollar question now for Facebook. Bad feedback feeds bad feedback. Once the survey on the new interface reaches a 70% negative rate, watch out! Even if the design was fantastic, the survey results will continue to go downhill. If I were working for Facebook, I wouldn’t pay attention to the survey anymore.

Facebook does have to respond to the negative feedback, though. The irony will be when they offer both choices and the majority of users keep the new look.

It takes additional development, but I’d always recommend two alternatives to pushing change: gradual change or options for change are the best approach.

About Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of The Marketing Technology Blog. Doug is the CMO of CircuPress and CEO of DK New Media, an agency specializing in assisting marketing technology companies with their inbound marketing - leveraging social media, blogging, search engine optimization, pay per click and public relations. Their clients include Angie's List, GoDaddy, Mindjet and many more. Douglas is also the author of Corporate Blogging for Dummies.

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  1. Personally I can only hope that Facebook dies a thousand deaths and fades away. But that’s only opinion.

    …from a fan

  2. One thing is for sure, no matter what, people are addicted to Facebook and will continue to use it!

    This design is “different” and I prefer this especially since it is a lot more streamlined than the earlier one.

    But, Facebook should give an option for users to switch or not

  3. But this change came on the heels of another Facebook change. And didn’t people hate that one too?

    So are the people who are lobbying to change back to the previous design the same ones who lobbied to go back to the design before that?

  4. The problem with change is that the amount of work required to learn something new is much greater than the amount of work required to continue to use what you already know.

    Years ago, I led a major software upgrade project and everyone wanted to completely redesign the awful user interface. Of course it was terrible, difficult to use, and only partially functional, but thousands of people used it daily and knew exactly how it worked.

    Eventually, I convinced the team to retain the old interface in the upgrade, but to provide the option for any users to try out a radically improved design. Slowly, everyone migrated over to the new design.

    This is, of course, what Facebook should have done. Instead, they have angered almost everyone.

  5. The idea that people don’t like change is a complete myth. Scientific research actually shows the opposite.

    Along the lines of what Robby said, it is being FORCED to change that people dislike and resist. Great post, Doug!

    • Hmmm – not sure I agree that it’s a myth, James. People have expectations and when those expectations aren’t met it causes frustration. I’ve worked through a number of print redesigns and software redesigns and whenever we did a wholesale change that significantly changed user behavior, they didn’t like it.

      Perhaps it all goes back to setting expectations!

      • I’m generalizing about human behavior. There are certainly situations where people resist change.

        But your comment pretty much backs up mine (and Robby’s) point. It’s forced change that people get upset about.

  6. Doug, I’m a Facebook user, and from what I’ve seen it’s basically the same people who resented the layout change a few months back who are now forming these ridiculous groups and petitions for Facebook to change back to that very layout they didn’t want. I mean, c’mon. Either people have nothing better to do with their time or they’re just exploiting a segment of users whose automatic reaction to every change is always a whiny NO. Give it a few more weeks and all these noise will go the natural way of all hollow causes out there.

    I think Facebook will succeed, people will continue to use Facebook. All the changes I’ve seen so far make a lot of sense (to me, at least). The Twitter-like stream is a great move, and people can still choose who they follow (for myself, it’s ruthless filtering out of application posts and non-English posts). My point is Facebook has given us the best of both worlds – real-time tracking of friends and pages/groups AND the ability to keep our privacy and preferences through the filters. An added bonus is to go around the friending limit by inviting people through the pages.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post.


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