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So, the detail in my quoted G+ post that’s missing: the aesthetics, whatever. They changed the information structure.
They added columns, but the columns had no meaning. They impede my ability to skim through the stream. In my main stream, I can make it one column, but when I’m on someone’s profile, for instance, I cannot. Just last night I had the experience of trying to look for a post from a few days ago on someone’s profile, and being unable to find it for a minute (a long time in internet-time) because of the two-column layout.
Actually, that’s probably worth expanding on. There are three things here that I’d like to see you tease apart more: aesthetic elements of the design, UX elements, and new-capability elements.
I think that a lot of the negative reaction is occasioned by the aesthetic changes, and a lot of the motivation for rolling out new designs comes from a desire to offer new (presumably better) UX and access to new features. (Also, it’s a shortcut to “fixing” [replacing] front-end technical debt, which is another matter entirely.)
But that disconnect is part of what’s going on when users explode. I think that you’re right to say that the most negative responses tend to be the most vocal, but I think that it’s fruitful to look into what might motivate those complaints, regardless of how vocal they are or not.
Why is it that any radical change to a feature invites immediate repulsion and “bring it back” stampedes? Is the option to “bring back the old version” the only solution designers have to appease everyone, or should one barrel forward with a design change with the confidence that eventually everyone will jump on board?
Flickr’s new changes create a bit of antagonism.
The obvious problem is that the most vocal people online are those who have something to gripe about, and any significant user interface change introduces an initial sense of panic if things aren’t “where they used to be”. Let’s consider three engineering avenues:
When Facebook introduced its new stream 4 years ago, reaction was also similar.
As an engineer or a product manager you need to exercise some level of confidence that your change is for the better. I think here is where Flickr comes a bit short in introducing their new UI – they haven’t given users the chance to think for themselves that “hey, this might actually be better than what I’m used to”. There’s probably a myriad of ways to do that, but here’s three that I’ve come up:
1) Drum up expectation
Tech blogs and news sites love change, precisely because it generates the sort of buzz and “is it good or not” hype. Providing perspectives on how the new changes are for the better, and how those changes are informed by direct user needs, can be vital before launch. All the better if you have big conference venues like Google I/O to explain directly how the new features and UI changes are great.
2) Make positive social
It’s easy to be a hatemonger if you’re among strangers, and the kinds of traditional commenting tools like forums are great areas to be loud and critical. There are more opportunities for “hey, this isn’t as bad as you think” in a social forum, which is why if you’re launching a product it’s better not to open direct commenting on the blog post. Flickr’s “help forum” is not the best place to gauge user feedback.
3) Make it exclusive
Unlike invites for brand new products (like Mailbox), exclusive invites for new features allows people who are excited about the original product to opt in while allowing those who would rather wait, do so. There is a whole subset of the population who is absolutely fine testing out a product after the rest of the population has tried it and ironed out the problems and kinks for them (including me). But the people who try out the new feature can also become the “social ambassadors” for that product, drumming up expectation (#1) and conversations (#2) about it. If they don’t like it, there’s probably a better reason to listen to them than the general masses.
Even Google Plus’s latest changes were received with skepticism.
The recent UI change in Google Plus provided the affordance to revert back to the original one-column layout.
At the end of the day, there will always be people who are going to lament and complain about changes in user interface. A product manager or engineer can only be confident about its potential success and public acceptance if he or she has done her homework with adequate need-finding, prototyping and user testing. Hopefully the three ideas will help soften the transition.