Cool, cool. To preface this comment, I'm a user experience designer, and I've been doing web software development and design for over 20 years.
In reality, your conjecture turns out to be largely untrue. Visual design quality does have an impact.
Main principle you want to look up: the Aesthetic Usability Effect. Basically, users perceive your product to be more usable if it's aesthetically pleasing.
> Summary: Users are more tolerant of minor usability issues when they find an interface visually appealing. This aesthetic-usability effect can mask UI problems and can prevent issue discovery during usability testing. Identify instances of the aesthetic-usability effect in your user research by watching what your users do, as well as listening to what they say.
See also: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/perceived-value/ (other ways users perceive value based on the UI)
Of course, this has limits. A rebrand or redesign that, all other things equal, is mostly the same quality as before probably won't get much benefit. I've seen many redesigns and that tends not to be something people do—there's usually a good bump in visual quality in the process.
So, regardless of whether you, personally notice the different functionality, many redesigns are actually a success at improving the perceived value, perceived usability, and overall evaluation of the brand, company, and product.
People aren't idiots. They don't do this work for no reason. Try to understand and respect the work outside your own department and specialty. Building respect across those boundaries is a rare and valuable thing.
Citation absolutely needed. In my experience people are frequently idiots, and work gets done for no reason after someone with authority is convinced that it's a good idea by someone aching to do that sort of work.
If it happens in so many other cases, it does happen in UI/UX as well.
It's really hard to get people together to make good software. I think that's something everyone can agree on.
Sometimes that is a business need, but the rest of the business doesn't recognize it (or won't until it's too late). Yes, having your website running on coldfusion 5 isn't actually a problem - data comes in, data goes out, orders are filled (ecommerce, for example). If the actual business needs didn't change ever... there would not be a need to ever refactor/rebuild.
And yes, I've seen "needless" refactoring, without regard for business needs. But there are folks who do understand some of the needs of the business before the other business units may realize it themselves.
This. I work for a big payment system company. They had to buy another Exadata, reaching the maximum plan offered by Oracle. The refactor was delayed so much that now we have little more than one year to rewrite everything. If we don't make it in due time no more transactions will be processed. Some devs who pointed the need for a refactor left the company in the last two years and said it feels like a time bomb ticking with every git commit.
Meanwhile the UI/UX guys are trying to create a design system whilst redesigning the internet banking system and app, backed by the CPO and CTO (!?). I mean, I'm not the one calling the shots, but neither a deisgn system nor redesign should be a priority for a least two years.
What has bugged me in the past (and why I don't like being just a 'coder') is that... hey - people in my position have a perspective few others have. Sometimes we can see things that others can't, and generally we're smart enough to understand the business impact. If you're being asked to implement 'business logic' all day, for months or years, at some point, whether you want it or not, you can see how a business is being impacted by things that you can see. Raising a flag like "hey, xyz should probably be a priority..." and being dismissed because you're just a coder and don't understand the business - besides being insulting, sort of doesn't really jive with reality. In many cases, the software team are the only people that actually have a strong understanding of 'the business' - how many of the pieces fit together, etc.
Strongly agree. The biggest barrier between devs and refactors with zero interface impact is AGILE mentality of always aiming to deliver value to the end user with every deploy. Business people just don't understand how much of an impact crappy implementations and error handling does have on the end user. We see 5~6% error rate, which represents hundreds of thousand of people daily, but shipping a new "feature" (that within months will be used by a few hundred people with a very high bounce rate) is always the top priority.
From time to time there is a meeting with the following subject: "why are users not using the basic features", and the business people's answer is always "the ui is outdated" or "the menu is confusing the user". Those answers are gathered by talking to some random users on the streets close to the company building (I'm not making this up).
seems to get back to "what gets measured" mantra. And, reminds me cell phone company churn. There's loads of things that could be done to improve service for existing customers, but companies spend budget chasing 'new' customers to 'switch' with low rates for X months, then jack up the price. "Loyal" customers get ignored.
UI / UX redesigns should be tested with small amounts of users, with all key metrics measured, and see what happens to those metrics and user retention after a few months. Otherwise, UI redesigns has a chance of causing a lot of destruction both by loss of users and bugs. Fortunately for software this isn’t that difficult to do. Other tasks, less so or impossible.
Some of these redesigns that don’t work out well could have been worked on by brilliant people that were very cautious about what kind of work they take on. But you don’t always hit it out of the park.
But yes, you're right, happens all the time. Less so with most of the large scale more popular redesigns people tend to think of when writing articles like this about tools they actually use; the team at Atlassian, for example, is not made of idiots, neither at Slack, Google, Twitter, or other large companies with mostly significant design experience.
Smaller operations where we all likely work—yep, hit or miss.
It's my understanding the use of the word "idiot" in this context implies someone who is primarily responsible for a significant amount of rework on anything that bears no real fruit, ui redesigns being one potential example. Pretty sure big companies make those mistakes just as much as small. Though I don't think its fair to call someone an idiot for this reason--I think its very challenging to do well.
Also, they are relatively responsive to developer demands, at least as far as the dashboard is concerned. Not that long ago, if you wanted to export a few seconds of logs, you had to setup a Cloud SQL sink that could suck in gigabytes of logs. Not too helpful if you want to analyze just a few hundred lines. People complained, and now you can export the current view to excel/csv. They've also speeded up load times significantly (it's still not snappy though).
But on the notion that large companies specifically don't have hit or miss design or redesigns: I'd argue there's more than enough evidence to the contrary. And, personally, I find Atlassian products to be a very good example of that.
Note: In this regard, I focus mainly on Don Norman's view on "design", which is largely orthogonal to aesthetics. It's cool for software to look nice. But if it's laid out in a non-intuitive way or doesn't prevent (or even provokes) user errors, it's not good design, period.
Proper (re)design initiatives need to born out of the intersection of "viability, (user) desirability, and feasibility."
Usability is only scratching the surface of how to quantify the impact of a redesign and the author doesn't acknowledge the convoluted nature of how design decisions actually get made in non design-led tech organizations. The best companies (i.e. FAANG) have data and are measuring the outcomes of design decisions before developers even get assigned the work.
From the author's vantage point and how they get assigned work, they are missing the forest for the trees.
You're contradicting yourself here. If someone with authority is convinced that something is a good idea, then they have a reason for doing it. It might be a misguided reason, but it's not just randomness.
Did you read the article? The author specifically says, "Before all of the UI designers that read this go out and riot and champion against me for saying UI redesigns are a waste of time, let me say that I do value design. I think at the bare minimum, a product or website needs to be usable, and if you possess a good eye and steady hand, you should feel compelled to create something that looks pleasing."
He then goes on to say, "Just stop redesigning the UI all the time. UI redesigns, in my opinion, are a waste of time 95% of the time. Let me explain further."
That's not so contentious IMO. Redesigns can be too frequent and the purported purpose of redesigns is typically nebulous, and can be driven more by politics than any of the objective metrics that you describe.
> People aren't idiots. They don't do this work for no reason. Try to understand and respect the work outside your own department and specialty.
Of course they have reasons. That doesn't make those reasons objectively correct. Maybe you should try to understand and respect the point the article is trying to convey, that perhaps the pendulum on UI redesign has swung a little too far one way.
You don't even need to appeal to some 'objective correct' standard. You can just look more basically at "what is the purpose?" Usually, it's "increase sales". So... determine baseline metrics, perhaps implement some testing to see what changes have what effect, and then push forward a larger redesign effort if the tests moved towards the goal/purpose.
Perhaps the goal is 'reduce number of clicks'. Is that really important? Or is it 'reduce user frustration'? How will you measure that?
"Reduce page load time" - should be pretty easy to measure, but will it have an impact on other things (sales, support, etc)?
People may have 'good reasons' for a redesign. Without a measurable goal, they're a waste of time, imo, and I've often seen them do more harm than good (measurable harm, like reduced sales, customer drop off, etc). But hey - those front page pictures looked really nice in the photoshop mockups sent over...
Please don’t do this.
> Maybe you should try to understand
Or this. Reminder: be civil, don’t be snarky.
> Please don't insinuate that someone hasn't read an article. "Did you even read the article? It mentions that" can be shortened to "The article mentions that."
Your first paragraph is just as strong with its opening sentence (“Did you read the article?”) removed.
The guidelines also say:
> Don't say things you wouldn't say face-to-face.
The final sentence of your last paragraph could have been phrased: “The point the article is trying to convey is that perhaps the pendulum on UI redesign has swung a little too far one way.”
I get that you were mocking the “try to understand” from the parent comment, but your comment would have been stronger by not doing so.
> holding up a mirror on a bad comment isn't an uncivil or snarky reply.
The bulk of your comment is polite and civil, but the opening and concluding sentences are attacking the the commenter, not the comment.
($0.02. Just trying to keep things polite around here.)
HN's guidelines also suggest avoiding unrelated tangents, so this will be my last post debating rhetoric and HN guidelines.
Remember, their goals aren’t the same as your goals. Your goal is to get the best email tool possible. Google’s goal is to extract as much money as possible from you and your data...while still being the best alternative to competitors.
Those goals are very very different. Most of these comments are so naive. It’s almost as if most people have never seen the amount of actionable data the average digital product throws off.
A smart default assumption, especially when it comes to the big guys like google/Facebook; the UI changed because it makes the company more money.
It's very rare that a redesign had me saying, "Oh wow, that's so much better!"
So many UI fads have set usability back but get repeated with most redesigns... hamburger menus, login forms that hide password fields until you've entered the username, ultra minimal forms that leave the user guessing what is interactive, text fields with labels only approximated by gray text within that field, and on and on.
Many old UIs were uglier but more usable.
Could write a whole blog post on designing for UX change. I think I’ll do that...
OTOH, this also means that for a user who has used your product for ten years, the fact that your search bar is, in fact, not in the top right, doesn't matter -- because they have learned where it is. If you move it, they will be upset, even if the new design might objectively be more intuitive (as in: new users have less trouble with it).
This effect can make it rather hard at times to judge if a redesign of a product you've used for a long time is in fact as bad as you believe it to be.
I've been lead to believe that this is for websites that support authentication by multiple methods. If you submit your email address first they can look it up and see that you auth with SAML, or log you in through Google, or if you login with a password they can then render that form for you.
The hamburger menu _replaced_ the style of menu we used to have, where all the options were under their own menus with titles ("File", and so on). That was lost. The only reason they were left behind was to make it work well on tiny screens. If you don't have a tiny screen, you just lost functionality that you were familiar with and that worked, for no reason.
At my previous company, we did a minor visual design refresh of our ancient software because our sales data showed that one of the top objections cited by prospects was that the software looked old.
Although the visual design refresh did nothing for usability, it completely eliminated that objection and enabled our sales team to focus on how our software could improve our customers’ businesses and why it was better than our competitors’. The redesign improved conversion rates.
The redesign caused a bit of consternation among existing customers, but they got over it quickly. It had no observable effect on retention/churn.
If you were a PM on my team unable to substantiate why the work you’re scheduling helps the business (by making life better for customers or by reducing purchasing friction), you wouldn’t be on my team for long. These pointless redesigns are amateur-hour stuff.
Of course, there are other legitimate reasons to do a redesign, like maintainability and developer retention/happiness, but those are much riskier and even more difficult to justify.
I believe in making products aesthetically pleasing. I spend a lot of time ensuring my products look good because I know that this is the first impression of any product. I'm constantly improving the design of my products in subtle (and sometimes not subtle) ways.
Full redesigns are the design equivalent of full software rewrites. They suffer from all the same issues: second system affect, loss of functionality, loss of knowledge, etc. And like software re-writes, sometimes they are necessary but often they are not.
The MS ribbon was a classic redesign. It broke the standard menu metaphor and crashed productivity for no good reason.
Flat design was in a similar league, but not quite as bad. Is that a button or a text element? How can anyone tell?
Refinement is a much harder challenge. Improving the aesthetics of something while making it subtly easier to use is a really difficult thing to do.
I loved it, it's do much easier to find stuff if you already don't know where it is.
Great design for the casual Wordster.
1) You can absolutely botch it. A good example of that is Sibelius: Their Ribbon does not make any sense at all (and is in multiple instances literally a waste of space). Personally, I find the ribbon design on MS Office to be much better, though; MS has clearly put much thought and experimentation (i.e. many studies) into the concept.
On another note:
I also find the "new" formatting context menu that pops up in MS Word whenever you select some text to be a very clever idea. It remembers me much of an old Xerox demo that was done with a mouse and a trackball simultaneously (featuring a palette you could place around where you were currently making changes with the mouse). I'm convinced that to this day, there's a lot of ignored potential in that concept.
It doesn't mean you can't add new features (or code), but doing so leads to trade-offs.
The real difference with the ribbon is that computing shifted from professionals and workers to everyone. The audience that cares about old style windows menus is vocal and tiny. Users struggled to discover, locate and remember items in the old menus. Many users struggled to find the menu.
That said, the Mac menu system is the best implementation of that type of menu delivery.
I thought I'd eventually get used to it. Nope. It's still significantly less productive than a standard menu.
If you think menu's promote discovery better, you haven't looked at the Visual Studio menus in a while.
That aside, your post mostly fails to address the critiques in the OP. Yes, a pleasing UI tends to feel better to use, but most of these pretty redesigns throw away important other traits an old design had, or just simply lack them. It's hard to positively compare (for example) New Gmail with Old Gmail when they managed to make it slower and break the reply button, for example.
It uses like a mb of ram and loads instantly.
You should see a banner with an option to 'set basic HTML as default view' across the top.
It's great. You see all the information - nothing hidden behind icons, and page loads between screens actually take less time than with a SPA.
Well that explains a few things. Many a time have I experienced a UI remake looking great but being absolutely horrible to use.
Take for example Google+, where they tried a last ditch effort to make it more popular by doing a UI update. They made it look really slick, but in the process made it much, much worse to actually use. I used to be an active G+ user (yeah, I know) but after they forced me to use the new UI I stopped using it, it was that bad.
Another example is Acronis TrueImage, which completely redid their UI, making it much more visually pleasing and up-to-date. Initially I thought it was great, but then I noticed that certain processes were a lot more tedious to do, and they'd also removed a lot of functionally in the process.
So really, the important point is that you can gain affordances for usability sins if you have a design that is appealing to people as modern or otherwise trendy.
By the same process: if you have a design that was 100% usable, then redesign and end up making usability mistakes, there's a good chance you'll see net-zero or negative from the prettier UI in your testing.
For the majority of companies that do not have focus groups, usability labs, and a design staff that can spend cycles on R&D, it seems you may be better off doing little more than reskinning existing UI controls to maintain trendiness than full-scale re-wires of your existing product at any time to maximize the aesthetic-usability effect for minimal design work. Examples you cite in a sibling comment have cash to burn on exactly this, however I think that is the exception rather than the norm for businesses at large.
Visual (aesthetic) design change buys goodwill, reinforces and differentiates brand image, but IMO is mostly a marketing tool at the end of the day. I see product design and visual design as sister disciplines that must communicate, similar to two people running a three-legged race, but it is easy to improve one or the other separately from the other in most iterative scenarios. Large-scale redesigns are usually risky, and Snapchat's a great high-profile example of a company that was able to hire talent and let that process go off the rails.
I wouldn't frame it this way, but there are many confounding things in measuring a change in the UI design.
I jumped from web consumer to operations, and the mindset is so different: in web, you have shallow actions that you want things to be easier and look aesthetically pleasing. In operations you want deep actions that require reliability or learning, and that require every or many users to do it, changing the UI is a nightmare for them. It has to be vastly better to compensate the change. And not only that, you need your operations to be more efficient than your competition: a bad ui can cause issues in an entire company.
In consumer-web, pages like reddit changes their entire UI to have posts read in the same page and its use-it or lose-it. Consumer web cruises along the monopolistic positions they have to spend resources without visible consequence. Who cares if reddit's ui is 10% snazzier or 10% snappier? It's not like the reddit user will stop using it because of it.
That redesign happened in a company that raised half a billion dollars.
The most visible feature of many of the sites I visit are the attempts to get me to do something other than what I went to the site for.
It's possible you may need to redo UI for new search. If I add faceted search or geo search, for example in my search update, I may well need to redo the UI in a way much more fundamental than aesthetics.
UI design doesn't involve BE design in any way. So?
I wish there were better resources for non UX people like me to learn how to tell the difference.
You could just start learning about UX. It’ll make you a better engineer!
But I generally agree with your sentiment; you can absolutely find "just trust me" in software development. You can also probably smell it out better by learning about it more.
You’ll find a lot more about empirically driven methods to evaluate your UI, mostly from a productivity perspective. I personally find it fascinating!
You would think so, but the amount of 'developer superstition' and and 'gut feeling' I've faced in development is quite high.
Visual changes are irrelevant at best, and actively harmful at worst.
By all means, improve the website and the design, but actually improve it.
A negative one, based on what you quote:
"This aesthetic-usability effect can mask UI problems and can prevent issue discovery during usability testing."
Which seems to be saying that the uglier you make your UI, the better your chances of having actual usability issues surface.
After the fundamentals are solid it’s then important to apply appropriate aesthetic and interactive elements to polish the experience.
Simply jumping to visual design after skipping the fundamentals is nearly assuring a failure. It would be akin to worrying about performance and scaling of product’s database and API without first considering if the data schemas and underlying technology stack even meet the operational needs.
“Evolutionary design” instead of “revolutionary design” is typically preferred if one would like to keep a connection between how something was done before and the (hopefully) improved version.
Let's be honest, aesthetic-usability effect is too insignificant to ever prioritize aesthetics over usability and pretty much no company in the world can benefit from it. It's just a justification for producing pretty looking interfaces with awful UX, because UX is hard, a typical designer on the market likely can't even do it and eye candy is more easily sellable in hierarchical organizations, where everyone can impress their bosses all the way to the top.
On the other side, it will be less usable while i have to relearn how to use it. This is not an issue if it happens from time to time, you pay upfront a decrease of productivity and will be rewarded greatly later on. But in the era of SaaS we are constantly subject to a stream of redesigns, sometimes small, other times global. You cannot finish adapting to a change that another comes.
I don't know about others, but for me is deeply frustrating.
For example, just a few months ago, Google used square rectangles for the search bar, and advocated "cards" with sharp corners in their material design standards. However, just recently, they updated gmail and google search to use rounded rectangles in the search bar instead of rectangles. Are rectangles better or worse than rounded rectangles? Yes? No? The answer is, it doesn't matter for usability. But because Google is so big and has such influence, now, if your site uses a rectangular search bar with sharp corners users will perceive it as "dated".
There are many similar examples of this. Microsoft's metro UI was cool and popular for maybe a full 6 months. Clean Helvetica font was everyone's aspiration, then Google pushed Lato, and now it's Robato, until they change their mind again. Small 11pt font used to be the norm, then very large readable 14pt font was the norm, and now we're back to something like 12pt. Single page applications a while ago were avoided, then became so popular they were effectively a pre-requisite, and now they should only be used "where appropriate".
I think Google make these changes not to make their site look good and refreshing, but to make everyone else's look old and dated.
They did? Their iPhones went from rounded corners, to sharp corners, back to rounded corners again. Apple design is impressive, but I don't see any timeless consistency.
Find another human interface that consists of sharp edged shapes. That design aesthetic is like brutalist UI. Pretty for the architect, but few others are moved.
Sharp edges convey precision, rounded edges convey approximation. Many mechanical knobs and buttons have clear notches and clicks to make clear to the user they are in control of the machine.
Of course, in the first 10 seconds or few minutes, but I suspect strongly this effect fades over time.
Most UI redesigns are bad because they focus on the wrong things and throw out a lot of good things, or change for the sake of change.
I see the same thing happen all over the place--branding and UI are very common victims.
Music editing has the same issues as well. Even in the short term - over the course of a day your ears can get tired of a specific set of sounds and you don't hear with 'fresh ears'.
I probably don’t mind a new skit because I’m just looking to be entertained. But I’m mostly looking to get shit done with something that had an actual UI to it, so freshness can be more hit-or-miss.
This is part of the general phenomenon of looking for your keys under the lamppost.
It's easy to do an experiment that tests how people feel about your new design after looking at it for a minute and a half. Want to compare how people feel about the old and new designs after six months of getting used to them? That will take at least six months.
But I'm going to disagree that an hour is enough to reveal any advantages and disadvantages that may be present.
And unless the software is quite simplistic, 5-6 people is just enough to falsely validate the preconceptions of the UX designer.
the first 10 seconds of ux is extremely important, since it's basically the top of your funnel.
However, as people start to actually use the site, I think they care a lot less about a lot of cosmetic things.
That's definitely true, _if_ they start to actually use the site. You need something to hook them in the first few seconds.
This means the OP is correct. New paint doesn't make it more useful. To really help users, optimize for usable design, not just aesthetics.
Thank you for explaining these concepts to me, I have not heard of the aesthetic usability effect. I will read into this as I am curious what it is now.
To be clear, I do value design. I think design is important and I write that out in the article that I value design. What I struggle to value are redesigns, that is, complete redesigns of a UI - instead preferring incremental updates of the UX that is necessary to use the product or application.
Thank you for the work that you've done, as I'm sure you have had a great impact on the customers you've directly and indirectly served. Continue to do design, because if it were up to me, nothing would look good at all.
Of course perception and reality are different things. And I imagine that effect is only really true for, at best, some slight statistical majority. Certainly I know a lot of people who've stuck with older versions of software because it looks and works like they've come to expect, and I myself tend to judge the usability of new software by how much it looks like a Win95 application.
The thing I love most about only developing software for in-house use (because my company doesn't sell software) is that nobody really cares what it looks like.
You can see a large fraction of the users have taken the time to optout, perhaps as much as a third (!) of those who can. Considering how passive most users are, this tells me that the new & expensive Reddit design is indeed loathed.
Necessary for what (or for whom)?
Usually that means redesign on the quick which always equals missed features. The classic example is when everyone jumped on responsive web design. Many applications and sites ended up including 80% of the elements of the desktop page and dropping other elements. Like my bank, who eliminated the ability to see your routing number and account number.
As an example, as contractors, we fill up timesheets very often. Our company decided to move to another 'aesthetically pleasing' platform which to me as a user is same as a redesign. Now the click - tab - 8 - tab - space - cmd+w ritual is taken away. It now goes like this : load page - login - click link - click a drop down - wait for it to timeout (dont even ask me why) - click again and wait for the dropdown to populate and close itself - click again - select - click - 8 - click save - find the mini'x' - click - select another dropdown - click submit (no, space no longer works on this form).
This new platform has more options, more whitespace, more corporate colors. Agreed. No colors, whitespace your redesign could add will soothe the agony of poor usability.
UI developers are getting marched out the door at a well known publisher right now, their services no longer needed. UX is a different story with this mystery publisher, they now get to call a lot of the shots.
There is a bigger discussion to be had regarding the whole visual design process. In 2006 when you could have your navigation in any corner of the screen with any design for the search icon it made sense to have UI designers add their special flourishes. Now we know where the navigation goes and what the icon is for search, that has all been settled. User experience still needs some people to take care of it as we can't leave that up to the programmers, can we?
Cool, cool. To preface this comment, I'm a guy who owns a computer and uses software.
Most GUI redesigns I've seen in the past 10 years make the interface prettier, but LESS usable. The new design usually incoroporates three categories of changes:
1. Lists of items are rendered in a larger font with more spacing between items, leading to lower information density, thus requiring more scrolling. (For bonus points, often a window that has a scrollable area isn't resizable, so you're stuck with whatever arbitrary viewport size the designer decided was large enough.)
2. Controls that used to always be visible are now hidden until you hover or click the right spot. This is done to reduce "clutter", as though controls are somehow graffiti.
3. A bunch of convenient shortcuts enjoyed by long-time power users weren't reimplimented in the new design, because the designer didn't know about them, or simply didn't think they mattered.
I have a WordPress blog. WordPress recently overhauled their entire editing UI, and I hate it. When I started the blog several years ago, I was able to figure out how to use WordPress by exploring the UI. The new UI is an extreme example of #2; when you go to write a new post, the page is entirely blank. You have to click somewhere to get a text cursor, and there isn't even a visually delineated text area before you do so. There are a couple of features I had to hunt around for, and I wouldn't have even known those features existed if I hadn't learned them from the old UI, which presented them front and center.
My company uses JIRA for bug tracking. They switched to a new GUI a while back, and I hate it. It's harder to find things that used to be presented front and center. And as an example of #3: It used to be possible to just type an issue number like "392" in the search box, hit Enter, and be brought immediately to that issue page. Not anymore; if you do that quickly, you get a "no results found" page. If you type the number and then wait a couple of seconds, you get a list of search results, which you can then click on. Pressing Enter then takes you to the first one, but often that is NOT issue #392, it's just some issue that happens to have the text "392" somewhere in it. So you have to eyeball the search results, and then click the right one. The old way was more convenient. Fortunately, I eventually found the preference to switch back to the old GUI, which they helpfully give you because they apparently realize that the new GUI sucks. (I don't know offhand if it reverts the search behavior, because I've already changed my habits to not use it anymore.)
This seems like a call to seniority. Just because you've been there for X more years doesn't make your input automatically more valid. I get his disclaimer i.e. 'I am not a designer', but yours just feels a bit like bragging.
I'm sorry, but besides fixing the UI where it impacts the usability of your application, no one is raving about how a redesign makes the application any better.
This brings up a great point: if you examine user's comments on redesigns that didn't really fix things, you'll find that the positive ones are all about how it looks or feels and tend to be vague, while the negative ones will almost all be very specific criticisms about precisely which part of their workflows got broken. In any other context the latter would be treated as bug reports --- very clear ones at that --- to be investigated and fixed; but it seems a lot of designers are inclined to simply "close"/ignore them all as "they don't like/understand what I did, maybe they just hate me."
All of these things usually mean the person at hand might be able to produce something, but they are essentially the wrong person for the wrong job.
And let’s face it: these kind of redesigns are often something the new CEO wants to sbow to everybody how much change he embodies. The designer is underpaid and unfamilsr with the product, the project not well organized and the deadline soon.
Any designer worth their money should be able to redesign a UI while improving it. Understanding the value of what is already there and how it maps to user tasks, daily routines and understanding the relevant assumptions, is the main part of the job.
So whst you describe is not good design it is bad design or design that never got the chance to be good.
I'll add to your list of examples: lawyers representing their clients often want to make new precedent with the court and the direction of the law, rather than just getting their client our of a burdensome lawsuit.
These outcomes are then compromises which give something to the producer, as well as to the customer.
The same person who butchers your UI might be very good for creating print designs that above all need to sell the company CI.
For critical redesigns you need a designer who is mostly about analyzing and rethinking the user experience behind it. Better even, split it in two: one entity should only do the analytical part and guide the direction, the other should implement it with a little bit of wiggle room. Make sure there is some overlap between the two
The main difference I've found between bad/good designers is flexibility and willingness to ask for help. There's typically a lot of organizational knowledge about where pain points are. If a designer addresses those, then people are generally happy.
Maybe splitting the job is a good idea, but it seems like you shouldn't need a split if the designer is listening to the whole team.
Also, sometimes the designer is fine, but they've been explicitly told by management what to do, so no designer would have been able to fill the position and do a good job. Even on my failed projects, I really couldn't tell you if it was the management or the designer that caused the resulting design issues.
This is, however, the state of the entire economy, when organic individuals are cribbed into roles defined by firms with abstract goals. A good counterexample might be the Montessori system.
You know, it's funny. Just this morning I was thinking about how companies are often cheats and liars, and how the capital growth motive often discourages innovation after a certain point--ie, directing workers to do the thing the company likes, rather than what's useful to users.
A trivial example would be Spotify's music genealogy and recommendations. How good does it have to be, for users to keep paying? Not very. So perhaps there's a lot of room to improve it, but because the profit margins are so slim, it won't get done--even if a Spotify engineer is personally motivated.
The reason people don't compliment a redesign of a user experience because the upsides are not immediately obvious. They benefits might be subconscious or change the product in a way that an existing user will take time to understand. The Facebook feed was a classic example of this. At the time Facebook was a directory of profiles and the feed introduced something users weren't explicitly asking for (aggregation of updates from friends). It was was seen as a regression, but it was built off a deep understanding of how the people were engaging with the product. You can hate Facebook for what they've become, but from a business and product perspective that change was enormously successful.
That said, qualitative value is still value. Just because user feedback on the visual quality is vague doesn't mean that broader goals weren't achieved—users don't know how to evaluate visual quality, but it can still impact their behavior and perception. Good user researchers will look at outcomes and downstream impact in other behavior after a redesign, and those are often positively impacted.
Even if the result is just "users feel our company is more professional and mature," that could be extremely important for company strategy and may very well have been a limiting factor beforehand.
If feature X stops working because a back end developer broke the code, that's treated as a bug.
If feature X can't be used because a UX developer obscured it, that should be treated as a bug, too.
Between the author patting himself on the back for coming up with "don't do things for no reason" and "don't make things worse," he provides this criteria:
> The only time a UI should be updated is if it impacts the ability of a user to actually use your application.
This criteria can be rewritten "only change to make improvements," but this is an eternal challenge with anything.
The previous UI wasn't handed down by god. It, too, was designed, and the only thing it has going for it compared to the global optimum is that it at least exists. And like any other system, it was built under different requirements with different unknowns. It accumulates debt and falls into the same traps of any other rewrite. Most importantly, it has to interface with actual humans.
I can sympathize with their rant over grating redesigns, but it's too easy to lambast things that go wrong and then plant your flag of "Yep, don't do this. You're welcome." It contributes to the toxic cynicism rife in our field.
If you're admitting there are problems in the previous redesign (and you are), then why not fix those pieces rather than redesigning the colors, icons, and entire rest of the interface?
It's not so different from an engineer who rewrites a whole service because it has 3 bugs. Almost never worth.
>> "If you possess a good eye and steady hand, you should feel compelled to create something that looks pleasing"
Okay.. Goes on to include a big picture of Michelangelo's "David" to suggest that designers should strive to create masterpieces in the same vein...?
>> "People use applications because of their purpose, not because it is pleasing to the eye."
Another baseless generality. The first part is obviously true, but it doesn't follow that people don't care about appearance.
>> "The only time a UI should be updated is if it impacts the ability of a user to actually use your application."
Another unsupported opinion phrased as an absolute.
>> "It hurts retention"
This would have been a natural point to include actual data. Nonetheless the article falls back on making generalizations about people's behavior.
>> "Does it really add up, or are you just giving designers busywork that doesn't amount to anything in the end? Do we have concrete evidence that what we are doing will provide benefit to the company or users, or just feel that it would be better if the UI was redesigned? Take a minute, think about that one."
There's not a single piece of concrete evidence in this entire article.
I actually don't use Google Maps -- because it's a crazy mess of buttons and menus that get in my way of trying to navigate. I actually don't use Facebook -- because it's a horrible dog's breakfast of inscrutable icons and I can't figure out its mental model to save my life. And there are many more sites/apps that frustrate me so much that I abandon them for better-designed choices, or even for nothing at all, because at least doing nothing doesn't make me angry.
This function-over-form attitude bugs the hell out of me. People (especially designers) who think that design doesn't really matter as long as the function is okay may not notice the mass of former users who simply throw up their hands and refuse to use their product at all.
If you want to see real garbage map apps, look to car navigation. My Mazda 3 requires around 20+ taps (plus typing) to get navigation to an address. The city, street name, and house number are all separate input fields. You have to confirm each one, then confirm the whole address, then confirm what it thinks the address is, then pick the route, then confirm the route, and then finally start the route.
Total nightmare, and that’s if you actually know the address. Address lookup is a whole different problem.
What do you use over Google Maps and Facebook?
For Maps, I really don't know of any alternative. And I now make some mapbox-gl applications for the office. There just doesn't seem to be any real alternative.
For Facebook? I can actually almost completely unplug. That said, it is the easiest way to get pictures of the kids to family. I could setup a website, but I can't imagine it would be as easy or as effective. With the emphasis on effective.
There are many reasons I don't use Facebook, most of which are enumerated in countless HN posts, but a big reason is that I get totally frustrated with the interface. I don't know how to say this strongly enough, but the UI literally disgusts me, to the point where I just give up and close it down. True!
Maybe I'm weird this way. But I've been computing since about 1976, and using the web since '93, and I've got no patience anymore for crappy sites/apps.
is that because you are always logged in to Apple's Garden?
I'm convinced most of my family doesn't know how to do much more than login to their machine. Without a password, no less. To that end, if I want them to see pictures, I put them there.
There is a chance I could email everyone. I'm honestly not convinced that is in any way more secure. Maybe. Maybe if my family had gpg setup. They don't. And never will. :(
probably because of unnecessary redesigns.
I've found the actual map part of Google Maps to be the best designed online map. Compared to Bing or Mapquest, I find it much easier to get a sense of an area using Google Maps.
"Improving your UI is a waste of time"
"UI is pointless"
What the author is actually saying (imo): "UI redesigns create costs that should warrant them. There are a lot of times when a website makes radical redesigns for comparatively marginal improvements. These improvements are not always worth it for reasons like existing userbase having to relearn the new ui."
This is a fair point and I think a lot of times places rebrand because they want to look like they're doing something even if it comes at the cost of overall usability.
Of course that's how it always has been.
I used to have the same fears, but after working with analytics and AB testing, I realize that they are mostly unfounded.
90% of the time the changes are not going to have much of an impact either way outside of superficial user behavior that doesn't impact the bottom line.
It doesn't matter nearly as much as you think in most cases. A lot of design is BS but there is even more BS coming from those fearing change.
Q: What gesture should be used for answering a call on a touchscreen phone: tapping a button, or swiping?
A: I don't know, but once you've picked one and users have learned it, don't suddenly change it without explanation and make your users panic because they can't answer calls.
Changing something that already works well enough introduces risk. You might make some things better, you might make some things worse. If things are already pretty good, making changes might result in making more things worse than better.
True with most things. UI/UX, art, software, architecture, writing, etc etc
Well I'll tell you why, since i asked; And its neither for the end user or designers benefit. Its for the non-user, or the not-yet-user, the people who were put off by the old design. We are like fish, that have been caught, wondering why the fisherman is throwing nets into other parts of the sea..
Michelangelo's David; Trying not to read too much into the cropping, it may be innocent enough.. Though sometimes i think we've reverted back to the dark ages catholic cleansing (chopping off of stone penises) mentality about such things.
The really amazing thing to me was that even though the redesign didn't add any new functionality, and there weren't really any glaring usability problems with the previous one, users would still blog about some cool "new feature of the redesign" that had in fact been in product for years.
Basically, changing the skin of the product caused users to poke about and try new things.
Now the flip side of this is the design upset their routines, and there was certainly an element of that, but it was managed ok by giving people the option to switch back to the old design for a while.
On the whole, the redesign caused increased feature awareness and usage, which definitely wouldn't have been my guess going in.
When I think of the major apps I use today that I do like and ask What new UI do they need, the answer is none (gmail, hn, venmo). In fact, some UIs would do well to hide the noise and look more like HN than Yahoo (e.g. github)
When I think of the major apps I use today but dislike, the reason is usually performance, not pretty icons (slack, uber). Sometimes the redesign itself is an obstacle (reddit).
When I think of apps that COULD be redesigned (e.g. AWS) I'd want it to happen once, be engineer-focused, and entirely about logical layout rather than graphics.
To speak to your AWS example; right now I'm in the process of redesigning an incredibly complex product from the ground up because is was so poorly designed the first time around. The users complain all day, the field engineers complain every day. A total redesign is our only hope to make it as a company longer-term.
The original engineers chose Material as the component style, which is terrible for a data-dense app. So as a part of all this, we're transitioning to a new design system that increases data density, readability, and has more component options to make actions absolutely clear and make space usage more efficient. We're also including in-app terminal support for those that prefer to use it that way. Also, certain parts of the FE will be metadata driven, where it makes sense for business logic.
TL;DR - This is a very broad topic that the author covers very superficially from their limited experience, but I absolutely loathe bad designers and poorly thought out redesigns.
Eh. Gmail is redesigned from time to time.
I have enough scar tissue to believe bad UI or even the one that's not pleasing or inspiring receives lot lower engagement from users than having a clean, snappy and beautiful UI.
The OP's claims can be easily disproved by contradiction. If UI improvements didn't make a difference, A/B testing on designs wouldn't have resulted in massive improvements.
Making design more accessible, and attractive often helps beat the asymptotes in user consumption of a lot of products.
Adding a phone number is good, yes if it adds $3 million dollars, go ahead and do it!
Chances are you're not the only one hating the changes, so sharing your CSS with coworkers (or even the Internet if it's a public site) is also a good idea. I've "converted"/educated a few coworkers just by them noticing "how did you get it to look like that?"
(Sending my CSS back to the original site's owners has resulted in everything from threats of legal action to some actual changes in the right direction.)
> People use applications because of their purpose, not because it is pleasing to the eye.
Maaybe? But people will definitely avoid your application if it is too ugly. Many Mac users will generally avoid applications that are not well integrated in the OS. Personally I spent quite some time finding alternatives to applications that were very useful that I did not find pleasing to the eye (Audacity, PS3 Media Server, GIMP). If you need to work with something a lot, you absolutely prefer for it to be pleasing to look at.
Let’s face it. People aren’t really that welcoming towards redesign, if given a choice, they probably would choose to have the business as usual. And aesthetics matters only to certain degree, and if it stands out it becomes distracting. I wish people consider that familiarity should be an important factor in considering whether to change UI or not, UI can be good if they choose to look unimpressive, for utilities it might be better that way.
And real world appliance really changes the design so dracstically as software, a micro-oven looks like a micro-oven, a Coca-Cola can looks like the same like forever. A car always has 4 wheels. Why on earth software just changes the information flow randomly just because they can? This doesn’t make sense.
I loved their previous iteration because things moved quickly. I'm surprised with the redesign since, when you log in, there's a bit of a loading delay. But what am I going to do? I reminisce about the old version and adapt.
Currently my own whipping post example is the smart phone app, Transit . A redesign last fall hobbled several key features,
- transit line on-time status only shows when there is a problem, but it's reassuring to see the status has updated and is OK.
- map scrolling is key for wayfinding, now only half of the screen real estate is scrollable before you accidentally cancel your line selection, and exit the screen.
These fracking UI changes are worse than useless, and just the few that come to mind. What they should have done was tackle real issues,
- Chaining transfers--How long is the wait for my next connection at a future destination? Currently, the future destination shows the connection clock from _now_, and now when I get there. I can think of at least 3 reasons why this is important.
- In a loop line, you can't see the next bus when you're at the start/end. During commute times on the busiest lines delays have a ripple effect. The schedule is blown. How long is the wait? Can I do something else while I wait?
I was an avid evangelist for Transit. Now, I just wish a competitor would hit the scene and bury that turd.
This isn't a "game". I don't believe there are different levels of 'user'. This platform brings together your real-time geo-position, published maps, published transit schedules, multiple transit systems, and real-time system updates together. It's all there and all useful for every user from the very start.
The failure in the redesign is to leave the 'page' or 'modal' UX behind in favor of this hybrid/gesture controlled marble on maze UX.
They hit a home run from the beginning, and fracked it up. What's the 'nature' of a map? It's to be as big as possible, and yet they've layerd the schedule and took 50% of the screen away from the map.
If there's a difference among users, it's found when you live in a transit-rich community, like I do in NYC Metro (and you need a good app like Transit was). If you live in the sticks and there's only one line, then you open the app, check the schedule and you're done.
This is why I believe this _criticism_ is so important. I think we need to have a way to articulate these choices. Maybe a critical voice asking _Should we make this UX change at all?_, _Are we staring at our navel?_ Which is to say, in our own little bubble? Are these changes going to improve the software? Or, are we only showing off so we can justify our employment?
If they wanted to do such a radical redesign, why not fork the project? They could capture 'new users' with the Transit Marble Maze app.
> If there's a difference among users, it's found when you live in a transit-rich community, like I do in NYC Metro
Thanks, this is the context I was interested in.
Probably 90% of everything is a waste of time, the trick is knowing in advance which 10% won't be. I don't really disagree with the overall premise of the article though.
That all said, I agree with him that many UI redesigns are pointless and expensive. Those tend to be the ones that don't bring new value to the user - just try to do the same old thing in a "modern" or (yikes - I hate this word) "fresh" way.
Good design of anything is hard, UI's are no exception. When you go beyond UI to uX, you enter the world of motivation, intent, expectations, and other emotional fuzziness. The design job gets harder by 10 or 100x. But it's there that you find the good reasons to consider a UI redesign.
Let's invert that then. Go and grab a ten year old copy of Gmail, Google maps or Facebook from the Wayback machine and tell users that's what they are going to get. All of a sudden they will be really appreciative of those incremental design changes.
The current version of maps is slow, buggy on anything bug chrome, jarringly slow and almost hides the map in some situations.
In terms of mobile UI, left looks like it'd let me answer the question "why's my badge have a number on it?" very efficiently, and to prioritize badge-number-dropping activities by category, which is great.
[EDIT]  Yes I know this is a mobile UI, not the desktop website, I'm saying left is clearer than the website was and, from what I see of it on other people's screens, is.
[EDIT AGAIN] I'd buy the argument that right has higher "engagement", though.
[ONE MORE TIME] man I shouldn't post pre-coffee. I initially took this to be old-left-new-right which is obviously wrong. Basic point stands, I don't get what's wrong with this as a user though it may well make metrics worse.
Similarly, even granting the author's point that most UI redesigns are misguided, the fact remains that we do want the products we use to somehow improve over time…
The UI is the interface between your app and the customer. It's like an API. No one arbitrarily changes APIs and expects it to go well. But, perhaps because people are slightly more adaptable than code, UI gets changed without warning or choice all the time. This is a unilateral break in the implicit contract that we make with users. Of course people complain!
Other apps are deeper and more feature rich and will be used by a given person for hours each day. You'll have to be very careful in changing these apps if you don't want irate users.
Love it . I’m stealing this one.
Which is kind of the point. If you notice the modernization of something under you, it will annoy you. We have grown to not trust things that change. To the point that the appearance of stability is actually hugely important.
The blur filter in GIMP is almost indistinguishable from the blur filter in PS.
For me it's exactly the opposite, and I get pissed every time I hear that. Want PS? Keep using it.
I actually found Photoshop one of the worst UIs I ever tried circa ~2005 (I no longer do a lot of photo editing).
It reminds me so much of Autodesk's "Autocad" popularity and market penetration it's saddening (hint: autocad is shit too).
This oft repeated quote. The thing is if this was the case we wouldn't have moved beyond command line interface. That was hands down the most performant user interface design for the people who were in the know.
But not so for new users and when new commands needed to be introduced.
If you're still eager to do a periodical redesign, keep it to your error pages. So did I, just today . This way, the web may also stay a fun place, full of potential discoveries.
This seems counter to my experience, which is that a redesign is usually like christmas morning. designs just get so stale after awhile, and good UX is literally like art you can touch (virtually). I find myself wanting to go to websites and use products simply because they have good UIs. That's one reason why I HATE AWS. They have the worst UI (and it's gotten a LOT better since I started using it). Google's consistent material design is so clean and fresh. Digital Ocean's is like next level for me.
I call this me-ism. Because I think it's good, it must be good. Because the company I like is doing it, it must be doing it right. What most people who gripe about design & UI do not seem to understand is that those decisions were made for a reason - usually to bring some sort of value to the table not for the sake of making things look clean and fresh.
Another comment here shows some ignorance too by saying that "I was lead to believe that its best to assume users are dumb, but my experience is on the contrary". This comment completely misses the point that users of one app/website will behave differently from users of another app/website and what works for one may not work for the other. At the end of the day there is a business being ran and money being made - the design decisions they make typically impacts their bottom line (for the better) or the design would have been reverted.
First, you lose a familiar interface and you don't know where to find even the existing features. Then you realise that the feature you're looking for is no longer there. Maybe it will be brought back online later or will be replaced by another, "better", feature later.
UI redesigns are sometimes just plain unavoidable but they should be done separately from other changes. Much like you want to commit the code reformatting change separate from functional changes so you know you're just changing whitespace basically and there's nothing that should break your codebase.
As a user I can only absorb a certain amount of change at a time: I can learn a new UI if I know I'll find the familiar pieces somewhere in there. And I can accept new features or old ones being changed to different ones if I know the UI will still be the same.
Yes, at many small companies without data, redesigns can be a waste of time and even harmful. But that doesn't mean they should always be avoided.
Tor needs a lot of users to create anonymity, if Tor was hard to use new users wouldn't adopt it so quickly. Because new users won't adopt it, Tor becomes less anonymous. By this reasoning it is easy to see that usability isn't just a design choice of Tor but a security requirement to make Tor more secure.
If a redesign is done without attention to what's necessary, then it could also be a waste of time. It's especially bad if the newer design is worse and/or more alienating, as that tends to results in a loss of users.
I'd be more comfortable with a more complete reason.