You Can’t Opt-In to Redesigns

There have been a lot of website redesigns this year, and more are on the way. With each one, there have been major complaints. Not just the usual “Eh, the old one was better,” but actual resistances. It’s fairly common knowledge among designers and operators of websites that a good portion of a given site’s users will complain about a redesign. It’s considered to be a major accomplishment to get through a design overhaul with very few complaints. People resist change, whether it’s for the better or not. But people lately have been going beyond the usual minor whining.

A now-classic example is Facebook. They spent a good deal of time and money working on a new design which, in my opinion, is cleaner and overall much improved. What did the users do? They totally freaked out. Facebook groups sprung up with names like “WE DON’T LIKE THE NEW FACEBOOK DESIGN!,” “Formal Facebook Petition to Keep the Old Facebook Design Around,” “Bring Back the Old Facebook Design!,” etc. People even threated to quit using Facebook if they didn’t put the old design back. (As if Facebook cares whether a few people leave here and there. They have millions of users and can always find more.)

They didn’t just complain about the new design either. They complained that they didn’t have a choice in the matter, that they couldn’t keep using the old design even with the new one out.

The same thing happened with CNET when they redesigned this year. They had a similar problem, though not in so bad of a way. Google, even, has had people upset with the slight changes they made to iGoogle recently.

Now Yahoo is going through the same thing. They have a redesign in the works, and they’re testing it by pushing it on select users instead of the current design. The users aren’t happy about it. They have some legitimate criticism, which is the kind of comments that are helpful during a redesign, though there are a few who, like with Facebook, don’t want any changes and/or want to be able to choose whether or not they “upgrade” to the new version.

I have a real problem with that. You don’t get to choose whether or not you move to a new design. It takes a lot of extra time, effort, and money for a company to support more than one version of their site, especially without any real reason. As I’ve been saying to people too often lately: “You can’t opt-in to redesigns. Websites change, and they do so for a reason: to improve. If you don’t like change, that’s your problem. Deal with it.”

Why have people gotten it into their heads that they’re entitled to use a service (a free service) and expect it to not change at all? I’m no stranger to people’s aversion to change, but come on people, do you realize what you’re complaining about? You’re complaining about progress, things that generally improve the service and make it easier for you to use. And you’re expecting a company to provide a service exactly the way you want it, without charge, forever. Am I the only one who has a problem with that?

  • Steven Clark

    Particularly with something like Facebook, rather than people feeling they are visiting your home they actually have this mental model / world view that says they own this tiny portion of the Web, it’s theirs. It’s the worldview that has been sold to them by Facebook, to some extent.It reminds me of conversations with computer people – techies even – when we talk about losing our folders and files. The desktop metaphor doesn’t actually exist inside a computer, just 1s and 0s, so there are no files or folders to talk about. And we kind of know it, but it’s still our mental model of a computer.Facebook resistance reminds me of when children arrive home to visit at 25 and we get the “who changed my bedroom” speach… nowdays its my office.Yes it’s getting a little off the rails when someone believes they own your business – great for selling but not necessarily nice to handle the disgruntled customers.

  • Matt

    Steven, great analogy. Of course, it’s not just Facebook doing that. The whole – must I say it? – “Web 2.0″ sphere is trying to bill themselves as being “your” start page, “your” photos, “your” profile, “your” whatever. Sure, it makes sense, but it probavly is a major factor in the “users believe they own your business” problem.

    I guess there’s no changing that mindset though, short of being called “the next Microsoft” by your users, which is even worse than redesign complaints. :D

    Your bedroom/office comment is a great analogy for it…

  • curtismchale

    Hotmail/Live Mail got stuck offering two different designs for a long time. They are currently stream lining the two hopefully using the best of both worlds. Users like what they know but you’re right it’s free stop complaining.

  • Paul

    I agree with you to an extent.  With any desktop application, a user is given a choice about whether or not they want to upgrade to a new version.  Now that more and more applications are web based, people are expecting the same sort of luxuries they previously enjoyed.  When you consider something like yahoo mail where they are just changing the interface and adding a few features, it’s not difficult to keep a couple versions going.  People are angry at facebook because they aren’t just redesigning, they’re changing the whole system from the way you interact with your profile to how you use applications. I think people should continue to complain when they don’t like the changes.

  • Matt

    “When you consider something like yahoo mail where they are just
    changing the interface and adding a few features, it’s not difficult to
    keep a couple versions going.”

    Do you work for Yahoo? Speak for yourself. It does take resources, and a considerable amount of them.

    Now, I’m not entirely against people complaining about redesigns. What I’m against is people complaining just because something changes. If someone has constructive criticism, not just “how dare you change it,” that’s all well and good. I don’t like it when people think they “own” a site and have a right for it to stay the same permanently. Especially free services.

  • Ben R

    Funny you should comment on the amount of new complaints that now come with site redesigns. I’ve been watching the comments blog about the recent redesign with interest. Much of it is plain old “I liked the old one better” but I think much of the criticism has some merit. One thing that companies and designers have to take into account when remaking a site is not just what would make it “better”, but whether “better” will attract visitors or drive them away. One example useless “betterness” in the site above is the personalisation feature which allows you to drag section (but only the main ones, not the sidebar) into any order you want (but not remove them completely or add optional ones). Common complaints are that sections that people do want are no longer easy to find or not linked on the front page at all, and sections that they don’t want are still stuck cluttering up the page.If you’re going to make something “better”, make it the better that your visitors want and not better just because you can. After all, visitors equal money, and telling them to cop unwanted change because it’s “free” completely dismisses what web development is all about: visitors. Without visitors, you may as well not have a website.

  • Matt

    @Ben R, I’m not condoning bad design choices. If critiscism has any merit, it should be acted upon.

    A good example of my argument is’s recent redesign. When it was released (as well as when it was being bucket tested) the userbase was split between people who liked the redesign, and people who loudly didn’t. Comparing the two designs, they’re dramatically different stylistically, but the new one is much better organized. Especially the front page. Also, you’ll notice that you don’t see many complaints about the design anymore, yet their userbase hasn’t shrunk. My theory is a large group of people didn’t like it at first simply because it was different, and now that they’ve gotten used to it, they don’t care so much about the change. The Facebookers who totally hated the redesign are quieting down a bit now too. I think people are just against change.

    And anyway, people use a website for the content or services offered, not for the design. The design should make it easier to use said content and services, as well as making it visually appealing. If a redesign makes it easier to do so, then I think the users will end up liking it better in the long run, faced with a choice between that and a stagnating old design that just doesn’t meet the current requirements of the site and its users.

    You can’t please everyone with a redesign, so in the end you just have to go with the majority, I suppose.