04 Sep 2008

Facebook Effectively Rolls out Experience Redesign

04 Sep 2008
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A while ago, I wrote about the dangers of radical experience redesigns and how to implement them so the fewest number of users will abandon the product during the transition from old to new. The main points articulated in the article were:

  • Make only changes that really will benefit users
  • Let users know what improvements will be made and why
  • Give users a preview of the new design
  • Make sure that users will perceive the changes as beneficial in the short-term as well as long-term
  • Give users aids such as tool tips, tutorials or an overview of changes
  • Give users the option to continue using the old version

Facebook’s limited launch of its new design serves as a great case study of putting these points into practice, and it also serves to extend them.

In the past, Facebook has  launched a number of radical changes to its product with little forewarning or transition strategy, which resulted in great unrest and even upheaval among its users. They have finally learned that just thrusting large changes into the experience upon its users can be dangerous to their business. Facebook chose a more sensible approach this time to ensure that they avoid user discontent and facilitate adoption of the new design. They employed many of the recommendations mentioned above. Specifically, they

  • Gave users a preview of the new design
  • Gave users the option to continue using the old version
  • Gave users aids such to help them learn the new experience

Easing Users in

It is almost a given that all major changes to a product’s user experience will displease some set of users. By giving users a preview of the new experience along with giving them the option to continue using the old version, Facebook effectively eased users into the new site. This ensures that users give the new version a chance rather than dismissing it outright, and this also attenuates negative opinion. There are many anecdotal stories of users vehemently opposing changes to products to later adopt them to the point of not being able to live without them. And if the new version is thrust upon them, users feel like they are backed into a corner and are likely to have a stronger reaction to change and less likely to give it a chance.

Compete.com, an online web analytics company, recently released some compelling analysis of users slowly adopting Facebook’s new design (new.facebook.com).

People Using New Facebook Design

While the above graph shows the number of users trying the new design increasing rapidly, another graph (below) showing the proportion of those users trying the new site and going back to the old site projects a slightly different picture; many users are resistant to Facebook’s new design.

People Using New Facebook Design and then Going Back to Old Facebook

The percentage of users reverting to the old site has dropped from about 55% to about 40%, but that is still a large chunk of its user base. I guess the larger question that arises from this is: What proportion of users must adopt the new design to roll it out fully?

Help Users Learn and Adopt the New User Experience

One thing that Facebook did with the redesign that I found very helpful as a user was providing visual aids that identified major changes and explained how to user them.
Examples of Tool Tips and Aids on Redesigned Facebook site

The above screen shot shows how visual aids (cues) help users learn the new experience on the redesigned Facebook.

Giving Users a Voice

One point that I missed in my previous article is giving users a voice. Giving users an opportunity to provide feedback and vent empowers them and reduces their anxiety, and thus frees them to explore the new design. Facebook allows users to provide feedback by clicking a link in the upper right of the page and also created a discussion forum where users can also voice their concerns and ideas.

Going the Extra Mile

The jury is still out about whether the changes to the user experience on the new Facebook site are truly beneficial for users in the long term, but it is certain that they made design choices aimed at improving the user’s experience on the site. However, beyond posting a press release about the redesign, Facebook did not greatly reach out to its users to explain the redesign. Effectively communicating to users changes to the product, explaining their underpinnings, and assuring users that the redesign is aimed at improving their experience is key in reducing anxiety and encouraging adoption.

All in all, Facebook has been doing a great job in rolling out its new design in a way that minimizes negative impacts and improves adoption of the new site.

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