Why do people hate redesigns?
Recently, Twitter unveiled a new design for its website and app, including a new font, higher-contrast colors, and less visual clutter. According to Twitter Design, the changes are meant to make the platform more accessible and allow users to be more focused.
As part of the makeover, Twitter created its own font called Chirp. In the past, the company used typefaces such as SF Pro, Roboto, and Helvetica Neue. The main reason behind the change was improving legibility. White space has also increased and the site’s colours now have higher contrast which makes photos and videos stand out more.
Some Twitter users don’t appear to be handling the change particularly well; they immediately tweeted they weren’t fans of the changes and called the new font “ugly” or “unfinished.”.
This isn’t the first time a redesign creates a backlash. In fact, most product redesigns are met with scepticism and confusion from users. Andy Warhol’s quote below from his bestseller “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again” expresses how many users feel when they encounter an unexpected redesign:
Everything was fine, the same as always. I hate it when you find a product you like that fits a particular need of yours, and then they change it. ‘Improve’ it. I hate ‘new, improved’ anything. I think they should just make a completely new product instead and leave the old one alone. That way there would be two products to choose from, instead of half an old one. — Andy Warhol
Why does it happen?
Psychology plays a big role in this. Even when the redesign has been extensively tested with users and is an improvement compared to the previous versions, users are likely to react negatively towards it. This is due to a number of reasons discussed below.
Users automatically navigate in interfaces that are used to for a long time. In a way, navigation is similar to a routine, a habit, and when the interface design changes, the user navigation habits must change as well. This increases cognitive load and can reduce user satisfaction with the product. Research has shown that habits are hard to change and require a lot of conscious effort in order to change, which can cause distress.
Some insights into this behaviour can be drawn from the user resistance to change (URTC) framework, which has been used to address technology acceptance. URTC refers to an adverse reaction to changes experienced by the users when they encounter new technology. Resistance can be either active (visible and easy to identify, like in the case of Twitter users complaining about the latest redesign) or passive (more difficult to detect and manage). This idea relates to the concept of resistance to change, which was first introduced by Kurt Lewin in 1947 and can be defined as a negative attitude towards change. According to researchers, the main reasons behind resistance to change are perceived loss of control and perceived dissatisfaction.
Familiarity bias is another reason people dislike redesigns. It refers to a mental phenomenon where people opt for the more familiar options, even though these often result in less favourable outcomes than available alternatives. Familiarity bias was first described by Daniel Kahneman and it’s a well-documented heuristic (shortcut) our brains take that makes us prefer familiar experiences.
According to NN/g “users don’t care about design for its own sake; they just want to get things done”. Unlike designers, most users don’t spend ages analysing or admiring the design of a product. They are satisfied with a design when they know the features and can immediately find the ones they need. A radical redesign interferes with this making them having to relearn how to find the features they like using and causing frustration.
The Endowment Effect is a concept in behavioral economics that refers to how people tend to assign a greater value to an object that they own, rather than an object that they don’t. In the case of the redesign, this phenomenon can lead users to prefer the existing version and experience aversion towards the new one. The status quo bias is another cognitive bias similar to the endowment effect; people have a preference for the current state of affairs. More specifically, people tend to accept and prefer the default option instead of comparing the actual benefit to the actual cost. As a result, even if the redesign is ultimately improving user experience, users will — at first — show a preference for the design they’re used to.
What can we do?
People don’t like changes but this doesn’t mean that we should never redesign products. Below are some steps we can take to improve the way users experience the redesign.
Lack of control and resistance to change can make redesign unpopular. There is a solution to this; allowing people to opt-in to changes when the redesigned version is introduced. This gives users a feeling of control and can make them more amendable towards the changes even if they don’t opt in. This can also be done by giving users the option to switch between the beta version and the current one. If a user opts in to an early release, they are more likely to tolerate bugs and glitches and accept changes to the design. This way also allows user researchers and the design team to collect more data and validate their redesigns with a larger number of actual users while making them feel more included in the process. Rolling out significant product changes without warning or explanation, without allowing them to go back to the previous interface, makes users feel powerless and not valued.
Another way to minimise user backlash is by conducting more user research. Learn how and why users use the product and what’s important to them allows us to ensure the new design finds solutions to their pain-points while ensuring they can still find the product useful. It is important to know which functions and aspects of the product are important for our users and ensure these are not affected negatively by the redesign. User research also makes users feel more involved in the change process.
Radical redesigns should be avoided whenever possible. Making small incremental changes is another way to redesign products without upsetting the users. Previous studies have found that small changes are usually not observed when people behave habitually. In this approach, the design team makes small changes gradually so that users barely notice them.
Preparing the users for the upcoming changes is crucial. Creating expectations can make users more likely to adapt to the changes and accept the redesign. Consequently, communication with users is necessary at this stage. Companies like Apple have been using this strategy, which often ends up making users look forward to the upcoming changes.
Finally, it’s good to wait a few weeks before deciding that the redesign was a failure. Most of the time, especially when the redesign has been researched and developed correctly, users get used to it, end up appreciating, and preferring it to the previous version!
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