Change and the Web

I was reading through clients from hell, a comical site about designer’s clients with ridiculous demands, when I came across this one:  http://clientsfromhell.net/post/401213076/change-isnt-constant

The developer of a client site I was working on was adamant that the 5 year old design that channelled 1999 methodologies didn’t need changing. The developer insisted that the users would get angry.

Developer: “There’s a Chinese proverb that says a woman born with a limp will refuse a good leg since she’s used to her situation.”

Me: “You’d rather limp?”

As true as it is that websites need to keep up with changing technologies – new designs to fit the image, using technologies to make the user interaction easier, or just updating the site so that it better organises the information. However, in my experience with some larger sites such as facebook and gaia online, when they change their layouts it is responded to with a massive amount of anger! Tons of people complaining that the old layout is better and threatening to leave the site unless it is changed back. I have some of these feelings too, I don’t like having to search for a page I used to navigate to easily or get used to a new interface, but as a designer / developer I understand the need for the changes and usually can see why they decided to change.

So why all the hatred, can’t other people see the benefits too? Well, not at first – but in time everyone gets accustomed to the new layout and do find ways it makes their experience better or easier, or whatever the layout sets out to do. So then another design pops up and they defend the current last design. What is comical is that if you remember sites from their former forms, people remember how great and easy it was – but the sites were never as good as people remember (for the most part!)

So how do you make the transition between website designs easier?

  • Try to keep designs similar. When facebook did their latest layout change they completely changed the navigation which threw a lot of people off, and while having it constantly at the side has grown on many, it takes a while to get used to the new system.
  • Make sure pages that are visted frequently are easy to get to, especially if they are going to be taken off the main navigation.
  • Make sure everything works properly when launched, if people find messed up links it will just add to the hatred of the new layout
  • When you make a significant change, make sure there is a reason. Don’t just make an entirely new navigation because it is something fun to do, have it to make the user find pages easier, or organise the content. If the site that is being changed is fairly popular, let the users know what the change is and why it was done, if they understand why then they’ll be more open to it.

Even if you are super considerate of the user they may still hate the new layout, especially if it’s a site they spend a lot of time on such as forums and social networking. So take the criticism with a grain of salt, you can’t make everyone happy!

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