I’ve written a few times about The Sixty One. I thought it was a great example of a web app that works well. I was able to discover some great new bands and for a few of them I track their progress to see if they come to town and play.
Unfortunately, The Sixty One is a prime example of how redesigning the user interface can make your existing user base very angry and make them leave. Common complaints about the new design are “antisocial and unnavigable” and I happen to agree with them. The new changes made a great music discovery site not nearly as much fun and discover new bands. It sure looks pretty though.
Microsoft has gone through similar criticism with the Office ribbon. Some people love it and others hate it. The few times I’ve used Office with the ribbon I was frustrated beyond belief because of the way *I* learn how to use applications.
A friend recently commented to me that they learned to like the ribbon. I’m not sure that Microsoft would get that benefit (of time) if Office wasn’t ubiquitous. I can say that as a Mac user I’m not excited about getting the ribbon in the next version of Office but them I’m already using Pages and Numbers more and more because they do everything I need them to do for far less money and less bloat.
From my own experience, we went through interface changes on Task Timer, our Mac/Windows desktop application that tracks your time. It’s a very simple interface. Version 1 and 2 let you track one project/task combination at a time. People complained so we opened it up to five. People (mainly lawyers – go figure) said that five simultaneous timers weren’t enough so we made it unlimited.
We rewrote the interface to allow an unlimited number of simultaneous timers and project and task combinations. The beta users were very happy and we were happy too (since we use it every day as well). We released and the very first bug report was from a long-timer user who complained that we destroyed the simplicity of the interface. I guess there’s no winning. Thankfully, with a few minor tweaks we were able to make that customer satisfied but most users will just walk away in disgust. It’s not easy to get a second chance.
Every time FaceBook changes their layout there’s always a round of complaints. I generally fall into the group that is willing to work with it but I do have to admit that I generally don’t mind the changes after I’ve gotten used to it. But then, I also find that the new interface isn’t that much better than the old one – usually.
I sometimes think that companies redesign their website and products because they’ve got designers on staff and they think the designers need to earn their keep. Don’t fall into that trap and change the interface ‘just because’.
Interface changes should be well thought out to satisfy existing users and to get new ones. Doing so without some serious thought and effort, both before and after the change, can result in people abandoning your product or service. Tough to stay in business that way.
Any other examples of a bad user interface change?