Web Principles: Users hate change

If I was going to write book of web principles certainly one of my top ten principles would be Users Hate Change

If you’ve been on Facebook the day a change is made you’ve certainly seen it in your news feed.  Today, for example, Facebook changed up the contents of the primary feed, made the photos larger and added a widget to the right sidebar about what your friends are doing. If your friends feed is like mine, then it is full of all manner of whining about how people want facebook to switch back and hints on how to find the old interface. On the otherhand, I like it. It’s an improvement. I think it makes facebook more useful for me while removing steps I took in their old interface to see what I wanted to see.

If you’ve ever redesigned a web site, you’ve heard about how much people hate change. My favorite redesign story about how people hate change was when I worked at The Commercial Appeal a decade ago and we launched their new design in January 2000. The design eliminated frames from a Pagemill design and started to implement CSS– we designed the whole thing in Dreamweaver. It wasn’t a great design, but a huge step forward. Faithful readers of The Commercial Appeal’s web site reacted like we had dug up Elvis and moved him to a hidden grave.

One particular set of emails from a retired lady who had moved to Chattanooga stood out from the rest. The day after the redesign she reamed us for moving things around and messing up her daily return to Memphis via the Internet. Her email was pretty similar to the other 1000 or so emails we received about the redesign. What was unique about this lady from Chattanooga was the 2nd email we received from her two weeks later. She emailed to apologize for her first email and to let us know she actually liked the new design and now everything she wanted was easier to find.

So, the moral of the story is Users Hate Change, but eventually with a good well-tested design, they will come around and use the site.  I promise you all those people swearing at Facebook today will have forgotten about it in a weeks time.

For me, I like change– for better or worse. Innovation and improvement are hard. If you are unwilling to change you’ll never know if that next step is two steps forward or a step backward.

Jakob Nielsen has a great related post on how users are resistant to change: Fresh vs. Familiar: How Aggressively to Redesign

Which browser do you use?

The latest browser usage reports have google’s Chrome browser being used by nearly one out of every 10 users online with Firefox gathering around a 23 percent market share and IE at 57 percent. When I first saw this report I wondered about regional variations in browser usage, but on second thought it really doesn’t matter because you want your sites to be useful by the majority of readers no matter what browser they prefer.

Even though I use Firefox on a daily basis, I always make sure I thoroughly test sites in IE because that’s the browser being used by the majority of our visitors. I normally don’t give our sites as thorough a viewing in Chrome and Safari as I do Firefox and IE and often times I just ignore Opera.

I have to admit that on personal sites I tend to ignore earlier versions of browser (like IE6). Even for a while a ran banner telling IE6 users to upgrade their browser.

Decluttering your home page

You’ve probably heard of mission creep and home page creep when you slowly ad links and bloat your home page overtime, but it’s also important to remember to be goal focused when you’re redesigning your home page. In a large organization I think  your home page design is often like an operator just helping someone quickly move along to the actual content they are looking for, but there is always an opportunity to provide to emphasis your primary goal– your conversions on your home page, too. There’s a great post on clickz about optimizing your home page and here’s some of their maxims of home page design.

  • “If you emphasize everything, then nothing will be important.”
  • “The purpose of the home page is to get people off of the home page.”
  • “Unless a visual element directly supports a key conversion action, it should be removed.”

Web Design Truths

Here’s a great article from Smashing Magazine on 10 Harsh Truths About Corporate Web Design.  I’ve worked online in some form or fashion for about 10 years and this article really gets to the heart of a lot that I’ve experienced.  My favorite truths are

  • You need a separate web division
  • Periodic redesign is not enough
  • Your website cannot appeal to everyone
  • Design by committee brings death

I think I like these so much because I can related to them– I have lived them.