Thursday, July 25, 2019

Twitter's Redesign is a Big Mistake

Today Twitter rolled out its new redesign to me. In a post on the Twitter Blog from July 15 2019, Twitter claims that the new design is "...a refreshed and updated website that is faster, easier to navigate and more personalized." It also claims that the redesign has "Easy Access to Your Favourite Features." To say that many Twitter users, myself included, disagree with them would be an understatement. The redesign doesn't seem faster than the old design and it is certainly not easier to navigate. It certainly does not give users easy access to their favourite features.

Indeed, it would seem the reaction of Twitter users to the redesign is universal hatred for it. Today I spent several minutes reading through tweets related to the redesign and I found no one who actually liked it. Now to a degree this can be expected. Many, perhaps most people, don't like change. That having been said, there are so many people speaking out against the redesign, often quite vehemently, that I think there is more behind people's reactions than a mere dislike of the redesign. Quite simply, the redesign was poorly executed and actually makes Twitter harder to use than the old design.

To begin with, the Twitter redesign is simply unattractive. There is far too much blank space on either side of the screen. The sidebars are too wide and the centre column for tweets is too narrow.  Overall, it just looks a bit cluttered. If the redesign were merely ugly, that would not be a problem.  Unfortunately there are other problems that make Twitter harder to use. To begin with, the feed is set to Twitter's algorithm determined "Home" feed, just as the Twitter mobile app is. Now, just as on the app, one can switch to "Latest Tweets" by clicking on the stars at the top of the feed. That having been said, I suspect that like the mobile app this means it will switch back to the "Home" feed sooner or later, requiring the user to manually switch it back to "Latest Tweets." Quite frankly, this is something that has always annoyed me about the app. I much preferred the old Twitter web design where one could simply turn the algorithm off in settings and never see the algorithm determined feed again.

Another problem, and one that makes the redesign harder to use, is that Notifications, Messages, Lists, Profile, et. al. are in the left sidebar rather than at the top. For me at least, it makes more sense to have such important things as Notifications, Messages, and, in particular, the Profile at the top. I think this might be true of many people. You'll notice other sites generally have their navigation bars (or menus, if you prefer) at the top. Facebook has its so you can reach your profile, friend requests, notifications, and so on at the top. The web version of Instagram has it so one can reach his or her likes and profile at the top and even on the mobile app one can access messages at the top (everything else is at the bottom, which seems more reasonable than having it on the left). Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, and various other social media sites have navigation bars at the top. Now I am not a fan of Facebook and some of these other social media services (some I don't even use), but I think there is a good reason they have their navigation bars at the top. I think it makes it easier for users to navigate the sites than having them in a sidebar does.

Of course, this brings me to another way that the redesign is harder to use. To reach Settings and privacy, Help Centre, et al., one must press a "More"  button and then press on whatever one wants. The old design one simply clicked on his or her profile picture to access a drop down window through which he or she could access these things. Quite simply, I think the redesign makes it harder to reach such things as Settings, Help Centre, et. al. Indeed, while I never used Moments, I have heard complaints from people who do that now they have to click the "More" button.

As to the Trends that occupied the left sidebar in the old design, they are now in a sidebar on the right. This doesn't really present any problems, except that it seems to display fewer Trends. The old design displayed about ten Trends, while the redesign only displays about five. This makes it harder to see what is trending.

Among the biggest problems with the redesign is the feed itself.  Despite Twitter's claim that the redesign is faster, I haven't seen any evidence for that claim. When scrolling down it not only seems slower than the old design, but even a bit jerky. I am honestly puzzled as to why Twitter is claiming the redesign is faster. It doesn't seem to be on Firefox or Chrome on a desktop using Windows 10.

Now it is true that Twitter rolled out some nifty new features with the redesign. For fans of Dark Mode, there is an even Darker Mode called "Lights Out." One can also control the font size of tweets, and there are new colour options. Twitter has also made it easier to switch to another account if one has multiple accounts. Unfortunately, I am not sure any of these new features make up for the fact that the redesign is poorly designed and harder to use.

Ultimately, I think the mistake that Twitter has made with its redesign is that they have made it like the mobile app. It's as if they took the worst aspects of the mobile app and applied them to the desktop site. Quite frankly, I think this is backwards. I have never enjoyed using the mobile app and, except for those times when I don't have access to my computer, I always use the desktop site for that reason. The old design was easier to use, easier to navigate, and faster than the mobile app. I can't say the same for the redesign.

Given the reaction users have had to the Twitter redesign, I think they are going to regret having gone forward with it. In 2018 Snapchat introduced a dramatic redesign that its users hated. Ultimately they  lost users and its stock actually dropped as much as 20%. In the end Snapchat had to make changes to the redesign. I rather suspect the same thing could happen to Twitter given how much users dislike the new design. While many media outlets have pointed out that users always hate changes to the designs of social media services and that eventually they adjust to those changes, I think that is not true in every case. Aside from Snapchat's controversial redesign, there is also the example of Facebook's double column Timeline. Users never warmed to it and eventually Facebook had to change it. If users eventually stop complaining about a social media service's redesign, it may be because they simply realise that their complaining is doing little good, not because they have grown to love the new design. Ultimately, I don't think people are ever going to like Twitter's new design and it could cost them users.

In the end, I think it would be best for Twitter if they scrap the redesign and return everyone back to the old design. If they want the website and the mobile to look and behave the same, then they ought to come up with a design that makes the mobile app look and behave more like the old web design, not the other way around. Put Notifications, Messages, et. al. at the top of the page. Give users back a means of permanently disabling the algorithm sorted feed in settings. They can keep many of the new features. I think if they come up with a design that draws on the old design for both the web and mobile and ditch the redesign, Twitter users will be much happier.

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