The saying is old as the world itself – If it’s working, don’t “fix” it. Even evolution obeys it. Take crocodiles and sharks – both species are older than dinosaurs and their appearance barely changed for millions of years.
Unfortunately, in harsh contrast with mother Nature, many web developers and designers think it’s very important to force changes once or twice a year at any cost.
The first real nightmare came when Facebook underwent a face lift. Apart from simple skin stretching, the experts working on it decided to crush some bones, redraw the jaw, pull all the teeth out and replant them on the back of the head. Of course, being one of the largest sites, it can get away with everything, just like Michael Jackson. Hooray for beauty!
Flickr followed suit and did a revamp of its homepage sprinkled with some fundamental changes in the user activity pages. Most active users found the whole thing repelling and made that clear in their feedback during the beta testing but despite all assurances, social sites today have a habit to discard the opinions of their active users, insisting they cannot trust someone who’s apparently biased or influenced by a “habit”.
However, the whole idea of the social site is to make you biased and addicted. Either to its logo or to the experience it offers. So there’s a contradiction.
In stark difference to Web 1.0 – today we have three distinct types of visitors. First come the ones from the vast distracted internet crowd, constantly moving up and down, usually with no defined aim. Then come those who belong to a much smaller group, driven not by impulse but by reason. The rest form the most numerous group – the zombies. You know them – they are the people who register for an account and never come back. Sloppy statisticians simply adore them. They fill the holes in the aerated chocolate bar called annual report so nicely that everybody in the conference room gets hit by severe saliva deficiency.
But just when you begin to lose all hope, there comes a quite refreshing example that someone out there really cares and hasn’t lost touch with reality. The team behind WordPress, who already did one redesign this year with mixed success, is about to make another one. It sounds really horrible, especially if you use their product (i.e. have a blog like this one). What makes it truly different is the approach. What they did was to hire a third party – the Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, Insight and Research division not to tell them what they think is best but to conduct an investigation and explain why there were so many whining bastards out there who continued to complain about the new administrative system. In the process, they decided to fix a thing or two until it naturally developed in a real design landslide:
The second round of testing blew everyone away. The research team had never seen such consistent results. Tasks were completed faster, participant opinions rated it higher, understanding of how interface elements worked was greater, and it wasn’t even a fully functional application. Of the test participants, every single one said they would choose the prototype over their current administrative interface, and it wasn’t even pretty (those of you who remember the original Crazyhorse will vouch for this)…
So yes, sometimes good things happen naturally. Does the fact that WordPress is an open source project has something to do with that? I so don’t know…