What Was Facebook’s Best Redesign, Anyway?

By  |  Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Over at PCWorld, I had fun looking back at the fruitless nature of Facebook redesign backlash. No one is surprised anymore when a redesigned Facebook home page–such as the one that rolled out today–causes an outrage.

But that made me wonder: what design, exactly, do people want? Was there ever a single home page layout to which Facebook users, given the choice, would happily revert? In other words, have we cooked up in our minds some ideal vision of an “old Facebook” that never really existed?

I’ve been looking at a lot of screenshots from old Facebook redesigns, and I think the layout below, plucked from a March 2009 TechCrunch article, is my favorite:

Compared to today’s home page, the one from March 2009 is pretty clean. The page has a pleasing amount of white space, and it’s easy to see where everything is at a glance. The main timeline is chronological–a sore point among many users today–but you can still see highlights on the right sidebar.

But of course, a lot of vocal Facebook users despised this design. The detractors created a group called “Petition Against the New Facebook” that quickly amassed more than 1.7 million angry users. The backlash was so bad that Facebook made some hasty changes to settle the mood. Users, however, just wanted the old design back.

Here’s what that old design from fall 2008 looked like, courtesy of Inside Facebook:

It’s not bad, but I don’t see how it’s significantly better than the design that followed. And by today’s standards, keeping status updates in a tiny slice of the right sidebar simply would not suffice. I do like the use of gray to segment different parts of the page, but I don’t think that was a sticking point with the redesign that followed.

Besides, people hated the fall 2008 redesign as well.

The one Facebook redesign that people didn’t despise–as InternetNews noted at the time–was from April 2007. Flickr user factoryjoe provides the screengrab:

Can you honestly tell me this is the best-looking version of Facebook that ever existed? It looks kind of cluttered to me, and it retains the “News Feed” that got users all riled up in 2006. Also, what’s with all the poking?

Maybe people would be happier if Facebook reverted to its original layout

… But I think not.

I can only guess what’s going on here:

  • Facebook needs to redesign its website to introduce new features.
  • Users had enjoyed Facebook without these new features, so they view the corresponding redesign as pointless. Backlash ensues.
  • Users come to enjoy the new features but fondly remember the old design, forgetting that old and new are incompatible.
  • The cycle repeats.

Tomorrow, Facebook is holding its f8 developers conference, where it will introduce new features that take advantage of the new design. Some users will realize they have an alternative in Google+, and will leave. Everyone else will settle down as the new design proves its worth–just long enough to prefer it over whatever redesign comes next.



16 Comments For This Post

  1. Evan Says:

    I think the problem is that the current redesign seems to be aimed at two distinct user types- (1) the power user, who friends everybody, and needs help sorting through stuff, and (2) the person at the other end of the spectrum, who visits infrequently and needs to be shown the important stuff that he missed while away.

  2. Evan Says:

    [somehow the rest of my reply got cut off]

    It's the huge number of people in the middle that the redesign creates more work for. I keep a manageable friends list, and sign on once or twice a day. I want to sign on, and just pick up where I left off the last time I was in my stream. The redesign makes that harder.

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  4. John D Salt Says:

    Most user interface design is thoroughly horrible, and Facebook has never been an exception; but people get used to bad interfaces. It takes a bit of work, but humans are adaptable, and can get used to pretty much anything. Changing the interface means that you have to do that bit of work all over gain to get used to the new one; and very few of the feeping creatures added will be worth the effort.

    What people dislike is not so much poor interface design as being buggered about.

  5. Kirk Says:

    No I think the problem is a website deciding what I want/need to see. It's a lack of choice, and it's the type of thing that was introduced with windoze to make it easier for the idiot end user. Fewer choices, fewer user defined variables, requiring less user input and thereby less knowledge, creating a more generic, less customized/tailored environment.

    Cookie cutter UI is what I call it. Facebook will tell us what we need to see, not the other way around.

  6. ecco6t9 Says:

    That's my problem with it, I don't mind the changes but I like being able to keep up with posts chronologically. And on the other end Facebook lets you do that but in the more stalkerish way by seeing that "Chase liked Sean's photo" "Jimmy posted on Ericas wall "Hey i saw…."

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  9. EamesJ2011 Says:

    I love facebook's interface updates. Even though it may be a bit complicated sometimes, but you'll get to used to it in the process.

  10. Rankup Directory Says:

    Facebook that ever existed? It looks kind of cluttered to me, and it retains the “News Feed” that got users all riled up in 2006.

  11. auramac Says:

    This time around it's pretty poor. In the past, people have been aggravated, but a lot of people Despise Timeline. It's cluttered, and for narcissists only.

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    Facebook users, given the choice, would happily revert? In other words, have we cooked up in our minds some ideal vision of an “old Facebook”

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  15. Sandy Allain Says:

    I hate the constant redesigns that Facebook has undergone over the years. Just when you got used to something, they would change it and cause you to have to relearn it all over again. This is almost as bad as Google changing their page ranking algorithm, leaving every seo consultant fending for themselves whenever they do so.

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