Visualizing an Alternative Facebook

It’s a known universal law that if Facebook mentions the word redesign it will trigger an endless murmur of discontent.  The latest update to Facebook is slowly being implemented. Despite all of the simplification and prettiness, it leaves a lot to be desired.

First, some praises. I love how the new redesign transitions users from mobile to web more seamlessly. This is great for user interface and it just makes sense when most users are on many different devices. The new interface looks cleaner and bigger. This doesn’t necessarily mean better because users will have varying capacity for change and many will not like it (at first). If the user interface strikes you as familiar – it’s because it looks a lot like Google+, but there’s nothing wrong in copying a great interface so long as Facebook does not want to be innovative.

Facebook 2006

Facebook 2013

Overall, the visual changes signal a lot of hype for little substance. In the process of reinventing the site no one thought to improve performance. For me, great design begins with two basic ideals – function and aesthetic.

 From Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design:

Good design makes a product useful — A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good design is aesthetic — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

The correlation between function and aesthetic.

 

What’s glaringly obvious with the new design is that Facebook completely misses a lot of great opportunities: simple privacy controls, photo organization, more intuitive private messaging that rivals Gmail. If we use the graph above it is situated somewhere between Kitsch and Trash. Style lies in personal taste, but most everyone can agree on function.

What does it take to get Facebook to the upper right quadrant of social network design gold, i.e. Beauty? I’ve already started a list. It’s not a definitive list by any means, but a programmatic approach to design that focuses on the complaints I’ve heard the most from users — if you have some great ideas, share it in the comment section!

Changing your privacy policy? Show me in my notifications.

From my perspective it seems that the majority of the uproar from users typically stems from a lack of oversight for privacy features and the inability to easily access them. Facebook should notify users when changes are made to privacy policies, preferably before another source. This is just good customer service. I don’t read Facebook’s blog so give me a little notification and let me choose to read it along with all of those event invitations.

Facebook should simplify and maintain privacy interfaces that are constant.

This low hanging fruit is a given, but I don’t think Facebook understands how crucial this step is. Privacy should be designed to feel comfortable and safe – even if it is in flux. This means keeping it relatively similar throughout all design changes.

Everyone, myself included, feels extremely uncomfortable when years of personal data is suddenly freed for public viewing. Obviously, a little change to a design will inevitably shift privacy settings, but Facebook should implement the new privacy settings before the new designs take effect. This amount of time will allow users to adjust to the change and give them more power, and therefore more comfort.

Use filters for viewing streaming content.

Whatever happened to Facebook using Hashtags? There are days when I want to temporarily turn of politics or babies or… (insert annoying meme that everyone has shared every hour). The ability to tag content makes searching and sorting much easier to browse that ocean of conversations.

News Feed was cluttered because there was not a way for users to quickly browse and systemically change the information intuitively. Changing a feed’s media from photos to videos doesn’t solve this problem.

Improve photo albums with re-sorting options.

A lot of users on Facebook are sharing photos and the application simply does not work. In fact, I find Facebook photos to be cumbersome and unmalleable. I literally deleted all of my photos one week a few years ago out of frustration. Have you ever tried to move a photo from one album to the next? Or change privacy settings for a few albums and not all? It’s not worth it. Adding Instagram to my photo set doesn’t make me like you better Facebook Photos…

Make private messages more user friendly.

There are plenty of days when I need to send a private message on Facebook to friends but dread the act. It’s even worse if I have to find a message because it can never be located. There’s a special place where my messages go to hide and they are invisible to Facebook’s search engines. The new Chat Heads are the greatest thing for Facebook mobile but on desktop, I’m sticking to Gchat.

Don’t change the navigation bar unless the old one really, really, really sucks.

Now that Facebook has a new navigation bar I must emphasize that it should stay there for a very long time. Possibly forever. Changing the location of your most used features every few years is ok but not wise. A great design will withstand the test of time. Look at the operating system for Mac and Windows and you get what I mean. Sure, the web is more fluid but don’t waste time by getting this wrong. It’s worth investing in so now that you’ve found something you like… let’s stick to it.

Make sure your product look better than the competition.

Facebook is large enough to have an attentive and willing audience that have already redesigned their entire site. Twice. It’s just floating out there in the interwebs and most of the designers I talked to at the time almost always liked the redesigns better than Facebook.

It’s perfectly OK to copy a visual palette from the competition, but you also have to improve it.

Facebook Prototype – Conceptional Approach from Fred Nerby on Vimeo.

 

Facebook Facelift – Home & Profiles from Barton Smith on Vimeo.

 

You’re never going to make everyone happy, but you should at least pacify a few critics.

I’m going to be completely honest here – the designer in me wants everyone to love my work. Everyone. That’s a hard task when you are designing a social network for over a billion monthly users. So, what’s a designer to do when backlash is inevitable and most of the world hates your product?

Simply asking what users want will earn credibility bonus. That’s a lot of people, so maybe it’s time to start looking and listening.

 

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