Monkey See
7:36 pm
Sat August 17, 2013

Why I Resist Web Redesigns (And Maybe You Do, Too)

Originally published on Wed August 14, 2013 11:07 am

Words many of us never want to hear: "It's the transmission." "We can't get a technician out there until next Tuesday." "Your ex will be there."

And, of course: "Welcome to our redesigned site!"

I know how it is, believe me. I stumble through many, many sites every day. I have routines; I hit buttons in a certain order; I know where everything is. Even if your site navigation requires me to click three times to get to what I want, once I learn where those clicks are, I can do them one-handed with my eyes closed. (And if it's early enough and it's before coffee, I just might do it.)

This is not just sites, either — any change can be disorienting. If they flipped two rows of crates in the warehouse where they put the Ark at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie, somebody would come into the break room the next day and yell, "WHO MOVED THE MESOPOTAMIAN POTTER'S WHEEL? WAS IT YOU, STANLEY?"

But on the Internet, in addition to the fact that change is annoying and finding the potter's wheel on the first day takes longer, there is always the possibility that a redesign is the result of one of several highly problematic intrusions.

1. Doodad creep. Some redesigns are there to incorporate a lot of new doodads — new boxes, new animations, new video ads that start loudly auto-playing the minute you land on the page, pop-up demands that you subscribe to the site's new dating service, or something new and terrible that nobody has even thought of yet that will make your experience slower, heavier, and more like looking at a video game. (You have to admit an NPR dating site would be kind of great, though. "Well-informed whole-grain enthusiast seeks same.")

2. Secret vanishings. Sometimes when you look at a redesign, you think, "Oh, this is OK. I just have to find the football section." And then you look for a while, and you go to the thread where they're taking comments, and they say, "Aaaaactually, we discontinued our football section. We did, however, add an entire column of videos of people taking earbuds out of their plastic packaging! We hope you like it!" In other words, sometimes redesigns are used to distract from content changes that users won't like.

3. Leonardo da Vinci was here. Web pages are supposed to be aesthetically pleasing, but not as much as they're supposed to ... work. Overly artsy pages where everything moves, dances, changes color, or periodically interrupts your reading to remind you that somebody went to design school are not doing their most important job.

But if there isn't a specific reason to be resistant, I generally do get used to them. You probably do, too.

Allow me to make a clumsy but appropriate comparison: I'm about to move to an apartment I'm excited about living in. Eventually, it will work better, be more functional, and be just as much my place as the place I'm in now. But within the first three days, I will almost certainly sit miserably in the middle of a pile of open boxes, unable to find something (probably a power strip), wishing I could go back to the time where the power strip might have been in a canvas bag labeled "SHOES," but for whatever reason, I knew where it was.

So, look: Figuratively speaking, we moved the Mesopotamian potter's wheel. We took the power strip and put it in a box that says — get this — "POWER STRIPS." (Don't make us explain what's now in the bag marked "SHOES.") But we didn't add creeping doodads, we didn't make anything disappear, and nobody is trying to impress you with screen art.

I have already been through the adjustment process with this new homepage: the first time I saw it, I made my grouchy, suspicious face at it, because that's what I do with new things. (Do you have a cat? It's like a cat looking at a new toy, or someone new it already hates. As you know, it's the same face.) But now I actually prefer it, and have been eager for it to launch. It's supposed to give you better navigation, and it actually does. It's supposed to cut down on visual clutter you don't use (We know! We can tell!), and it actually does.

Give it a couple of weeks. You'll be able to get to this page while clicking with one hand and doing a crossword with the other.

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