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UI redesigns are mostly a waste of time

To preface the article, I primarily work on, and prefer, back-end code. I've been involved in both web and software development for over 4 years now and worked with many front-end and back-end frameworks.

A new UI for twitter (credit to https://newmicrosoft.com/twitter-for-desktop-now-has-a-new-ui/)
New Twitter UI


Before all of the UI designers that read this go out and riot and champion against me for saying UI redesigns are a waste of time, let me say that I do value design. I think at the bare minimum, a product or website needs to be usable, and if you possess a good eye and steady hand, you should feel compelled to create something that looks pleasing.

David by Michelangelo
David


Just stop redesigning the UI all the time.

UI redesigns, in my opinion, are a waste of time 95% of the time. Let me explain further.

No one cares

Come see our fresh new look! What about our new material design, come see! I'm sorry, but besides fixing the UI where it impacts the usability of your application, no one is raving about how a redesign makes the application any better.

People use applications because of their purpose, not because it is pleasing to the eye.

You don't use Google maps because it looks nice, you use it because it tells you where to go to get good tacos. You don't use Facebook because the UI is nice, you use it to talk to your friends and share photos. You don't shop on gamestop.com because you like navigating the mess of drop downs and advertisements, you shop because you want to pick up Anthem.

A picture of gamestop.com
A little much, eh?


The only time a UI should be updated is if it impacts the ability of a user to actually use your application. 

If you find users aren't able to navigate to page x because it's hidden in the menu, by all means move the link. Call out the page. Reposition the logout button so it makes sense to everyone. Be clear how your forms are laid out. This is not a redesign, but good design (and should reflect the needs of the business and your users).

It hurts retention

I loathe every time I need to re-learn a new UI. This is especially when the UI redesign gets too ambitious. The fact of the matter folks, is when you redesign your UI, it takes extra effort to learn where the updates have been made.

The people who use your application, don't like change. They like to go on autopilot after they've learned something, it's just plain easier for them. The more you change things up, the more effort it requires to use.

The new homepage of BMO Harris (credit to https://www1.bmoharris.com)
The new redesign of BMO Harris's online portal

No - that is not my real balance. I'm not rich.

Please stop changing everything, stop making it more work for us to relearn the applications we like to use.

It's smoke and mirrors

Upper management loves to hear that you are making "big changes" with "fresh new looks", it's like being Charlie Bucket and knowing you'll win that big prize because now you have that golden ticket.

Willie wonka golden ticket (credit to https://icandywrap.com/product/193A2E19A4CD4D02B96C4D26462751D7/willy-wonka-golden-tickets-movie-replica.html)
My winning ticket


Especially if your company is public, you have investors throwing money at you to turn a profit, which in turn returns the money to them. There is pressure to advance, and an easy way to do that is with the word "redesign". Everyone likes to hear of that big new design you are rolling out, better marketing, sleek logo, easier interface... All of these phrases bring great praise and potential dollar signs. 

Does it really add up, or are you just giving designers busywork that doesn't amount to anything in the end?

Do we have concrete evidence that what we are doing will provide benefit to the company or users, or just feel that it would be better if the UI was redesigned? Take a minute, think about that one.

It contributes to our worse nature

We are already addicted to that burst of dopamine, something new. Do we really need another redesign or is it something that gives us our temporary fix until we move on to something new?

Sometimes, if we are able to do it does not mean we should.

I feel we need to dial-back on our UI redesigns and consider where we actually should be spending our time. Let's tackle something important like tech debt instead.

Comments

What are your thoughts on this issue? I'd be curious to know and hear opinions from both sides.

Comments

  1. Interesting article. Fell into the click bait title. I think there is a valid point that redesigning the UI isn't always for the best. However, in a lot of situations the UI redesign accompanies ux improvements as well. In the case of material design, all their apps are being standardized with the same visual language making it easier to use them all. Definitely always should ask the question why. UX and improving the user's experience at doing the job they need to do should drive the visual changes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not a clickbait title, the article was about EXACTLY what the title said.

      Delete
    2. I am definitely for improving UX, just not redesigning the UI for sake of redesigning the UI. UX should drive change, not the sake of the UI itself in my opinion.

      Delete
    3. UI revamps drive user retention.

      Delete
  2. To stay competetive you need all the time change and adapt. Imagine if Google didn't change design of its apps at all. People would quickly switch to more modern looking apps. Just stick to the backed cause it looks like you don't understand frontend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah how often have you seen the design for search changed? Exactly...

      Delete
    2. That's where I have trouble understanding, do people really switch because it looks modern, or because it includes the feature-set that they want?

      Delete
    3. Both. It needs to have nice transitions between pages and features, it must be logically structured, it must look modern (so the user thinks the developer is one of the leading devs) and especially UI rewriting often comes with a code revamp, so that's really necessary too for good development. I wrote so much more than this, but, because my page was refreshed for the most silly reason on Earth (I accidentally pressed the "home" button) my writing was deleted. All of it... I had it well structured. Anyways, I rewrote the key reasons for you and, because it's 6am in the morning and I haven't slept I really need to finish my writing now.

      Key essence:

      UX is more important than UI.

      But without UI revamps UXs cannot increase user retention.


      It's as easy as that :)

      Delete
  3. You're talking mainly about "site redesigns" here, not incremental change, so I'll address that. Props for stating up front that you're not a UI designer, but it's apparent there are aspects to this that you may not be aware of.

    As a UX designer on a large commercial site, you work with the business via the product management team to determine what's called a "design strategy" (or are given the task of implementing that, if you're not yourself responsible for creating it). The design strategy is aligned to the business strategy, and it determines the information architecture and interaction design of all the "products" that the customers will be exposed to. Sometimes it includes the visual design, but that's not a really necessary.

    If you get it right, the design strategy then forms a capable platform for the foreseeable future (note the word "foreseeable"): new features, products and target markets that are being thought about - many of which may not actually hit the UI for months, and often even years. It's like a combination of steering the Titanic and solving a Rubik's Cube where the icebergs slowly move and the colours of the cube change over time.

    This work is necessarily difficult, time consuming and never quite finished. It involves having to pick battles, make compromises and do things you don't want to do in order to strike a balance between what the business wants and what its customers need. Redesigns do have (usually minor) elements of business or marketing vanity, and UX designers are very aware of that. If you talk to most designers they will agree with a lot of your points about feature fatigue and usability, for example. But their work is a product of navigating the often complex and contradictory aspects of the business: marketing priorities, technical and engineering resource and capability constraints, politics and third parties, and other behind-the-scenes stuff. Only then can UX apply the craft that they are ostensibly paid to do.

    Be that as it may, in quite a few cases there is no design strategy because nobody is capable of creating or maintaining one. In which case you will observe the Titanic slowly hitting the iceberg. But that is rare in my experience. At any one time, most sites are simply in a state of sub-optimised UX, even with the most capable design team in place. Because the process of design is hard.

    I do not in any way mean this as a criticism of you in writing this post. Your points are, on their face, good ones well made. But the detailed and usually very business-specific reasons behind redesigns are something that, if I'm honest, I don't have time to explain to everyone in the business all the time. This will be true of most large businesses similar to the ones you cite. And it is an unfortunate fact that the engineering department is not a good vantage point from which to understand these things.

    So I'm not surprised you have written this post. I can only apologise on behalf of my discipline for what is of course a failure of communication. Perhaps on the basis of my comment here, more engineers should be asking UX designers why things are as they are. I'm sure they will be happy to explain. But if they can't, you may be aboard the Titanic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking your time and explaining, in-detail, more of what a UX designer's role is.

      I admire your work, and completely understand the complexities of managing the ever-changing business requirements, resources, dependencies and the like.

      Perhaps I am not exposed as much as others to the field of UX, but in my experience, the UI redesigns I have been aware of have been more on the basis of "feeling" without any substantial goal or fact to back them up, and that has made this article bias to that point. I completely agree in favor of making changes to the UX, however my stance against redesigns are one based on pure emotion alone.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Its called progress. We didnt jump from DOS to iOS in a single bound.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This article is a joke. If you don't like UI maybe you should stick to DOS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. UI is user interface, therefor DOSs UI was CLI. Applications on DOS ranged from CLI to TUI to GUI. Windows 3.x and 9x ran on top of DOS.

      Delete
    2. Like I said before, I like design - good design. What I find hard in valuing is redesigns (total redesigns), where the basis of such redesigns are fleeting and not based on evidence that will help improve the product or align with company goals etc.

      Delete
  7. You really ought to read some of the better design books. Looking good has little to do with it. Nice preface.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you have any good resources that are available? I'm not very well-versed in the field of UX/UI design.

      Delete
  8. but we do use Google Maps because it looks nice. Go check the color palette of Bing and OpenStreetMap:
    https://www.bing.com/maps
    https://www.openstreetmap.org

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I use Google Maps too. I feel that the Google Maps design lends it to better functionality, that is why I choose it.

      Delete
  9. @Unknown - completely disagree. Google's changed their UI... I don't care. Users of the app want to find things. The app helps them do that. What it looks like doesn't matter. It's just window dressing.

    This is what the writer of the article was trying to get across.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Kept waiting to see where the data would come in and it never did. This is entirely data-free conjecture. This is the engineering equivalent of an article calling out a particular medicine as being ineffective purely on the basis of "I feel like it doesn't do anything so people should stop taking it".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Purely opinion based yes. If you do have research to share I'd be happy to read it that supports the contrary.

      Delete
    2. It's great that you're open evidence to the contrary but you haven't provided any evidence to support the original assertion. That's really not a healthy starting point for this type of discussion. The onus is really on you to provide evidence to support what you're claiming. If you have any evidence to support what you're asserting in this article I'd be happy (and interested!) to read it.

      Delete
  11. I totally agree, but a UI redesign is necessary every 3-4 years, users don't really care but at least they won't get used to one old design

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    Replies
    1. I'm genuinely curious, because I have feelings they are not necessary, on what grounds is a redesign needed? Marketing reasons? New products? etc?

      Delete
  12. Well for me material design was great purely because of aesthetics.
    You U underestimate the value of aesthetics and the consumer. Research shows it's very powerful irrespective of functionality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely value design. What I find it hard to value are complete redesigns that have no basis for change. (ie. this "feels" better, and the such).

      Delete
  13. You really should have brought up research about poor abstract icon design, evil flat design and material design, poor spacing and things of that sort, there is tons of research backing that up.

    In many cases, I really can't understand why someone like Google or Mircosoft goes on to to use flat design updates, and poor use of space.

    My old apps were compact, had easy access to features I like, were fast to use and built for work. Now they are removing useful features, slowing down apps by reducing distinguishing elements like color, shading, and good use of space. And becoming bland, slow and painful to use quickly. There are plenty of studies that show flat design is 25% slower to use, yet everyone continues to push for it. (Thankfully there is slight pushback with shadows returning) Still though it's frustrating I will be spending a 1/4 more time now because of your desire to be "new".

    I just don't get it, UX designers why aren't you speaking up? Why are you letting them get away with this? Humans are built to look for color, look for icons that reflect the real world - not awful abstract hamburger icons that reflect nothing, and humans naturally will compact things when they can, spreading everything out just slows me down and if I could I would organize and condense these menus for you.

    Now that you can easily turn into an article. Redesigns do actually hurt consumers. They often abstract, confuse and clutter screens. They also are far worse for many who have eyesight problems as they have reduced accessibility by removing so many elements.

    https://insights.dice.com/2017/10/20/flat-design-actually-awful/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for pointing this out, I find your information about flat design very interesting. I am a mixed fan of flat design.

      On one hand, I like how I am not bombarded with too much information at once. This usually means, in my case, that I am taking a step into a high learning-curve application and I don't know how to interact with it yet. On the other hand, the only people I hear who like it say it looks "clean", but provide no concrete evidence it is good.

      I really also like how you support color, I am a big fan of color. In fact, I should alter my blog's theme now... :)

      Delete
    2. "UX designers why aren't you speaking up?"

      Designers do speak up a lot about these issues. For example:

      https://www.fastcompany.com/3053406/how-apple-is-giving-design-a-bad-name

      There is however an old and difficult tension in the design community between visual design and interaction design. As Bruce Tognazzini has said, we are currently in an interaction design dark age, where function is often made to follow form. Quite why that is the case is hard to say, but there are still a lot of people who call themselves UX designers yet do not know about HCI and interaction design as researched and codified by the likes of Raskin, Cooper, Norman, Tog, and others. I have almost given up asking candidates in job interviews questions like "What is usability?" or "What is Fitt's Law"? because I never get correct replies, and when I explain them, they seem too theoretical. I was even mocked by a product manager recently for asking a UX design interviewee if they knew who invented the concept of design personas. I think it's a fair question - but they didn't.

      Delete
  14. Can't agree. As someone said up there, I was also waiting for the data. Every redesign comes with improvements, at least in the sense of perceived value by the customer (nicer looks give a sense of seriousness and reliability). Other times it comes with a big chunk of tech debt being removed from the codebase. Others, a few building blocks will be introduced ie. a pattern library (which makes future development easier, less prone to error).

    Having worked on many UI redesigns over the last years, I feel the things you state in this article are very detached from reality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like how you bring up usages of a pattern library, or removing technical debt from the design. I, who don't do work in UI design, these thoughts are removed from my head when I think of massive site redesigns. It is not something I considered originally.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Delete
  15. This article has so much biased and ignorant fail, it is impressive. I won't even bother to address each and every fallacy you are spewing. Good luck to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can disagree with me more directly, I don't mind. It was not meant to be a factual post, simply off my experiences.

      Delete

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