Facebook always makes itself unpopular every time it goes through a redesign. There hasn’t been a major one for a while (until this month), but we’ve been on the internet long enough to remember the backlash to big Facebook changes of the past. The pattern is almost always the same. People complain about the redesign, say that it’s ugly, threaten to leave, and then stay and use it anyway. A few weeks or months down the line, they’re entirely comfortable with the newer design, and they’ve forgotten what they were so unhappy about in the first place.
For all we know, history might repeat itself with this latest update. It’s coming in for a lot of criticism right now, with thousands of people taking to Twitter (and, ironically, Facebook) to decry it for being ugly and difficult to use, but the anger will inevitably die down after a while. It is, however, the most significant change to the look and feel to the world’s biggest social media website in at least a decade, and there are bound to be growing pains. Is there more than that to it, though? Do the people who say that it’s worse than it was prior to the redesign have a point? Let’s take a closer look, and see if we can work out what all the fuss is about.
Welcome To The Dark Side
The most obvious immediate visual clue that you’ve arrived on the ‘new’ Facebook – aside from the fact that all the buttons have moved and everything seems to be unnecessarily large and clumsy – is that the background is dark. Facebook has moved with the times and introduced a ‘dark’ mode, and that serves to make everything in the redesigned site’s central column appear far more eye-catching. This is the same trick that online slots websites use to draw your attention to the games they want you to spend money on. Various elements of modern web design have been drawn from online slots, as the people who design those sites have proven themselves to be masters of the trade when it comes to directing people to take the precise course of action you want them to take. However, the look and feel of an online slots website is not necessarily what you want for a social media website.
Dark mode somehow makes Facebook feel more cluttered. The spaces that looked so large when the background was white suddenly feel smaller, and there’s little to no space between any of the buttons anymore. Every single part of the page has suddenly become clickable, and the entire layout can be a little overwhelming at first.
Buttons That Don’t Behave
One of the ‘new’ buttons that appears prominently on the revised Facebook layout is the ‘groups’ button, which looks like a cat’s paw but is, on closer inspection, a group of three people standing close together. Having clicked on this button, you might expect to be taken to a page full of groups that you’re a member of, or perhaps a feed of the most recent posts inside those groups. That isn’t what happens. Instead, you’re shown a list of groups that you might be interested in joining, based on your interests and your recent activity. This is symptomatic of a wider problem.
Many of the buttons on the new layout don’t do what you expect them to do. Others have no clear purpose. We’re still trying to work out what the ‘plus’ button is supposed to be used for, and when it’s appropriate to use it. We’re also still struggling to find a way to look at ‘recent posts’ rather than ‘highlighted posts,’ which was as easy as two clicks of a button before the redesign.
Not Optimized For Desktop
Some phone users, and iPhone users in particular, are probably wondering what all the fuss is about. The new Facebook does, after all, provide a desktop experience that’s fairly close to what they see when they log onto the Facebook app on their phone. iPhone users, in particular, have been enjoying the new Facebook ‘dark mode’ for several months. Therein lies the problem. This is supposed to be a new desktop version of the site, and yet it doesn’t feel like it. Instead, it feels like a bigger, low-resolution version of the same display we see on our phones. It looks as wrong as accidentally accessing the mobile version of Facebook’s website on a big screen.
We appreciate that more people are browsing the internet through phones now than there are using laptops or desktops, but that doesn’t change the fact that millions of laptop and desktop users still exist. They should still be catered for. Claiming that you’ve provided a new ‘optimized’ desktop experience for those users when all you’ve done in reality is clone the app version of your site and made everything bigger isn’t going to cut the mustard, and nor should it.
Facebook isn’t short of server space, and the current existence of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ forms of Facebook doesn’t appear to have resulted in one set of users having advantages that the other doesn’t. Everything that can be done on the new Facebook can also be done on the old Facebook. Some features, like filtering the news feed to see recent posts first, don’t appear to exist on the ‘new’ Facebook, so you could even make an argument that the ‘classic’ format is better.
Because both versions can exist side by side, there doesn’t appear to be a good reason for Facebook to shut one of them off. That’s not going to stop them from doing it, though. At some point in September, you’ll log into Facebook, and you’ll be stuck with the new layout, whether you want it or not. There will be no way back. When you’re a large company, and you know you’re about to do something that’s going to make a significant proportion of your users unhappy, why do it when you don’t have to? It makes no sense.
We’re not enamored with Facebook’s new layout. We might grow to love it over time, but at the moment, it seems clumsy and poorly conceived to us. Maybe Facebook is onto something. Perhaps ‘big’ is the way that web design is going, and clutter is the new minimalism. If everyone has a cluttered, oversized website a year from now, we’ll be sure to congratulate Mr. Zuckerberg and his team. Until then, we’ll remain skeptical of its necessity.