Redesigns Are Hard

LinkedIn redesign from 2009 via

With a semi-regular cadency, my news feed gets filled with a round of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook redesigns. The designs are always rich with new interaction models and tons of cool features. What they lack is an acknowledgement of the realities of business. Without these constraints, the designs remain purely conceptual and largely impractical.

If you’re going to put out a piece that “reimagines” one of these sites, don’t skimp on the hard parts.

Put the Advertising Back In

I hate it. You hate it. It’s ugly. It takes away from the visual aesthetic. But those “skyscrapers” and “medium rectangles” (as the IAB calls them) are really important to a company’s financials. How important?

The bane of every good design. From iab guidelines.
  • LinkedIn: $480 million per year
  • Twitter: $1.55 billion per year
  • Facebook: $13.2 billion per year
  • Google: $62 billion per year

To put this in perspective, a Facebook redesign without advertising is the equivalent of removing the GDP of Iceland from their bottom line. At today’s entry level talent rates, LinkedIn would exchange around 4,000 employees for a site devoid of advertising.

Failure to address advertising displays a very naive and narrow view of the site. If you insist on forgoing advertising, then its omission should be explicitly mentioned and addressed. Better yet, reimagine an advertising unit on the platform; sites like Facebook have enough demand that there is opportunity to bring in interesting and engaging experiences without sacrificing the design’s end goal.

Handle Design Purgatory

With three distinct business lines and eight different applications in iTunes, there is more to LinkedIn than just the homepage, profile, and companies. Looking at LinkedIn redesigns, however, you’d think the entire site consisted of three views. The same can be said of Facebook, where every designer takes a crack at the Facebook profile and news feed, but few remember to include events and groups.

When only a portion of the product gets redesigned, this creates a “design purgatory”: parts of the product that remain in the old design alongside the new effort. Never have I seen a redesign that talks about this design purgatory. On large sites, it is unrealistic to redesign everything at once. In a partial redesign, what does the partially modernized parts of the product look like? How will the design create a sense of consistency across both old and new features?

Take a shot at redesigning the emails the company sends. There’s no bigger instance of design purgatory than email.

Use Real Content

Big images are awesome when every one of them comes from Getty. Unfortunately, the majority of users are not professional photographers. Unless you are Flickr, 500px, etc, you don’t have enough perfectly focused high resolution images to give away 2/3 of a desktop screen to a beautiful image. And yet, every redesign of a profile seems to emphasize these impossible photographs as the dominant element.

A modified version of Fred Nerby’s design using images from my own Facebook album. By switching out the stock photos, the concept looks much closer to what a user would really see.

Take an example: the Fred Nerby redesign of Facebook from 2013. It’s visually engaging. The catch? Nothing in the design represents what a real user’s Facebook page might look like. It isn’t until halfway down, at the “Rome 2012” album, we encounter something that resembles real user content: 47 photos taken of a couple obsessively in front of a landmark along with awkwardly lit restaurant selfies.

Since most people are terrible content creators, take a moment and sub out the stock photography for everyday iPhone camera pictures.

Answer Why

The last thing you need to do if you’re going to redesign one of these big sites is answer “why”.

Why does the site need a redesign? Why does it need this redesign?

It sounds deceptively simple, but writing down the rationale for a redesign is hard. Design is a tool to fix a problem, and with no problem spelled out, the whole thing feels like a redesign for redesign’s sake.

A good redesign is tested. It reflects reality. It shows a holistic view. It has real content, ads, and knows it has rough spots. A good redesign also writes the thoughts and decisions down for the next generation of designers to follow in their wake.

So let’s all agree to put the hard parts in.