Ello: a design disaster

Jeffry van der Goot
5 min readSep 24, 2014

Ello is another new attempt at creating an alternative social network to The Big Ones with its privacy, harassment and data-mining concerns. Following in the footsteps of previous efforts like Diaspora and AppDotNet. Unfortunately, much like its predecessors it manages to fail in spectacular manner.

Design is not just how it looks

the first thing you see when you log in after receiving an invite

Its design is awful. This initial screen is emblematic of Ello’s problems. It is taking modern, fashionable design trends and applying it to a web application without any thought as to how it impacts usability and readability.


Note the excessive amounts of negative space. Now, negative space is a very useful tool to make a clean and readable design. However, it should be in service of separating and grouping different elements. This is only barely happening here.

Different shapes are also used randomly. Both square and round elements clash, but are also not grouped together giving a very cluttered and chaotic impression.


Sans-serif and monospaced fonts are used inconsistently. Not only is it better to only stick to one type of font, the context in which either is used also changes on the page. Sometimes monospaced fonts means a post, sometimes it means a UI element.

When it comes to the big introductory post, it is all set in a bold font (bad choice for a large body of text) and links are only distinguished by underlining and all caps. This give the impression of a typed manuscript, which is a cool stylistic choice but does not make for a useable web application.


A monochromatic color palette is being used, which is fine. If not for the fact that the only splash of color is used for a divider of no clear purpose. When your entire page is black & white any color is going to stand out. So a big vertical line in the middle of your page does nothing but distract.

The chosen blue also does not complement the b&w well.


A big UX term is “affordance.” And this is another place where Ello fails because it is going for style over functionality.

The image on the left is an input box. The image on the right are buttons. They look exactly the same and the input box especially fails at advertising any kind of interactivity.

Then when you click on the input box this vague element appears. Note the weird doubling of avatars there. Note the impossibly tiny and thin icons.

And then when you hover over the tiny icons below the text input field, they shift around, enlarge and expand (moving your target areas, not a good thing to do in a mouse-driven interface). This happens with a lot of whizz-bang CSS3 animations. Somewhere where simple, labeled, buttons would’ve done the work and without causing any shifting around of elements.



Now I’m not a fan of how the concept of “professionalism” can be used to oppress people and I’m definitely known to curse up a storm myself… But if you are running a social network, is this the language that you want to use for password recovery emails?

Do you want your about section to be called “what the fuck?”

Do you want one of the first featured accounts to see when you go to “discover” be “Bitches on Bicycles?”

Do you really want to call those things “Friends” and “Noise?” If an account is “noise,” why would I follow it in the first place? That is a poorly chosen, rude, word.


To list every design fault of this website would be too long and too boring to read, but when the reaction of every person I see sign up for this site is “what is this garbage?” I think concern is warranted.

A lot of people want an ad-free, privacy-focused alternative to Facebook and Twitter. But there’s another thing: that’s great, but how are you going to pay for this? Ello claims they will sell small extra features, but the basics aren't even there nor the userbase to support it.

This entire site feels like it was designed in a bubble by graphic designers with no feeling for interaction design or what people want out of a social network. The fact that it originates from a private project is apparent in its incomprehensible interface that it assumes you understand.

Ello is a design disaster.

For more criticism on Ello and a call-to-arms to improve this social network at its early stage check out Heather Quinnell’s “Taking Ello”