Designing From Scratch

What we learned from v1 of the Facebook Ads Manager App.


A hunch

About a year ago, a couple of team members and I were discussing how strange it was that a mobile advertising tool for marketers didn’t exist. My team, the ads growth team, spends its time building products that make it easier for small businesses to advertise successfully on Facebook. But the majority of Facebook Ads products have been built with full-time marketers in mind. These people buy Facebook ads at work on their computers, where they have full access to all the files they need, large monitors to preview their ads, and the ability to view multiple campaigns side-by-side. It seemed to make sense that they wouldn’t want to spend additional time trying to monitor ad performance or create ads on the tiny screens of their phones.

On the other hand, we thought a mobile Ads tool would be perfect for people who spend most of their day running their business and only a sliver of it advertising. We also suspected that mobile could provide better accessibility, security, and control for every business that spends money with us. But who knew if this hunch was right?

So we looked at the data: mobile and desktop usage trends for businesses that advertise on Facebook. The vast majority of business owners were moving the time they spent on Facebook from desktop to mobile. This meant that their access to Facebook ad creation and management tools was limited to the times when they were at their computers. In other words, they were spending money running ads continuously without much feedback about whether that money was well spent. It was almost like asking someone to drive a car safely but only letting him see the speedometer every ten miles.

After looking at the data, we suspected a mobile product could be important to many of our advertisers. But we also knew it would be impossible — and unnecessary — to support all of our Ads functionality on the phone. To create a first version of the app, we needed to focus on the actions that would be most appropriate in a mobile context — a goal that wasn’t as simple as it first appeared.

Correcting our assumptions

We went on to talk to several advertisers to find out what was important to them. We focused on the two primary types of people who run Facebook ads: professional advertisers and business owners.

Professional advertisers consistently run hundreds of ads at once to a variety of different audiences, with a variety of images and text. Their livelihoods depend on whether or not they run these ads successfully. Talking to these advertisers, we learned that our initial assumptions about how they use technology were wrong. Though they spend most of their day on the computer, they still wanted more access to their campaigns.

One woman told us about a time she went to a party at a friend’s house and got an urgent call from her boss about the Facebook ads they were running. He asked her to immediately adjust one of their campaigns to ensure that they spent their entire ad budget. She left the party to sit in her car with her laptop.

“I keep my laptop with me everywhere I go, in case I need to pause a campaign. The only thing my boss cares about is spending [all of] our budget. But the only thing worse than not spending the budget is overspending.”

Full-time advertisers need to constantly tweak their ads to ensure that they spend their budgets on the most effective ad campaigns, and use up their campaign budgets exactly. They were excited about the possibility of a mobile app because it would let them adjust and optimize their ads from anywhere.

The second group of advertisers, business owners, typically run small and medium-size businesses. They’re travel bloggers, local merchants, musicians, startup founders, and realtors. They aren’t full-time advertisers, but they do need to create ads from anywhere — in their stores when new inventory comes in, on their commutes, and when traveling.

“It would be amazing to be able to create a new ad or check in on existing ads during my commute.”

From both sets of marketers, we heard overwhelming enthusiasm about the possibility of monitoring, creating, and editing ads from a phone. And we were surprised to learn how eager all advertisers were to receive on-the-go, real-time notifications about their ads. So we decided to support any needs we found that overlapped both types of marketers.

Among these needs, ad management and notifications seemed particularly important, as long as the use cases made sense in a mobile context. For example, it seemed unlikely that anyone would ever edit a campaign with a hundred ads from a mobile phone. But all advertisers might want to be able to start and stop campaigns. And advertisers with just a few ads running at any given time would certainly be interested in editing them.

Ad creation was trickier. We doubted there were many overlapping needs on the creation side, and we still didn’t believe that professional marketers would spend much time creating ads on their phones. But for the app to serve as a standalone ads tool for the owners of small businesses, it had to let them create ads. At this point, our team made a decision to prioritize the experience around ad creation for these business owners, while still enabling professional advertisers to manage their ads on the go.

Navigating complex navigation

From the beginning, it was clear that navigating effectively and efficiently through the tool was going to be our most complicated design challenge. Many of our web tools and systems are complex and optimized for power users who run thousands of ads at a time. Given our focus on business owners, how could we simplify these products into ones that felt lightweight and friendly for inexperienced advertisers? On mobile ads manager, we wanted to let advertisers primarily:

1) View and compare campaign stats
2) Edit existing campaigns
3) Create new campaigns

These flows sound straightforward, but making them feel straightforward was anything but. To understand the complexity of these tasks from a navigational perspective, a bit of context is needed.

When people create an ad, they come to Facebook with four pieces of information:

  1. An objective: The outcome they want from running the ad
  2. Ad creative: A photograph and headline
  3. An audience: Who they want to see their ad
  4. A budget and schedule: How much they want to spend over a selected period of time

When they give us this information, Facebook’s ad system puts it into different buckets or levels. The creative is considered the ad — the thing people see. A level up is the ad set, which contains the audience, budget, and schedule — who should see the ad, how much will be spent, and when the ad will run. This ad set sits within a campaign level, which contains the objective — for example, whether you’re trying to boost a post, send people to a website, or get installs of your app. Campaigns live within an ad account.

The reason for these levels is that they enable professional advertisers who are running many campaigns at once to run A/B tests and discover which ad creative resonates best with which audience.

A stumbling block — and a breakthrough

Unfortunately, if you’re a business owner who doesn’t even know that all those different levels exist, you might find yourself at a loss. Suppose you quickly created an ad by bringing us a photo, some text, an audience, and a budget. A few days later, the ad is performing well, and you want to increase the budget on the ad. How should you do so?

Original: Go to ad set level to adjust budget

Since the budget lives on the ad set level, you’d have to dive into the campaign, into the ad set, and then find the attribute you want to edit. In research sessions on the mobile app, this task was so confusing that nobody figured it out — not even those who seemed to be experienced marketers.

What people did instead was go to a campaign view and look for an edit button. So we watched, listened, and designed what our advertisers were expecting: a global editing button that would let them edit any attribute from any level. This change, though seemingly simple, tested so well in user research that our desktop Ads teams have also adopted it. One thing we learned about designing for mobile was that the constrained space and tightened focus would repeatedly result in simpler patterns that could be adopted on desktop as well.

Re-design with global editing that enables editing any attribute from any level.

Global editing is just one of the new design patterns that the team created to develop a user-friendly navigation system. For example, to enable advertisers to efficiently go from an ad to an ad set, campaign, or the list view, the team designed a breadcrumb navigational system. To enable sophisticated advertisers to compare ads or ad sets side by side, we designed a popover to flatten the hierarchy.

In other words, we prioritized the user with more extreme needs for primary navigational flows: the small business owner who didn’t have the time or energy to learn everything about our ads system. But we didn’t ignore the complexity needed by professional advertisers — we supported their key use cases in secondary, slightly less-discoverable navigation.


Secondary navigation patterns for power-users — breadcrumb navigation and a popover to flatten the ads hierarchy if necessary


In addition to these foundational design decisions around navigation, we prioritized mobile use cases that aren’t as important on desktop. For example, we allowed advertisers to preselect old audiences they had created by default, included a default saved draft for all campaigns in case advertisers were interrupted while creating an ad, and created a receipt state that could be used for easy editing of any ad attributes.

What we learned

As we moved through this project, our primary goal became to take all of the complexity out of ads. We wanted to create a publishing platform that felt lightweight and intuitive, regardless of an advertiser’s level of sophistication. Though the app has just launched, the growth numbers we’re seeing have far exceeded our expectations — and given us a glimpse of mobile’s vast untapped potential.

We learned a lot from building out V1 of the app, but three lessons stand out:

1) Prioritize features relentlessly. Allow yourself the space to question whether or not a feature is truly necessary for the context it will be used in. There were several times when we wanted to support things we thought could be useful, from Instagram-like photo editing for small advertisers to advanced targeting for professionals. But we had to question whether or not they were really the most valuable things to prioritize when building a first version of our app.

2) Choose a single target group to design for, even if you have many. Early on, we were really straddling the issue of who we wanted to serve. We could see so many valuable mobile use cases for professional advertisers that it felt like a big risk to ignore them when designing Facebook’s first mobile marketing tool. However, by making the decision to prioritize the user experience for small business owners and inexperienced advertisers, we gave ourselves permission to simplify the core experience (while keeping advanced features accessible to power users). This ended up creating a better experience and design patterns for all advertisers, which enabled other teams to adopt some of our design patterns.

3) Research early and often. For a long time, we were stuck on the challenge of how to teach people which level of their campaign allowed them to edit their audience, budget, schedule, and creative. Only by trying design after design in user research did we achieve our breakthrough realization: We shouldn’t. This insight freed us to identify the ideal experience for this use case — global editing — and to start bridging the gap between our complex ads products and the best possible user experience.

I’m proud of the work the team did to make Mobile Ads Manager a reality, and I’d love to say the path to our final design was linear. But as I’ve found so often in design, the most important discoveries were made in the wake of destruction and through much iteration. Only after we were forced to abandon our initial assumptions were we able to create something truly valuable.

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