Impactful Design, an Introduction

Improving the Book of Faces

Tian-Yuan Zhao
Dec 8, 2018 · 6 min read

Introduction

What is “Impactful Design”?

There are many sayings and expressions out there that advocate for the importance of paying attention to the smallest/littlest things in life. As a product designer, I’ve come to embrace this notion. Especially, when it comes to the most important, critical, and defining aspects of our lives; when these products or services that form a crucial part of our lives are poorly designed and/or implemented, they can have ripple effects that will either make it or break it in terms of their user/customer/consumer experiences.

This is why I’ll be committing to a monthly or quarterly post where I’ll be making a few small change requests for products in terms of their design that I believe could yield the biggest of differences in their overall impact for not only the user/customer/consumer but the world-at-large. What do I mean by that? I’m not going to be making lofty claims that it’ll make some drastic and dramatic change like ending poverty but will at least look at it from a business and societal perspective as well (that last part could either be cultural, economic, and/or environmental).

The way I’ll be addressing these change requests will be primarily focusing on the information architecture. What that means is talking about what piece(s) of information should they add/remove/edit, or how should they reorganize their information architecture such that it could yield maximum impact with minimum effort to implement. In each article, I’ll be highlighting 1 product and advocating for only 1 or 2 small changes per product, beginning with:

Facebook Newsfeed

The Problem

The Facebook newsfeed can be broken down to 3 different types of “news” — news in the form of:

  • status posts from your friends or individuals you follow;
  • posts made by individuals within groups for which you follow; and
  • posts made by pages you follow.

In summary, the 3 different news types are: “Friend”, “Group”, and “Page”.

The problem is that all these 3 news types are viewed simultaneously and at once in one long-scroll in the current Facebook newsfeed. This cluttered way to display information can instill confusion, chaos, and calamity in one’s psyche when they consume said info.

Personally, I have a newsfeed that is curated such that 80% of it is populated by “Page” news. The reason for this is because I wanted to keep up to date with all the goings-on within the worlds of technology, innovation/disruption, entrepreneurship, etc. But the downside to all this is I no longer see as much of the “Friend” news. My “Group” news on the other-hand has the second-most appearances in my newsfeed and has served me very well. It has enabled me to be exposed to a variety of opportunities such as entrepreneurship events, innovation-related fellowship programs, tech competitions/hackathons, employment postings, freelance gigs, etc.

The Proposal

The Facebook newsfeed should divide up these 3 different news types and make it more palatable for the user to understand the in-app source of said news more easily. Presently they have created a separate tab on their mobile phone where the user can view all their group posts, but I would argue that having a tab dedicated for all your groups isn’t as effective as if you were to simply separate out the newsfeed into 3 different tabs instead. The reason for this is because:

  • it would de-clutter the navigation bar within the mobile phone;
  • a “groups” tab is essentially the same thing as a “group news” tab that’s dedicated to only posts made by groups that you follow within the “newsfeed” tab, there isn’t any other purpose of the “groups” tab; and
  • this way they can have a more focused way of delivering the different types of news as whereupon, the “Page” news can stay the way it does, “Group” news can have tags underneath powered by a machine-learning algorithm that could determine whether the posts are job postings, events, competitions, etc (which can also be customized by the post author), and “Friend” news can also stay the same way with an emphasis on popping visuals.

The Potential

This has the potential to address multiple issues at once but at the very least — by organizing this information better for the user would make it easier for the user to consume said information and have equal representation of all 3 news types.

As stated earlier, the way the newsfeed displays the information right now is purely algorithmic and just like the problem that Youtube had with regards to how its content was being displayed even to its subscribers, a lot of subscribers were missing content from their subscriptions due to the algorithmic nature of how the aforementioned information was displayed. Facebook’s newsfeed is powered by an AI, therefore is indifferent to the user.

My current newsfeed as said before is 80% populated with “Page” news, about 15% of that is “Group” news, with the remaining 5% being “Friend” news. This is a terrible user experience when you think about it because it means that a company which claims to “connect the world” isn’t doing a great job of that because it’s putting that in the hands of an indifferent AI.

If Facebook should wish to uphold that mission, then this 1 small change request would have the potential of making a big difference in the way we at least consume our content on the world’s largest social media platform. An additional small change to this would be to make it customizable for the user to decide which news tab should be their default view as well as which order they appear in the sub-navigation. So for example, for me — I’d put “Page” news first, then “Friend” news, then “Group” news. This shows a mental paradigm that may be different from other users for which can help the business of Facebook to have a better, deeper, and greater understanding of user behaviour that they might not be able to decide easily. The present newsfeed is once again AI-driven, but algorithms may not necessarily be the most accurate. Just as I mentioned here — my AI-driven newsfeed thinks I prioritize “Page” news over “Group” then over “Friend” news, but in fact, my prioritization is flipped for “Group” and “Friend”. Also, my preference would be 40%, 40%, and 20% of “Page”, “Group”, then “Friend”, as opposed to the present AI-driven 80%, 15%, and 5% distribution of each respective news types. I strongly believe that if the Facebook newsfeed is redesigned in this way, it would be a win-win for Facebook and the user.

On a final note, this has the potential to even curb or at least serve as a sandbox/launchpad for addressing the fake news and mental health issues that plague social networking/media products especially with regards to Facebook. The reason why I say “sandbox” or “launchpad” is because, by dividing up the newsfeed to 3 different viewing/consumption experiences, you can begin the process of addressing each unique news tab with more careful attention towards the behavioural science/economics of how users engage with each news type.

In Conclusion

The following is an example of what I’m advocating for as a change to the Facebook Newsfeed:

This is the order of the tabs that I’d prefer for my own newsfeed

And while they’re at it, they should spin this off into its own standalone app, as they’ve been on this unbundling (of the entire Facebook product) process as of late anyway.

Innovation-Thinking

This is where I talk about anything and everything that falls within the realms of design-thinking, exponential-thinking, and systems-thinking.

Tian-Yuan Zhao

Written by

Toronto-based Digital Product Designer Who puts the “passion” in “compassion”

Innovation-Thinking

This is where I talk about anything and everything that falls within the realms of design-thinking, exponential-thinking, and systems-thinking.

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