This Is Why Users Hate Redesigns

And small ways to make transitions easier for everyone involved.

Carine Ru
Carine Ru
Oct 14, 2020 · 4 min read
Illustration by Author, Original Photo by Florian Schmetz on Unsplash

you’ve been through some sort of product redesign, you know user complaints are impossible to avoid. No matter how well thought out the changes were, it’s almost guaranteed your users will hate it.

The reason behind this is quite simple. Most redesigns focus not only on changes but especially on new users and their onboarding process.

Even if the changes were supposed to make the flow easier, the barrier for existing users will be quite high. It’s a barrier that wasn’t there before.

“People just don’t like spending their time learning, they like to spend their time doing.” — Jakob Nielsen

Nielsen, who the New York Times called “the guru of Web page usability,” puts the complaints into one of two categories:

  • If the complaints focus on a lot of different aspects of the product, you’re off the hook. It’s likely your users only need time to adapt to it.
  • If the complaints are about one thing only, you might want to reconsider that feature.

But why is the backlash so unavoidable? And what does reducing it actually look like?

The culprit: Change aversion

The phenomenon of users hating changes has a name: change aversion. It’s defined as a “negative short-term reaction to changes in a product or service”.

For most designers, this is an old tale. But it still stings. It’s not exclusive to any particular kind of change. It doesn’t matter if the change is functional or visual.

What is particularly interesting about change aversion is that it is easy to speculate if the design is actually flawed or not: new users. A change in something you’ve come accustomed to is a lot more jarring than experiencing it for the first time. If you’ve ever switched from Apple to Android (or vice versa), then I’m sure you’ll agree.

The base for testing a product is often a user that is part of the target audience but not necessarily a regular one. This is because the “dumbest” user is the one you should aim for. It helps get to the bottom of the problem, without it having to be about personal opinions based on regular use.

Regular users often need (or rather want) specific changes, that might not have anything to do with any flaws in the average user’s experience.

Only including their problems would result in exclusive designs that are the opposite of accessible.

Rollout: When the damage has already been done

It’s not always possible to consider any and every opinion on a matter. Redesigns don’t happen for the fun of it. They are there to solve problems.

Not a lot of users will want the change, no matter how useful it is.

There are a few ways Nielsen suggests reducing that initial wave of complaints if you’re already rolling the changes out.

1. Guide the user through it

You can do this by giving them a small migration guide. The emphasis here lies on small, as most users not only hate change but also reading (at least when the product isn’t about reading).

Part of Google Drive’s Redesign incorporated the nature of Change Aversion and what steps they would have to take to minimize it.

They not only primed their users for any upcoming changes but they explained the benefits of those changes as well. Throughout the transition, they guided and supported their users.

This might not make the user love the changes, but it will make the transition much smoother.

2. Give them the possibility to switch back to the old design

Also called the beta version. This solution is not easy to support or maintain in the long haul. But it gives the user the opportunity to get used to change without having to actually get used to it at once.

It also serves as a great opportunity to collect feedback, if you are inclined to use it.

Writes Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm:

“Consider giving customers a choice, too. As it turned out, our users wanted to choose their format — and we increased our conversion rates by allowing them to pick what fits their needs.”

This approach can work, but it can hurt the process as well.

Since having a direct comparison, the user can switch back and forth from they are much more likely to concentrate on what they don’t like. Not on the experience itself.

Before redesigning

You might not have embarked on this journey yet. This serves as an excellent opportunity to get to the core of the problem with change aversion. There’s a simple way to avoid hate and reduce it to small annoyances only.

Reduce the change

Small incremental changes won’t be as annoying and way less frustrating for the user.

The case of Intercom serves as a good example of how perception can have a huge impact on how changes are judged.

Introducing different beta versions of their Inbox to different customers made them react differently in the final beta rollout.

While one group concentrated on the navigation, others were distracted by the new colors. Users that were introduced to change little by little, didn’t result in having a strong aversion to the final product.

There are many other ways to go about change. The best one is the most suitable one for your user.

If you consider change aversion in the process of introducing and going through with design changes, it’ll make the actual rollout much easier.

The best way to deal with misunderstandings is head-on. And there always are. We’re humans after all.

No matter if you’re dealing with it after launching or are considering it beforehand, it’s important to keep the conversation with your users going.

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Carine Ru

Written by

Carine Ru

UX Designer based in Germany. I write about Mental Health, UX, Psychology and Self.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

Carine Ru

Written by

Carine Ru

UX Designer based in Germany. I write about Mental Health, UX, Psychology and Self.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +787K followers.

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