Why Tech Users Hate "Redesigns" - Even If They Are Almost Perfect

As soon as the interface of a popular online platform gets revamped in a subtle or major way, the internet community jumps onto proposing their opinion. The podcasters don’t miss a chance of stating how bad the redesign is, whereas the tech blogger’s community also show off their dismay or anger.

Recently, Google Docs changed the visual appearance of permission and sharing feature and it received the same backlash. The reason behind this negativity is simple - people in general hate change and the mechanisms behind the frustration of people is something that is becoming hard for companies to cop up with. Similarly, social media users reacted intensely on YouTube's comments layout changes. Same happened to Facebook's Instagram app, when it tried to play with Profile layout.

To see the effect of any change on people in theory, there is an “endowment effect” that puts forward this important fact that most of the time users don’t really care about the benefits they might be getting through the change. This is because they get too comfortable with the old and are even afraid to lose what they start loving at one point.

There is also a study that was conducted back in 1990 to prove the effect. In that, participants were divided into three groups. The first group had the choice of opting between the two objects: a mug or a chocolate bar. The results later showed that the group was sort of equally split between their choices.

The second group was given a different choice along with mugs - they had the option of replacing the mug with chocolate bars if they want to. The third group too, on the other hand, was given a chocolate bar and had the likewise permission to replace it with a mug.

Surprisingly, both of the latter groups refrained to switch the original items with any options. This later made the researchers conclude that people may people two different items in equal proportion when given the option to choose one, but once they have something of their own, almost no one would prefer to choose a different or new item.

If we imply the results in the world of technology, then people find it difficult to adapt to the new interface because that disrupts their workflow and it also takes time and effort for them to learn something new. Hence, they go for the lazy approach and approve the old.

Furthermore, there is also a disconnect between designers and consumers. To explain that better, John Gourville, a professor at Harvard Business School, introduced the “9x effect”. According to his theory, consumers value what they already have 3 times more than what they can get, but the problem really begins when designers overvalue their new creation with the similar 3x effect. Therefore, this sums up to be the reason why some innovations, despite being great on paper, don’t really become a hit among users.

It is quite similar to the phenomenon of how engineers tend to go for technical excellence in a technology-driven company without actually realizing what users really need. The workable solution for this, of course, can be relying less on employees’ excellence and more on public testing because in the end its the customers who would have to really love the change.


Similarly in the case of Google Docs update, customers aren’t given much of a choice. But what if options like ‘Do you want to use the beta now?’ or ‘Do you want to wait until this officially rolls out?’ exist? This one improvement would have handed over the control to the end-users who might have loved it.

Tech companies often get away with the fact that despite some initial irritation, the change in design doesn’t really impact the learning curve. People eventually get accustomed because everything still is a little raw on the internet.

However, all being said, customers won’t also remain robots for long. The change in design does hit on an emotional level and it is about time that companies focus more on proposing designs that solve customer’s problems rather than feeding their own ego. Sure, the argument may be that some users are just lazy enough to adopt the change, but if your software or platform is going to be used by some stubborn or disagreeable children, it then becomes the responsibility of designers to communicate and delegate the changes sensitively. They should take into account, how the new redesign can also disrupt the work-life of an ordinary internet user.

So, the more upset users would be from a redesign, the more risk these tech companies would indirectly be dealing with.


Photo: Freepik / luis-molinero

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