It’s easy to think that users hate redesigns because they don’t like how the new design looks like. While users can actually have some preferences for the visual design style, the problem lays deeper, in the human psychology.
Redesigns are changes and people don’t like changes. People don’t like them for two reasons — changes require efforts to make and people don’t know what to expect from changes.
Two types of thinking
Humans have two types of thinking — intuitive and reflective. Intuitive thinking is automatic and quick. It operates with mental shortcuts and forms habits for quick usage. The reflective system is slow and self-conscious. It needs time and efforts to get involved. These systems don’t compete, they work in a collaboration.
When you start learning or using something, you do it slowly, concise — the reflective system is involved. But with time and practice, you do the same things easier and faster — the intuitive system starts working. It saves your mental energy, so you don’t have to use all your brain power for everyday things.
When people use your product they build automatic actions to use it faster and easier. With a complete redesign, these rules-of-thumb may not work. Users have to build the new habits that requires serious motivations for them. In the worst cases their habitual actions don’t lead them to their goals anymore, they may lead to mistakes or even errors now. And users will blame designers and developers for making themselves feeling like fools.
In the older version of Skype, you have to click on the emojis icon to the right to pop up the emojis panel. This panel had several tabs — Recent, All emojis etc for quick navigation. The latest tab menu you used was automatically opened when you opened the panel again. That’s pretty useful to have a quick access to your recent emojis as there is a huge chance they will use them again.
In the new version, the emojis icon was moved to the left. The emojis panel shows you All emojis tab every time you open the panel. At least two rules-of-thumb were changed. And when you try to open the emojis panel, you automatically click the right icon which is “Show your location” now. This “Show your location” popup interrupts your flow every time, making you angry before you get used to these changes.
Changes are unknown
The other point why people don’t like changes is that they don’t know what to expect from them. The Prospect theory by Kahneman and Tversky states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome and that people evaluate these losses harder than the gains. If you ask a user what they will choose — the current version of the product or a new one, in most of the cases they will stay with the current version.
Users make investments
If your product is something like Facebook or Reddit where users generate the content, you have to be especially careful with changes. Users’ content is the main value for them, they spent a lot of time and efforts to create it. And when users lost or can’t find their content anymore, that makes them really angry.
Let’s take the Kinopoisk redesign for an example. There were negative comments about the visual design. But one of the most popular complains was that users have lost their libraries of films and reviews they collected for years.
How to make redesign less painful for users?
People don’t like changes but it doesn’t mean that nothing should be changed. Keep in mind these physiological principles of how people react to changes to make the redesign they will love.
Why do you need redesign?
If your redesign doesn’t make the product faster, fixes bugs, adds the functionality users asked for than think twice before you start it. Nothing is worse than a redesign for a redesign, just to be in trend. Trends are temporary, your solution for users is forever.
Know your users
Learn how and why users use your product, what’s important for them. That will help you to know the main automatic actions your users can use. Based on this you will better understand how to make a redesign using the existing habits or how to help users easier build the new ones.
Research what functions of your product are crucially important for your users. This will help you to understand what is important for your users in your product so you can save this importance in the new design. It’s especially important if you have to make a total redesign of the product.
Let’s do some math. When users are familiar with your product it takes them time T1 to complete the task. With a redesign, they have to spend T2 that includes the time learn the new design + time to complete the task in a new way. T1 is less than T2 and that’s why users prefer the fast familiar way to achieve the goal than a new one. You can reduce the T2 by making the design more familiar to users and making the new way of completing the task easier.
Make lightweight, progressive changes
In case you don’t have to make a total redesign, make lightweight, progressive changes that are similar to what the users are used to. Facebook does it well. Billions of users use it every day, their reaction to the changes will cost billions for Facebook. So the design team makes small chunks of changes that users can’t even notice.
Leave the users the choice
Leave the users the option to go back to the old version. You can ask them why they are going back to the previous version to better understand what’s important for them.
Sell your redesign
Prepare your users for changes. People take changes better when they expect them. Try so sell your redesign to make users want it. You should know your audience, their mood to understand what is the best way to present your redesign. Take Apple as the example — they can sell the changes really well.
It’s not the end of the world
And also prepare yourself for the users’ reaction to the redesign. It can be hard and painful to hear it. Users can write hateful messages, make jokes about your work. Keep in mind that it’s not their reaction to you like a professional. It’s their reaction to their own experience with your product.
The good news is that while people don’t like changes and redesigns, they get used to it. First weeks you will meet a lot of bad reviews, the fall of the rating. But they will return to the old place and can be even better if your redesign was really good. Remember that any system can’t change immediately, it needs time for it.