This is why we can’t have Nice Things

This is why we can't have nice things

In the past year, I’ve seen a lot of strides in the way technology and design has merged, and the line has become incredibly blurred, for better and worst. Form meets function, function dictates form, form dictates function. In the end, the relationship is, and should always be, beneficial to both parties. Nowhere is this more apparent, at least to me, than in the world of graphic and web design. In the last year, I’ve seen how technology has begun to catch up with not only with what web designers have wanted to do for years, but also what we saw in the Sci-Fi movies of the past. We’ve gotten our tablets, our phones, our ability to watch a baseball game on your phone, scan bar codes to take you to other places. We have interfaces that range from minimalist to complex, and computers are easier to use than ever.

Leading the way in this revolution is us, the designers. WE dictate how you interface with this brave new world. WE determine what works and what doesn’t. We’ve gone away from complex to minimalist, striving for form that works with functions, working in harmony with both the technology that you use and, of course, yourselves, the people using the device. In the last 10 years we’ve learned a lot of what works and doesn’t work, of how we use computers, websites, and countless other technologies, and we’ve learned more and more about what we would like to see, prefer to have happen, and what actually works.

In the past year, we’ve seen companies start to improve things and the backlash has been surprising.

Enter Facebook.

Facebook News Feed

About a month ago from this post, it was reported that Facebook was going to change the way they do their news-feed, the first real major change in years. It was a triumph of design! The new feed promised to be cleaner, brighter, easier to use, and focus on content. In a lot of ways it was trying to get back to its very roots where the feed was a simple thing that was easy to use. Over time, just like anything, it became cluttered and hard to use, and the new design fixes all of that. At the same time, there was one issue; The Ads. The truth of the matter was that it also focused on generating more revenue in ad sales by filling the feed with more ads. On the lone bright side, the ads wee designed to not be obtrusive and work with the design.

So you would imagine the reaction was going to be directed at the ads, right? No.

Instead, every single major complaint seemed directed at the DESIGN of it. “Why on earth are they re-designing it?! It isn’t broken!” “If it ain’t broke!-” “What the hell?! I’m done! I’m quitting Facebook!”

Or how about the Gawker Network? About 2 years ago I, along with countless others, complained about their last re-design, calling it an abomination and something that they would quickly get rid of. Why? Because it didn’t work. It was a interesting design, but in terms of being a blog and informative, it didn’t work on a whole. They gave users the option to also use a traditional blog layout, but it wasn’t easy. The search was never easy to find or use, let alone switching views, and it was just a mess. Finally they began rolling out, all so slowly, their new re-design which is everything right with it: Easy to use, intuitive, and simple. io9 Redesign


Again, people complained, and while it still hasn’t reached Gizmodo or Gawker yet, I can only imagine what the feedback will be when it does.

In my hometown of Philadelphia, we got a new logo for our tourism campaign. About 2 years ago we got a logo that basically sucked. No one liked it, it was hated, and a contest was even held by a tech blog to come up with something better to present to the Mayor’s Office and try to get them to use that instead. A logo debuted within the last year that easily surpassed it and was a welcomed design! Not cliche, not boring, and not basic, the new design was contemporary and smart.

PHL Logo

And, of course, people hated it.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Or, more accurately, this is why its so damn hard to GET nice things.

On a few projects I’ve worked on, I’ve had clients and bosses complain about a design because it didn’t make sense to them or because it was so different. For example, say you have a page for a site where the entire point is to get you to buy something, but the way its currently laid out is cluttered, confusing, and doesn’t compel people to use your call of action. I came up with a design that was clean, fun, interesting, and still focused on all of those things. Sadly, the other person disagreed and the design was never used. In that case they wound up going with someone else who didn’t focus on those things and instead got a design that didn’t do what it really could have. In another similar case, I was asked to do something completely different than what they had while keeping some things, and instead they went for a design that was almost exactly the same.

For a few cases, I’ve been stuck trying to argue why a fully-responsive website makes more sense than something static. In fact, I can think of a few times in 2011, when the concept first started getting a lot of traction, when the idea was rebuffed since there didn’t seem to be a need at the time since smartphones were still “new”, let alone tablets. Instead they insisted on a mobile-only version, and I walked away from it.

To be honest, these stories could go on, but the point is this: We are, as a species, resistant to change. We hate it. The only time we like change is when we allow it to happen or its so subtle that we don’t even notice it. Designers, programmers, and the people who hire and manage us, the people who allow these things to happen… we all must work together and strive for the goal of making things better for not just ourselves and businesses, but on a whole. We must focus on new and upcoming markets and browsers, of how the trends in web and design are going, and not where they have been.

The way things are going, the trend is cleaner and more flexible design. The focus is on helping people, on content, on making things better while still being innovative.

Yahoo Redesign

There was a redesign for Wikipedia proposed this year that never was used, a re-imagining for Yahoo that never made it past the concept stage, and who knows how many others. When people come up with ways to make popular sites better, in ways that make sense, they need to be embraced and treated as such. We need to try and help these changes happen, if not because something may or may not be broken, but because we must always seek innovation, we must seek ways to make ourselves and our world better.

It is up to us as designers to lead the way and push for change, to be able to explain to the people who hire us why a decision makes sense. At the same time, we also must explain why the pitfalls that may come will be worth it, why the anger from the few users or people who dislike it don’t matter and it will be better in the long run. We must be the ones who maintain the standards of design because no one else will.