By all accounts, the past year must have been a wild ride for Facebook--a company who has been on an unstoppable growth spurt, adding 20 million US users since February alone and posting double-digit growth in Europe and South America.
Today, on ReadWriteWeb, I discuss Facebook’s greatest growth challenge: its ability to execute on its strategy. This discussion was sparked by the latest redesign--a mix and match of features, cosmetic "enhancments," architectural changes, and attempts at monetization. Some have already been returned to the previous design--some are here to stay. And whether you love or hate the redesign, there are some key issues with the User Experience (UX), User Interaction (UI), and Information Architecture (IA) of the site. These are basic enough that they should have never made it live.
So what’s exactly wrong with the redesign? Here are but a few basic experience "don'ts"…feel free to add your own:
1. Instead of simplifying, it complicates: It used to be easy to find information. Now there’s new secondary navigation below the main navigation, navigation on the right…navigation on the left…navigation here…navigation there…which makes it awfully hard to find anything. So to help users navigate through the many changes, Facebook now displays a How-To box at the top of pages. This concept worked when Facebook wanted to help users regain their email settings after the company erased them a few months back…but when it’s a redesign that comes with a manual, it may be time to rethink the design…not the users.
2. Elements are used inconsistently: Profile images are square but thumbnails are rounded…then again, if you click to enlarge the thumbnail, it’s square again. For a company battling to demonstrate ROI, it leaves one wondering how this little design endeavor was justified.
3. Navigation is redundant: Did you realize that when you click the Facebook link in the top navigation and the Home link in the top navigation you get exactly the same page…only with different ads? Take a look: On the left is what you see when you click the Facebook page, on the right is what you see when you click Home.
4. More and more (and more) disruptive ads: About 15% of the site real-estate is now ads. Even on users’ profile pages, Facebook, it seems, wants to sabotage the very thing it built: a personal, relevant, community experience by forcing down its own idea of what users should be looking at.
5. Overloading users: Facebook has thankfully taken this feature off, but you’ll remember that up until a few days ago, each of your friends’ update was followed by your thumbnail and text entry space. On a given page, you could see your own image showing up 10, 12, 20 times. Much too much.
And this brings me also to the things Facebook is doing right. For example, it quickly fixes the features that aggravate users. It is also trying to fix previous re-design snafus which made finding requests, invitations, and events more difficult.
Growing a business is difficult enough: There are physical demands such as for space and resources, market demands, user demands, business model demands, financial targets to hit, etc. It's a never ending job that doesn't stop when Zuckerberg leaves the office at night. A customer-centric design should be the last thing that holds Facebook back…and yet, it does time and time again, making monetization more difficult, slowly eroding the sense of a user-owned community, and creating a perception of a company in trial-and-error mode.
User experience should always come first. A company who is focused on delighting its customers, works to develop strategies around this mission, and executes on these strategies, never goes wrong. Just take a look at Apple, your Moleskine notebook, Disney, and even Amazon.com at one point. Each had one guiding mission: to make users fall in love with its products. Can Facebook do the same?