Helping users through a big transition

19 Mar 2010 - 11:04am
5 years ago
3 replies
792 reads
Justin Davis

I know that the days of the "big redesign" are largely over, giving way to smaller, more iterative approaches to improving a site's experience.  However, there are still instances when a total makeover is requested or required by the client.  When these big redesigns happen, my experience is that it's either that the underlying (current) architecture is so flawed as to not be helped by small changes (or, the amount of time it'd take to get from A to B is too great at this pace), or there's a significant change of some sort that necessitates a large-scale redesign (adding huge chunks of new functionality, etc.)

Naturally, our job as user experience designers is to craft a new architecture that makes sense to the users, is easy to navigate, etc.  However, there's an inevitable uncomfortableness on the part of the some of the users when such a redesign is launched, that lasts until they are oriented enough to understand the translation between the old design and the new (particularly for repeat users).

How do you manage this transition, and how do you explain to clients that the initial feedback, while showing signs of discomfort and temporary confusion, are not a result of the design work itself, but that of the transition?

Any experiences with this?


19 Mar 2010 - 12:14pm
Sabina S.

Great topic.  I've noticed that the Office 2007 interface (the ribbon UI) is one possible example.   It tests well, and I think someone unfamiliar with computers would get it much faster than the learning the old iconbars and menu systems.  There are some built in problems, but overall, it's faster and easier. 

But some people hate it, and they don't hesitate to let us all know.  Why?  Because however bad the old paradigm was, they were experts.  With the ribbon, they've been born brand new and they are mad. It doesn't help that there is considerable dislike of the company that offers the design, too.  The combination of the two factors means that many people aren't giving the ribbon a fair trial.  Sometimes that newb discomfort makes people so unhappy they won't simply shrug it off. 

People who plan UI transitions should be ready with a communications plan and a UI transition plan for existing users to get up to speed fast, in order to prevent at least some of that backlash.

19 Mar 2010 - 3:49pm
Chris Brown

Sabina I think you've hit on an important point, in that redesigning products that are task driven are much different animals than redesigning media or content driven sites. There is a reason the 'old yahoo mail' is still around, and it isn't because yahoo likes maintaining it :)

Does anyone have an experience where they have redesigned a Saas product with an existing install base?

22 Mar 2010 - 6:47pm
Melissa Casburn

I worked with a large media company to redesign one of their online properties and OH BOY were the users angry when it launched. We all had conversations about how user testing, soft launches, and how-to's would help to ease the transition but none of those activities were given budget (for a variety of reasons + rationale that may or may not apply to your situation). So while the wrath was painful, everybody walked into it with open eyes and a kind-but-firm position that "the old site isn't coming back, and we welcome your feedback so we can keep improving the new site we just launched".

The right approach is going to surface out of calculated risk that matches your situation. Ask yourself some questions:

  1. What's the delta between old and new for returning users?
  2. If I horribly offend/annoy/irritate/inconvenience returning users, how much does that impact my go-forward position? Are they my future target audience?
  3. How much will it cost to implement a range of transition activities? How does that cost compare to the acquisition cost of new users?
I also encourage you not to assume that everybody who has an issue with the new site is suffering temporary confusion or pain from the transition. Consider all feedback as design feedback, even if all it's saying is that you may need better transition tools.
Good luck!


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