Gawker sites redesign – a change too soon?

Given the large outcry by most people of the Gawker sites redesign, I wanted to take a look at the UX change in more detail.

Change is always difficult – but is it always bad?

Generally, I think all change is initially met with trepidation, or in this case a great deal of scrutiny.  The bigger the change, the bigger the outcry. It’s clear that people like what they’re used to; they love things that are familiar.  This is why so much of what we do as UX designers is to consider how the user expects an interface to behave, and consider their past knowledge and experiences.

Remember when Facebook went through a big overhaul and introduced the News Feed? Thousands of users proclaimed that they would “boycott Facebook”, that it would never be the same, and they would never get used to it. Despite this, I’m sure many people have since gotten used to the interface, and found it useful and might be upset if you took the feature away.

It’s this notion that as designers “we know our users better than our users know themselves”. Is it the mark of a good UX designer? Should we be thinking beyond the bounds of the traditional and expected, and can we design experiences that users will eventually love in time? Can we essentially “forecast” what’s best for the user in the long term?

Apple is by far the best example of a company that is constantly doing this – designing interactions and new paradigms for the touch interface of the iPhone and iPad, on the notion (and confidence) that users will “learn” these behaviours over time.

The catalysts for change

It’s interesting that Gawker have actually tried to explain some of the key change catalysts themselves in a blog post.

There’s a lot of talk about moving away from the reverse chronological list of posts and ensuring scoops and main articles don’t get lost (which is valid). Then a whole lot about their brand personality and the fact that it’s a numbers game.

But aside from their reasons listed, the most interesting statement in the article is one which states:

Outside observers will note that this layout represents some convergence of blog, magazine and television. That’s true in the abstract but it’s more of a description than an argument.

They don’t really elaborate on this point (rather, they skip over it), but this was definitely the one notion that caught my eye.

So many platforms and devices to design for – one solution to fit them all?

It’s no secret that more and more devices are now “connected” beyond the traditional PC or laptop – smart phones, tablets, and TVs are just the start of this never ending list of platforms and devices that content could be consumed on.

By this notion, is it better to keep the experiences across different devices familiar?

It seems like this might have been one of the considerations, given that you can use traditional d-pad navigation (up, down, left and right) to navigate quickly through stories on the site (up and down to scroll the article, left/right for prev and next article).  D-pad navigation is the foundation of navigation of most connected TVs, so I can imagine that the redesigned site would perform quite well on a connected TV.

The app style design seems to mirror much of what RSS feed reader applications are doing on iPads – a long feed of high level stories, and an associated detailed article view.

In fact I opened the site on my iPad (forcing it out of the mobile site), and the redesign fits nicely (though I think it’s a little broken, when you scroll… ;) see below image).  Is the redesign following a new form of behaviour people are becoming used to through app design?

Social sharing affects where we enter the site

The other thing I think we need to consider is the entry points into the site. Social sharing is constantly on the increase. Stories spread faster by Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, Digg, and other referrals. People are consuming content using RSS feeds; finding content through search engine results.  Entry points are no longer confined to the “home page” but increasingly occur at the article level.

With this in mind, does it then make sense to focus on the article view (and have a consistent interface to browse the “feed” of new stories?  Further to this, are they following the increasingly popular “feed” paradigm that early adopters are used to from Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds?

With so many competing sources and people being increasingly pressed for time, does the “quick list” of posts make it easier to keep up to date with the new, and easily access only the stories of interest?

Overall, I think whilst the criticism will continue to be harsh, confidence and conviction in their decisions will go a long way.  Change will always be met with displeasure, but sometimes change is a necessary evil.