It’s not every day that big websites go through a major overhaul of their layout, and if you’ve seen IMDB‘s profile layout recently, it’s gone picture-heavy and facts-light until far down the page. This, personally speaking, is a nightmare. Finding crucial information becomes difficult, and it makes the website seem celebrity obsessed and Facebook-esque.
But what can we do? Kim Krause Berg argues over at searchengineland.com that major overhauls and changes to anything from layout to security can be a good thing, but I disagree. Let me grace your vision with a few hypothetical scenarios for large sites with many users, and what a major change to their site could do to the traffic, and even their revenue.
Business A is a leading online store of books, DVDs and music (no prizes for guessing what the “A” stands for…), and its layout has remained largely the same for around a decade. All of a sudden, it changes and looks like something you’d see on an iPhone, all slick scrolling widgets and little text. New, younger users will take to it more, but most will feel it feels less secure and less mature, and as a result begin to shop somewhere that focuses more on the product’s value than the aesthetics.
Business B is a site for a financial advice company that focuses on pensions and life insurance. Their site is updated from an old but functional, formal style into a Flash-based presentation that appeals to a younger audience (noticing a pattern, here?). Cue a lot of people who were happy with the pre-Web 2.0 style wondering what the point was.
And why the re-design? To get with the kids. From experience, unless you’re a rap star, you’re not going to be 18 and looking into a personal financial adviser – most clients are older, I’m reliably informed by my financial-adviser correspondent. So, who are you really marketing to? In addition, the 2012 Retail Distribution Review will only allow for fixed fees, so costs will likely grow to compensate for the loss of commission-based financial products.
Pointless site updates are numerous, and I think unless you can justify it in terms of performance statistics (accessibility, load times, bandwidth), then what’s the point? You’re putting a new cover on an old couch, and expecting it to be what convinces people to sit on it. But we all know once we’ve sat down, it’s still as hard as the old one and the same spring is still stabbing into your leg, so you stand up and walk off.
IMDB’s re-design was a sticking point for me simply because they took a mature, fountain-of-film-knowledge look, and turned it into a glorified poster and celebrity gallery for around 800 pixels in length. Why? To appeal to a generation who prefer to watch rather than read, and look rather than study.
We’re a generation of iPhone Apps, YouTube and Facebook, and sometimes we can’t even read unless it’s shown to us on a Kindle. IMDB’s “IMDB Pro” subscription seems a moot point on a site that seems to conform more now to teen layouts than actual film executives or actors using the site for networking and their online resume.
Kim also states that many people responded in a hostile manner to Sphinn’s removal of the voting system. Re-designs are sometimes needed, but to remove a vital part of user interaction on a community-driven aggregate site seems borderline suicidal. What would happen if Amazon removed their star-review system, or Digg decided that it would post what the staff thought was good?
Sometimes all you want is a new sofa, but before you know it you’ve bought a £3,200 chaise-longue and a set of French windows, and suddenly your mates don’t have movie nights at your house, any more. Choose your design decisions carefully, because loyal members are a stubborn and shallow bunch, and they’re also the people regularly throwing their wallets at you.