3 lessons for designing for the whole world


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Margaret Gould Stewart, Director of Product Design at Facebook, held a presentation at TED 2014 about how Facebook designs their products for more than a billion people. Here are some takeaways:

1. Details, details, details

Facebook Like button

The “Like” button, designed in early 2009, seems to be more of a coincidental success than a carefully planed and designed design element. And boy is it successful – today it’s displayed more than 22 billion times per day and might be one of the most recognized and successful design elements of all times. Even a few pixels of change could cause uproar and unhappy users to such a widely used element.

Facebook put 280 hours of work to redesign the button. Can’t notice the difference? That most likely means that Facebook has been successful in their redesign.

2. Using data in design

Facebook report post

Facebook did a redesign of their function for reporting spam and abuse:

  • The initial version would send a message to the Facebook team asking them to handle problems. Only 10% used this function.
  • Then they added an option for asking the uploader to take the content down. Only 20% used that function.
  • After consulting with experts in conflict resolution, they designed a tool that helped users write a message directly to the posters expressing them how they feel (not just asking them to take it down). Now, 60% were using the report function.

This is definitely a win-win situation. Facebook has to handle much less requests from the users, and the users are overall more happy. Also, the photos would probably be taken down faster that way.

Using the right numbers  – balance quantitative and qualitative data

When using data and statistics, you have to be very careful about how you measure. Today, there are still a lot of website measuring success by looking at page views. The higher the page views, the better. In many situations this might be highly contradicting to what you want to achieve.

One obvious example is Google: they want their users to spend as little time on their website as possible. Few clicks and few page views means that the search engine gives accurate results. At the same time, they want people to spend time in their search results so that they can display more ads. Luckily, Google knows that user satisfaction is by far more important than page views and having long term users.

Using quantitative data is extremely hard. In order to truly understand the numbers you will have to look into qualitative data such as interviews and user testing.

3. Designing changes – step very carefully

YouTube rating system

Changing the design, or removing features, is one of the hardest things a designer can do. Stewart talk about how YouTube had a rating system that didn’t really work very well: most people were rating 5 stars, a few were rating 1 star, but people didn’t really rate 2,3 or 4 stars. The team posted the data on their blog and discussed the proposed changes with the community.

At mig33, we tried to redesign and change the emoticons (used in chat windows) a while back. Two emoticons were quite similar, so one of them was removed in the redesign process. This caused massive protests by the users, who felt that they were unable to successfully express themselves anymore.

Adding new functionality? Easy. Removing or changing existing features? Tread very carefully!

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