In a desperate attempt to stop the slow wash of passé-ness that’s been spreading over Facebook for the last few months, a drastic make-over has been introduced. At last, a major web-based organisation has realised the importance of good design. Here’s a peek…
A lot of people will probably say that Facebook has taken a step back from the new design era – applications have been pushed to one side on separate tabs, and the wall and mini-feed have been merged into a big one-size-fits-all feed/wall. Both neat and messy at the same time, I suppose. So what’s made the designers at Facebook take a firmer hand at the wheel and steer away from MySpace-style user-generated design?
The boffins at their design labs (I always imagine white surfaces, bean bags and people in designer glasses swirling pristine pencils over plain lined notepads) say that it’s to “make the site simpler and cleaner“, but personally I think it’s because they didn’t expect to applications to grow in the positively insane way that they have. At this moment in time, I have 713 unanswered application requests (see my previous article about this for more info), all of them completely and utterly useless. I mean, even Facebook-useless. And they’re all there because Facebook were clever enough not to let the public mess with their design, but cowardly and populist enough to let every moron with Notepad have a pop at making groups and fan-pages and Ninja-fighting Badger Fruit-box applications. They wanted to show off their code, and they wanted everyone to get what they wanted in a style that would get people off MySpace without bugging them about their standard design template.
So yes, it all went a bit crazy, and Facebook have had to have a major (and yet “democratic”) redesign to stop people clogging up their pages with tat. Because this is the central point about web design, and one that Facebook designers have always had tabs on: just because users like to design their own pages doesn’t mean they’re any good at it. Some of the profiles I’ve seen have taken minutes to load on a full-strength connection. It’s like MySpace all over again – ugliness, slowness, unfriendly design. It’s web communism – everyone gets a piece of the internet, which is theoretically fantastic. But in practice, it’s bloody atrocious.
The problem with Web 3.0 (or whatever number it is we’re approaching now) is that all these widgets and embedded bits and pieces are making things so dirty and incoherent. Again, in theory, fantastic – you can make a little box with all your stuff in it, and people can effectively hotlink your servers by putting it in their site. Free advertising, more traffic. Sounds brilliant.
It’s not, though. Because even if your design’s the best ever, who’s to say it’s going to fit in with what’s around it? And who’s going to stop someone from embedding it in an unsuitable site, or taking it and ripping the shit out of it? Once you’ve put it out there, you’ve lost control – both of your content, and of your design. What’s worse is that if you remove it, you’re potentially breaking thousands of people’s websites.
The point is, if a website is designed well, it shouldn’t need other people to assemble it for themselves. It should be a place that everyone can trust: trust to give them what they want in a simple and effective manner. You should promote yourself through your good reputation, not by pimping yourself far and wide across the net with apps and widgets. People should be able to find you via simple text links and good reviews. If you have to promote something via complicated, propagandistic embeds and applications, chances are it isn’t that good to start with.
Facebook started this way, by learning its lessons from the failings of MySpace and others and understanding the basic tenets of usability and good design. By continuing as it always meant to go on, let’s hope it stays.