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How social networks influence design decisions

Professional design is very conceptual. There is an idea about what something should be and why. It’s a mix of professionalism, creativity, rationality and personality. The designer makes something and iterates until there is a version that fits best to match the interests of the producer and his clients.

Or does it?

Collective ownership
Changing products on the web, like websites, is difficult. With comments and social networks readers are in direct contact. Reader don’t like change. And they are right. Change disrupts routines. Radical changes forces you – as a user – to rethink a product or service. What is this, why do I come here, where can I find…

Even if the new design is better, radical changes will only work when there is a big improvement for the user. You have to make sure the balance is right. You loose something (control) and you win something (a much better future experience).

From virtual to reality
The voice of your readers is strong on the web because they unite on your website. And it happens live. Readers can collectively turn against business changes a company make. The user is not the consumer, but part of the process.

This started on websites, but social networks take it further. Because people can easily gather creating groups and exchange information the power of each individual can be more amplified with less effort and at higher speed. This reflects to the physical world. People can online disagree about a product design update and this collective emotional disagreement amplified by groups and networks can demand a company to reverse a design strategy.

Brands out of control
Brands are experiencing the social pressure of users. It is not even about the physical product that changes, but about changes in presentation. The product identity is becoming something that grows much more out of the direct control of the creator.

Examples
Tropicana recently launched new packaging and reversed their decision after complaints. The updated Pepsi logo is also under attack.

The Pepsi logo update (brand doc. pdf) was not seen as a very popular improvement. Lawrence Yang, a San Francisco based designer busted the logo by turning the logo into a fat drinker. This is the kind of online creativity that is killing for the concept of a logo.

New Pepsi logo

You can even buy the busted logo on a t-shirt.

6 replies on “How social networks influence design decisions”

But shouldn’t sometimes a company or designer (who is certain that the new version is better) just give the critics the finger, and persevere in the choice made? Like you say, people always dislike change. If one is certain that a new design is better, then a number of negative comments that only reflect the adaption problems can be safely disregarded. The crowd ain’t always wise, and the invisble world (ie customers of pepsi) is larger than the visible critics.

I agree, a designer should take control. Because if they don’t nothing happens. Groups need firestarters. I think it is getting more difficult for designers/companies to work on something and present it when it’s finished.

A participation culture does not always mean everyone wants to join or help. It more often means that everyone wants to know what is going on.

Every group has a few people that lead the group, those influencers are crucial for making products popular. These are the people you have to engage in product development.

Here’s an example of how the voice of the crowds can kill creativity from a different angle: http://stopdesign.com/archive/2009/03/20/goodbye-google.html.

I firmly believe in research, but (especially in the beginning of a project) sometimes experts should be left alone and given the room to make what they deem best.

And yes, I think the most crucial thing to do to make things work is to involve your most fierce critics in the process. Once they’re over the bridge, most will follow.

The Google design discussion is very interesting. It is a more darwinian model instead of a designed model. This is a killing business culture for creative people, since there is no space for creativity. It is just trying all the options.

It protects a company from making mistakes, but it also slows it down extremely. I don’t know if this model is sustainable. It might be for Google, but it will never create the next Google.

Maybe we should make a model with all usability design information. We could make a machine that iterates a design until is has turned it into the best website ever :)

The crucial question then is: in which stages of development should creativity overrule reason and research, and in which stages should this be the other way around?

A model for the optimum usability experience should take so many (unpredictable and non-algorithmical) parameters into account, that it would collapse under its own weight. Gut feeling, common sense, experience and some usability testing will definitely outperform your Nielsen machine :)

Creativity is what starts something. Logic enhances it.

I will soon write a post about template design. Webdesign is adapting design standards. Like the 960 pixel width grid, WordPress and other social networks.

If you would start a new website that is based on content or selling products there is a lot of information available on what works best. I don’t need a lot of creativity, I just need design that fits my needs.

Something else. Yesterday I had a very interesting discussion on how companies grow. They start small and are very productive (creativity) when they grow the productivity doesn’t grow equally with the amount of new employees (enhancement modus). And when you’re really big, the size of a company becomes a dangerous mass, that actually slows you down. For example Microsoft has a lot of trouble designing and delivering a new operating system.

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