How to evaluate a redesign? Start with the facts.

Recent redesigns of Gmail and Google Reader have sparked a flurry of conversation, its timbre ranging from slow and methodical to instant. Now, we have Twitter’s new design, another big move that, like any interface so ingrained in its users’ daily habits, is eliciting strong emotional reactions.

#NewNewTwitter

Before I form an opinion about an interface, I find that the best thing to do is to simply step back and describe what I’m seeing:

What’s larger? What moved? Was anything added? What do they want me to do on this page?

Dan Frommer’s take on the new Twitter design is great in this regard. It’s a series of straightforward descriptions about what’s emphasized and de-emphasized in the design, which helps him make some keen insights into why Twitter designed the new interface they way they did. For example:

Twitter is trying to de-emphasize private messaging by moving it a layer deeper in the user interface. I’m guessing there are a bunch of reasons for this, not limited to: Simplicity, perhaps relatively low usage by most users, potentially confusing rules around DMing, and that more public content is probably better for Twitter’s product and advertising goals. Some long-time and hardcore Twitter users are probably going to be upset about this, but one of Twitter’s strengths has always been its willingness to design for its mainstream users at the expense of its geek users.

Frommer’s writeup is a refreshing bit of observation and insight in a sea of knee-jerk opinions about #NewNewTwitter, and it’s one we can learn from.

When I’m overwhelmed with a redesign, beginning with a set of objective observations makes it easier for me to form and defend my opinion and analysis later because I took some time to understand the changes. Then, I am more informed and qualified when it comes to addressing the big question: Why did they do it that way?

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