Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

Who isn't annoyed when something familiar and functionally understandable gets changed all around?

Asked by Jeruba (45850points) October 1st, 2012

If you’re not bothered
•  when the supermarket or drugstore layout gets completely redone,
•  when two-way streets change to one-way, or one-ways get reversed,
•  when bus lines get rerouted or trolley stops are eliminated
—in other words, when you have to relearn the navigation of your territory—I’d like to hear from you.

It’s my opinion that suddenly being disoriented in what should be a familiar place, and either getting lost or having to spend extra time working out a new route, bothers everybody.

So why do website designers keep changing their sites around?

Whether it’s Hotmail or your pharmacy’s online prescription page, the public library or your favorite seasonal merchandise website, don’t you hate it when you come online and nothing looks as it did yesterday, tabs are different, you don’t recognize the displays, and you can’t go straight to what you want?

Why do they do this?

Is there anyone who likes these arbitrary changes just for the sake of change?

I know why they do it in a supermarket or department store, but why online?

Boredom on the part of the web team is no reason to deprive users of functional familiarity.

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29 Answers

Pazza's avatar

If you have to search for the stuff you need, you have to trawl past the stuff you don’t really need and most probably buy it.

I hate them for it!......

tom_g's avatar


@Jeruba: “Boredom on the part of the web team is no reason to deprive users of functional familiarity.”

I’m a software developer, so I’m on the other side of this situation. I have heard this “but it doesn’t look and act the same way it has for 10 years”. Developers are constantly having to temper innovation because there is a certain percentage of users who will be so resistant to change that the benefits of improved functionality will be lost in what sounds like cries of resistance to change.

As a software consumer, I love it. I am constantly anticipating new functionality – and can truly appreciate when something has been turned upside down to improve on something (even if it’s already functional).

@Jeruba: “So why do website designers keep changing their sites around?”

So the website will survive another day. It will not last very long if the user base starts to smell rot. The $$ will run, and you’ll be gone. But there is a big balancing act. Sometimes a complete rework fails miserably (ahem…Digg).

JLeslie's avatar

It just happened to me. My doctor changed her patient website where I log on to see my lab results. I find it very bothersome, and I don’t see an improvement. Sometimes a change is an improvement, then I don’t mind the change, I don’t mind the time it takes or took to learn the new site, or new placement of my groceries.

A grocery store I frequently shop in just made a huge floor plan change. One thing that never made sense to me was the frozen ravioli are next to the breakfast foods. They moved them to a different aisle, but still next to breakfast, why does that make sense at all? And, they think it still makes sense. Frozen fish is next to the fresh fish near the produce at the beginning of the shopping experience instead of with other frozen foods. So, if you shop for an hour your frozen fish is defrosting. I wish they would revamp that market so it is logical. 7 years and I still can’t get used to it.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It seems like our human nature does not appreciate immediate changes. It all comes down to three factors:
* Is the change better?
* Is the change communicated in advance?
* Is there buy-in?

When I worked for a hotel company, we quickly learned that strategic planning, including communication, was of utmost importance. This included not only our guests, but the employees. For example, when one of the hotel chains I supported used to make changes to standards that upset just about everyone.

They finally learned to first listen to the feedback from the regular guests. Then they researched viable solutions, conducted alpha and beta tests, looped everyone involved in the process, and finally launched the new product. It worked to benefit the majority of people involved.

To answer your question though, yes, it is annoying. What I’ve learned is to point the finger at myself first. Was I just out of the loop, or did someone not communicate well?

Sunny2's avatar

I know that big box stores move their products around frequently. That makes customers move about the store more and increases the possibility of their buying things they hadn’t thought of until they saw them. It’s just a part of marketing. I can’t waste my time becoming annoyed by something over which I have no control.

tom_g's avatar

@JLeslie: “They moved them to a different aisle, but still next to breakfast, why does that make sense at all? And, they think it still makes sense.”

Keep in mind that supermarket layouts are not designed for your convenience. They are the result of massive data analysis projects, and are designed to harvest the most money.

marinelife's avatar

I sympathize and I don’t like it either, but I know enough about marketing to know that web sites are the same as department stores and supermarkets. They must keep reinventing and incorporating new technology or die.

glacial's avatar

I totally agree, and the one that makes me the most frustrated is the apparently zero-sum redesign of a computer operating system. Why Microsoft would completely change the way the document search works in Windows 7 is beyond me. As are their irritating “libraries” that get in the way of my finding files whose locations are already known to me. Both of these “improvements” take away from us as much functionality as they offer – and we lose so much time while figuring out where everything is. Nuts.

JLeslie's avatar

@tom_g I am well aware. But, the idea is for people to go through every aisle, not be pulling their hair out trying to find something. And, not to have items defrosting. That is why produce is generally on one end, and frozen on the other. It still needs to make sense. I didn’t buy raviolis for a while because I could not find them. I generally don’t buy frozen breakfast foods.

augustlan's avatar

If it’s better, I don’t mind it at all. It takes a little getting used to, but it seems worth it. It might annoy me if when I first encountered the change I were in a hurry and couldn’t find what I needed quickly (in real-world or virtual environments).

When there is no change in functionality or aesthetics, or either of those end up worse than they were, it annoys the crap out of me! Facebook is awful about this, particularly because when they make changes all of your settings may change, too, without your knowledge. Finding simple info about the changes is damn near impossible, too. Grrr.

Strauss's avatar

It happened with our transit system a few years ago. When the light rail line was built out to the suburbs, the transit district revamped all the routes, in many cases, as feeder lines for light rail. There were 20 new routes in the area, and 10 old routes were eliminated. To be fair, the transit district did tweak the routes and schedule to reflect ridership levels, but it was a shock to have to relearn the complete system.

DWW25921's avatar

I so feel ya. I hate the new drive troughs at McDonald’s. Also, I can’t stand it when you’re on a website for years and they change stuff around so you have to relearn stuff. I tell you what I’m only 36 but I’m a stingy old man when it comes to change.

Seek's avatar

Last week, I went to the grocery. The peaches and plums were on the outside produce aisle, and the apples were on the inside, across from the exotic fruit.

Today, they were switched.

Now, I don’t know who got so bored that they had to move, literally, a thousand pieces of fruit ten feet, but it really threw me. I just kind of stared at the apples going “These are totally not nectarines…”

wundayatta's avatar

Supermarkets do it because they want you to see new things. If you know everything, you only see what you’re looking for. I’ll bet sales go up when they rearrange things.

Roads get changed, presumably to improve traffic flow. Usually this happens slowly, as each road project takes a year or two to finish. With that kind of warning, you get a pretty decent transition. Of course, things will be worse at the end, but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

Websites I truly believe are trying to make it easier for people to use the site. They always fail. I don’t understand why. But I’ve never seen a redesign that improves things. Google is especially bad at it. But I find that they always make it very difficult to find key functions I use all the time. I don’t know why. You would think they would test these things before they roll them out.

I don’t even use Facebook any more. It’s impossible to understand. But they don’t care. They have 600 million users. Too popular for me.

But that’s what I do. If I don’t like a redesign, I’ll leave. If a bank changes fees, I leave. I’ve done it several times. I must be one of the few, since it seems like the banks keep on doing things after I leave. So probably not a lot of people walk. Then again, maybe most people are wasting a lot of time and money on inferior products.

YARNLADY's avatar

I hate change for the sole purpose of marketing advantage. I even have a hard time with change for the better.

glacial's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You just know there was a heated apple-nectarine debate behind closed doors two days before your visit. Diagrams were drawn on chalk boards (in addition to the Powerpoint presentation and the produce handed around as visual aids). The guy moving them might have been muttering under his breath, but three other people are thinking “Thank God, that has been irritating me for months!”

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta Hawthorne Effect.

Jeruba's avatar

Yesterday I went to my pharmacy’s website and refilled two prescriptions online. That’s been a pretty good system for some time now.

Today I went online to check their status, and the prescriptions interface has been completely redone. I couldn’t just click a conspicuous tab to get there. I had to wander through several screens with a lot of clicks in order to find one small-print hotlink to the history page.

Now, instead of having a summary line for each item, in narrow rows so you can see a lot of history at once, with a button to click for detail, there is a mountain of data in each row. Now the display lets me see only about three rows at a time, arranged with the descriptive detail stacked in a big cell instead of spread across in titled columns. The columns have been reassigned to other values.

Worse yet, all trace of one of the prescriptions seems to have disappeared. It doesn’t show in history. It doesn’t show as refilled and ready. It doesn’t show as pending or on order.

So with all this customer convenience, I had to call the pharmacy and navigate the phone menu tree and then wait on hold twice. Eventually the pharmacist said, “We have them both, and they’ll be ready this afternoon.” When I said one of them had gone completely missing online, she said, “Don’t pay any attention to that. I’m telling you we’ve got them both.”

Thanks, website guys.

augustlan's avatar

@Jeruba That sounds awful. I hope the site is just in transition, and that isn’t its final draft.

Jeruba's avatar

Job security for somebody.

FutureMemory's avatar

Is anyone else irritated with the latest version of Chrome? They reinstated that hideous horizontal download bar that appears every time you download a file, and there’s no way to get rid of it – you have to manually cancel it off your screen every single time. For someone like me that downloads a lot of files, this is extremely annoying.

I found an extension that automatically clears the download bar every 5 seconds. I could kiss the person that made this :D

CWOTUS's avatar

It used to be that the scariest word in the English language was “Uh oh.” Now it’s “Beta”. Okay, yeah, technically not English, since it’s a Greek letter. But you know what I mean.

Jeruba's avatar

I do, @CWOTUS. I also know what “good enough” means and “no showstopper bugs—let’s ship.”

And I know what it means to fix something until it doesn’t work any more.

But I’m not as clear on why developers would do this to their own websites as why they would ship a “good enough” software product rather than slip a deliverable date.

tom_g's avatar

This has been one of the more enlightening (and completely terrifying) threads I have read here on fluther. Seriously.

woodcutter's avatar

About 3 years ago the 2 walmarts did a complete workaround. It was shopping HELL. Hundreds of patrons slowly dragging around the place like the Dawn of the Dead just looking for stuff. It was fine the way it was.

And all the bitching,Oh the bitching…bitch bitch bitch.

Jeruba's avatar

What did you learn, @tom_g? I’d really like to know.

Response moderated (Spam)
tom_g's avatar

@Jeruba: “What did you learn, @tom_g? I’d really like to know.”

As a software developer, I am surrounded by people who crave change and innovation. It’s also the nature of the business. What we are learning right now will likely be obsolete in six months. Our work is really about perpetual learning, which is probably why most of us do what we do.

To get a glimpse into another mindset is interesting because a) it is so foreign, and b) I’m sure that this way of thinking is more common than I think (hence, the terrifying part).

And of course, not all change in software is good. And @Jeruba, you bring up a good point (and a common complaint developers have) about shipping “in beta.” There are all kinds of internal pressures within certain markets or companies to ship so fast as to deliver before it’s ready. This will happen. But I’m not sure software bugs are what much of this is about.
I get the feeling in this thread that the outsiders are under the impression that nearly all change is driven by “job security”, is unnecessary, provides no additional value, and that learning something new is too hard.

Let me use an example. Say you work for a city’s retirement board. All town employees contribute and are due a pension once they retire. The seemingly-simple world of municipal pensions are so complex that it requires a major piece of software to manage. Now, as a public employee working in a rather slow, conservative environment, you might feel that the software you are using to manage employees, their contributions, and their pension calculations is immune to market pressures (such as innovation/features/etc). But the pressures are there. First, there are the internals software pressures (language and framework versions, OS changes, db versions, etc). Second, there are legislation changes that directly alter the requirements of this software. This often requires changes from the database (how the data is stored) to reporting to UI changes. Third, the constant changes to the software can be so drastic over many years that a complete rewrite often becomes a necessity. Cars worked before air bags, unleaded gas, and other emission requirements. But if you are a car company, you need to change things – sometimes drastically.

Anyway, there is certainly bad UI design out there. But the existence of bad UI design is hardly sufficient in condemning the practice of UI design. Some of the best designers out there use eye tracking software and studies to see where users’ eyes go, and alter the content based on these guidelines. I suspect if you stepped back into the year 2000 to experience the internet and everything you do with it, you would be appalled. Change can be good, bad, necessary, or unnecessary. But change will happen. And it’s not always apparent to the layman/woman why these changes are happening.

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