DesignNews

Designers respond to Flickr revamp

It’s a massive improvement, they say, except when they don’t

Yahoo has announced a “better, brighter Flickr”, which offers what CEO Marissa Mayer company calls a “beautiful, completely re-imagined experience that puts photos front and centre”.

Mayer highlighted the new photostream becoming a “vivid and endlessly scrolling gallery” and a full-screen slideshow. Users also get one terabyte of storage for free, enough, according to Yahoo, to house half a million full-resolution images. By contrast, the unlimited Pro tier is consigned to history unless you're already paying. In its place, a new 'Doublr' option merely doubles your storage for $499 per year.

For those in the web industry, this is more than a change to a service, though. It’s also a chance to explore how a big company reworks its user experience. There’s plenty of disagreement about how successful Yahoo has been. Edgeofmyseat.com’s Drew McLellan told .net “a redesign of this scale is always going to be painful”. He said if you use a site regularly, “you become familiar with how it works and build up muscle memory for common tasks”. A redesign breaks that, yet “that doesn’t mean it’s bad”.

Problem solving

McLellan noted that design changes are made to solve problems: “That problem may not affect you, but it’s very rare a site of Flickr’s size will make changes for change’s sake. Sites with a broad audience have so many different users' interests to balance that it's possible that something could even get worse for you in order to make things better for others.” He also emphasised the importance of letting a new design bed in rather than judging it immediately.

Still, gut reactions do drive designers and we found initial responses to Flickr’s redesign were quite consistent. Nine Four founder Nathan Pitman liked the detail view. “It’s improved and you get a much better view of the picture,” he said. But he was less keen on the photostream: “I liked it when there was more white space. Every photo had its own space, but now everything’s wedged together, and it’s hard to see each photo in its own right. This might encourage people to browse more photos, but I’m not sure they’ll look at them in the same way.”

Designer Rachel Shillcock also considered some aspects of the design a big improvement: “You can immediately see Flickr’s actually focusing on the core experience and what Flickr is all about: the photography.” However, she too found shortcomings: “The further you start to dig and play around with the rest of the site, the clunkier it starts to feel.” She said the new homepage could feel “shouty” with “little visual structure and hierarchy that feels quite right”. Performance was, she thought, also an issue.

Driving people away

Not everyone was prepared to give Flickr the benefit of the doubt. Web pioneer Derek Powazek was extremely critical of the redesign on Twitter and also in a review for TechHive. He told .net, "This redesign puts more emphasis on photos, but Flickr was not just about photos. Flickr was about the intersection of photos, people and places. Now all the life around the photo is always banished a click or a scroll away. As a result, the place feels more sterile, less alive.”

Writer Shelley Powers was also unimpressed, going so far as to suggest the company actually wanted to shut down Flickr: “However, rather than close Flickr down and suffer a backlash, a la Reader, Yahoo is just going to drive Flickr customers away. Quite clever if you think about it. Google should pay attention!”

Powers thought Yahoo was performing similar alienation tactics elsewhere with employee policies, such as no longer enabling them to work at home, and quipped: “If you no longer have employees or customers then no one is hurt if you close down!”

Still, whatever your thoughts on Flickr’s redesign, those involved are quick to state it’s not finished. On Twitter, Flickr’s Phil Dokas said: “Here’s the thing about Flickr — today was step one. We know how many more steps there are and we start again tomorrow. It’s a bright road ahead.”

And as Opera’s Bruce Lawson remarked: “Change, eh? Always bad, especially on a static medium like the web!”

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