There’s a reason why change aversion in users is so often spoken about in the world of digital consumerism — human beings love their comfort zones. In the grand scheme of things, we seek out what is familiar to us for a sense of security.
Keeping your software product updated is important, but it’s also important to make sure the perfective changes you make are within the bounds of what your users are familiar and comfortable with.
Now, what kinds of changes might we be referring to?
The types of changes that can be introduced in a software product are changes in infrastructure, functionality, and interface. Among them, interface changes incite the biggest reactions from users. That’s because it’s the most forefront part of a product that they see and interact with — layout, tabs, fonts, colors, buttons, animation, etc.
When introducing changes in this aspect of your product, both psychology and history say you should take it slow.
What Psychology Tells Us
To discuss why sudden and major UI changes backfire from a psychological point of view, we have to address change aversion.
There have been many cases where consumers refused to adapt to a new product, even if it was objectively “better”. One good example would be the introduction of the Dvorak keyboard in the 1930s.
Even though the Dvorak keyboard promoted objectively better physical ergonomics, people refused to move from the QWERTY keyboard — simply because they were used to it.
Why is that?
Users Want to Feel Smart
It’s widely taught by UIUX experts like Rohan Puri and Robert Youmans, that users are aversive to change because “change makes them feel dumb”. When using your product, users want to feel in control, like they know what they’re doing.
Especially for neurodivergent users, big and sudden changes in UI can be disorienting. When you change things around all at once, you’re also making your users relearn what they’d previously mastered before — and that takes time and energy. In other words, you’re giving them work to do.
If you’re an app or web developer, always remember that your users aren’t sitting next to you, watching you iterate and develop from scratch. Your interface may seem simple to you because you’ve familiarized with it as you worked on it, but that’s not the case for them.
Value is Invisible
Confirming many real-life cases, a study by Rosman et al on user behaviour adaptation under interface change found that it takes many tries for a user to feel comfortable enough with an interface that was initially unfamiliar to them, before they “conﬁdently choose it and realise the potential beneﬁts”.
Because the bulk of your revamp’s value is neither visible nor instantly detectable, more impatient users might poorly estimate the efﬁciency of your improved UI and “prematurely abandon it” in that particular time frame.
After all, if they don’t see an increase in value, why would they like that you changed what was already working for them?
What History Tells Us
Negative feedback from a large number of users can spread like wildfire on social media. Needless to say, that can be really detrimental to your brand and product.
If you’re a startup just starting out with a small user base, you have more leeway for major UI redesigns while you figure out your brand and voice. As your product grows, however, so does the need to prioritize your users’ preferences.
Some companies with really big user bases learned the hard way so we don’t have to.
What Happened with Digg
In 2010, Digg, a news aggregate site very much like Reddit, launched a redesign that caused them to lose 35% of their users nearly instantly.
In the Digg v4 update, the site was heavily revamped visually and functionally. Among many of the sudden changes, the downvote button was removed, users could no longer save posts to favorites, their Upcoming page was gone, and the overall focus was shifted from user-submitted content to publisher-submitted content.
This major change didn’t just disorient their users. It took control away from them. With the new system, posts by publishers and sponsors flooded the front page, while posts by regular users were practically invisible.
The result of this? A mass exodus. Users either flooded the site with protest links (many of which were links to Reddit, their biggest competitor) or immediately migrated to Reddit.
What Happened with eBay
Once, eBay decided to change the background color of many of their site’s pages from bright yellow to white. Even though this change may seem like an obvious aesthetic choice today, it caused a ruckus on the internet (and in the team’s mailbox) when it first happened, forcing them to revert to yellow.
eBay didn’t give up on their vision, though. They came up with a strategy to go subtle, and designed an algorithm that faded the background from yellow to white, one shade at a time, over a few months. This time, the internet was still. The change was taking place so gradually that their users didn’t notice it was happening.
How Do You Safely Revamp?
Now that storytime is over, let’s talk about what we can learn from them. How can you revamp your product while being wary of change aversion?
Obviously, getting complaints from users doesn’t mean you should stop updating your app or website. Maintenance is necessary for your product to thrive and continue thriving. The secret lies in how you execute it.
Change Little and Often
Instead of giving your users a whole new interface to relearn at one go, introduce a little change at a time. Habits take time to unlearn. Giving users one small redirection at a time is a lot less disorienting and burdensome for them.
Give Users a Heads-up
Before you launch your redesign, give users time to prepare for it. This will dampen the impact of the launch and reduce the risk of shocking them into frustration with your product.
Spell Out the Values
As mentioned before, values are invisible. Users don’t always immediately see the benefits of your new interface when they first try it. Instead of waiting for them to figure the maze out on their own, give them the lowdown on how the changes you’ve implemented are designed to solve the problems they face.
Part of spelling out the values of your redesign is by easing your users’ transition to your new interface. When you provide tutorials and demonstratives, you’re also teaching them how the new design improves their experience on your app or website.
It’s always good to give your users the option to switch back to the old interface. Provide them a toggle switch or button to revert to the old version, and place it somewhere easily accessible.
Give your users an outlet or channel through which they can directly communicate with your team. Whether it’s a form on your website, or simply an email address they can write to specifically for complaints and feedback, it’s always good to let your users know that you’re listening.
We’re Here to Help
Snappymob is equipped with software developers and designers who understand user behavior. Our team has helped clients from startups to large corporations, within and beyond Malaysia, launch successful revamps and redesigns.
With our help, you can rest assured that your redesigns launch safely. Feel free to reach out to us!