The misguided nature of redesigning a user interface every year

I am what I would consider tech-savvy. I tend to dabble in different technologies, semi-early adopt the latest operating systems and versions of software, and generally enjoy testing out new features in computer-based environments. With all that said, even I find it annoying when “designers” find the need to redesign and restructure a product’s user interface on a yearly basis.

Here’s a series of tweets from Google’s VP of Product Design which perfectly illustrate his approach to how things work.

Despite what he says about “having no beef with how Windows looks”, he contradicts himself by first stating that he dislikes the fact that it is “basically XP with a flat design skin.” Obviously the guy is allowed to have his own opinion, but his opinion will spill over into his work on Google’s product designs. That isn’t too surprising given the number and frequency of user interface changes to Google’s products and services every year.

And therein lies the problem. The vast majority of Google’s products occur on the web and on their Android platform. What do these two platforms have in common? Minimal control over which version of a product you’re currently using. This is especially true on the web where you literally have no idea what a website will look one day to the next because you aren’t informed of any “pending upgrades.” On Android, you’re stuck with nagging updates which may or may not completely change your workflow due to a redesigned user interface.

I realize that modern age personal computing is less than 30 years old, and that mobile computing is even newer. There’s plenty of room for improvement. I don’t want to be “that guy” who wants everything to stagnate and never move forward. That said, I see no good or compelling reason to make radical user interface as seen in Windows 8 and Google’s Material design. Why not ease people into a new design rather than dropping a huge set of changes on everyone?

Many people are resistant to change. That much is obvious just by talking to users of a system or reading the reviews of a product directly after launching a new version. And while much of the grievance is simply because of change itself, there are legitimate concerns from people regarding changes which affect their lifestyle and workflow. Changes should be eased in and tested on people at large scales to get perspectives from beyond the “Silicon Valley Bubble” which tends to act as an echo chamber.

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