Why, Exactly, Did Facebook Re-Redesign Its Desktop Interface?

In One Corner, Svbtle Creator Dustin Curtis. In the Other, Facebook Product Design Director Julie Zhuo

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Yesterday and last night there was a bit of a slow-motion debate going on online about why Facebook has once again redesigned its desktop interface.

On the one hand, Svbtle creator Dustin Curtis, in a post titled "Whatever goes up, that's what we do," criticized Facebook for moving away from the desktop News Feed look it introduced a year ago, a design he called "beautiful" and generally praised for its use of "large photos, big user icons, better integration with Facebook messenger" and the way in which "it brought Facebook's website into closer alignment with its mobile apps."

But according to several people Curtis said he'd spoken to, Facebook found that people had been using parts of the site less. "Specifically," he wrote, "they spent less time browsing areas outside of the News Feed, like their friends' profiles and event pages, which are currently some of the most visited parts of Facebook." The problem was that the News Feed was working too well, giving everyone fewer reasons to poke around the rest of the site, he claimed.

"Unfortunately, this change in user behavior led to fewer advertisement impressions, which led, ultimately, to less revenue," Curtis added. Therefore, he claimed, Facebook decided to switch to what he calls the "reverted" News Feed that's been rolling out.

You can read his full post here.

Curtis' words must have struck a nerve at Facebook, because late last night Facebook Product Design Director Julie Zhuo decided to publicly respond -- and even played on his headline, titling her post "Whatever's Best For The People, That's What We Do."

She linked to Curtis' post and challenged his "assumptions about the rationale behind the redesign, including how some of the beauty and cleanliness of the initial version tested a year ago was discarded for the sake of short-term metrics."

Every design, she continued, "has its day of reckoning. And that reckoning is with the people you design for. If the change you're introducing is better for them -- if it helps them do the things they want to do more easily, if it's more loved -- then your design has succeeded. If it does not achieve these things, then it's time to roll up your sleeves, learn which of your assumptions were wrong, and get to fixing. Here's what we learned: the design we tested a year ago wasn't better for the majority of people."

In her post, Zhuo didn't directly address Curtis' claims about revenue issues related to the redesign, but she did say the new change isn't about short-term metrics. It's more about a design that works on all kinds of computers, cleans up clutter and so on.

You can read Zhuo's full post here.

It's worth noting that Zhuo opted to post her retort on rising publishing platform Medium (as opposed to just, say, Facebook). Twitter user Jamon Holmgren asked why and she responded:

UPDATE: Zhuo took to Twitter again late Friday morning to address the revenue issue Dustin Curtis brought up:

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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