Betrayed by a well-liked product

By Melissa Gena
Founder, Iteration Z
original posting here:

This post title may seem a bit dramatic, but this is exactly how I felt a few days ago when a product I use every day made a UI change that made me want to tear my hair out. As many of you know, I work extensively with Cindy F. Solomon and Startup Product, and we’re in the midst of organizing out next big conference event, Product Bootcamp San Francisco. We have a small team of volunteers, and though we’re all located in the Bay Area, we’re pretty spread out, and we collaborate online much more than we see each other face-to-face.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a product we’ve adopted to facilitate our collaboration, and so far I’ve really been impressed with it. It’s called SamePage, and as the name states, it’s designed to keep everyone on the same page. It’s a straightforward content authoring service that allows simple drag and drop of various types of content blocks to create pages full of whatever content is relevant to what you’re working on. It supports things like text blocks, tasks, file libraries, image libraries, tables, and lists of links. It’s really quite versatile and has one of the more intuitive interfaces I’ve seen for a product like this. Not only can you create content very quickly and easily, but team members can comment on the content, and new comments appear in a news feed so you can quickly see what’s happened since the last time you logged in. So far, so good.

A few days ago, though, they made an unannounced UI change that was fairly significant. Take a look and see for yourself:

SP-Folders v Pages

The screenshots above show only the navigation menu for all the content we’ve created – the content itself would appear in the main frame of the browser, but you get the idea. Previously, when you were creating content, you could choose to create a page or create a folder. What was even more confusing about this change was that initially, they just removed the ‘Create folder’ button, but the folders we’d already created still appeared to be folders, using the small green folder icon.

I probably spent twenty minutes trying to figure out why I couldn’t create a folder before I finally went to the help forums and found others voicing their confusion about not being able to create folders. Below is the first response from a SamePage Community Manager:

Actually this is something I’m currently in the middle of writing up for my next state of Samepage. As of today, we have amalgamated the new page and new folder items. So if you create a new page, you can create another new page off that.

I apologise that my announcement came later than the published date, but please play with it and let me know how it works out for you?

After a few more complaints came this explanation:

Some of the changes moving forward are to make things easier on mobile devices, or to standardise the look.

I have seen some of the prototypes of upcoming changes and can say that this is just one small step towards what you should find is a very exciting new look! I am not able to share precise details at this time, however feedback like this is essential. If you’re seeing any further issues with this change, or you have trouble adapting to it, our UI/UX developers will see this and should be able to advise, and where necessary adapt this for the future releases.

Again, thank you for making your thoughts known!

Coincidentally, as I was stewing about the SamePage UI change, I read a great article on Teresa Torres’ blog, that talks about “status quo bias” and what it means with regard to changes in products. Below is an excerpt from her post, but you should really go read the whole thing

Too often the feedback we get, isn’t about whether or not the product we are building is actually solving a need, it’s about the fact that something has changed and people are uncomfortable with change.

There are two factors at play here. First, the more we are exposed to something the more likely we’ll develop a preference for it. So the longer your product stays the same the more resistant people are going to be when you change it.

Second, loss aversion is a major factor here. Research consistently shows that losses are more than twice as painful as equivalent gains are pleasurable. When we change the way things work, people first see the loss. They mourn for what’s going away. This interferes with their ability to see what’s coming, to appreciate the new.

I can say without hesitation I’m experiencing loss aversion. I want my little green folders back! And I have begged SamePage to bring them back.

In fact, in my post on the forums, I said, “Please, please, please ask the UX team to reconsider this change.” I do think, though, that my reaction to this change is more than just loss aversion or attachment to something because I’m used to it.

As my screenshot illustrates, there is a clear degradation in user experience, and I think it breaks three or four of Jakob Nielsen’s 10 most general principles for interaction design.

Match between system and the real world: In the real world, we put stuff in folders – we don’t stack a title page on top of other pages then put them all in a big pile, relying on a small visual indicator that barely shows us the difference between a title page and the related stack below it.

Consistency and standards: Folders have been used to as a conceptual indicator for a container that holds related content on computers for decades. It’s a standard. Stick with it.

Recognition rather than recall: Again, the little green folders are instantly recognizable. I don’t have to stop and think to know that they hold information organized according to the name I’ve given the folders.

Flexibility and efficiency of use: You could argue that flexibility has not been compromised by this change. I can still create pages with the same names I’d give folders and they act roughly the same way the folders did. Efficiency, though, is impacted because I have to “look harder” to figure out where the grouping pages are in the list.

I just wish the SamePage team had had the opportunity to read Teresa’s article before making this change. She recommends two means to counteract the strong reactions we all have to change:

  1. Socialize the change early, giving people time to adjust to it, and
  2. put some energy into counteracting the loss aversion by emphasizing the positives of the change and framing the change in a way that illustrates it is perhaps more minor than it seems to be.

As you can see by the Community Manager’s first response above, there was no attempt made to socialize this change at all, let alone to frame it in a way that would make us users more comfortable with it.

In closing, I’ll say that despite my rant about this UI change, I do really like the product, and I made sure to tell SamePage as much when I logged my complaint. I know how frustrating it can be as a product person to get strictly negative feedback, so I always try to stress what I like as well as what I don’t like when I give product feedback.

How about you? Have you experienced any changes that triggered frustration for you as a user recently? How did you react?

About The Author

Melissa Gena is founder of Iteration Z, a boutique software product management consulting firm that provides specialized services for early stage software startups in need of assistance with product strategy and management.  She is a Product Manager and Entrepreneur with an M.A. in Organizational Leadership and 18 years’ experience developing strategy and leading product development for fast-growth technology start-ups and highly iterative enterprises.

Read more:

Teresa Torres Status Quo Bias

Jakob Nielsen 10 most general principles for interaction design

Iteration Z blog


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