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Examples:

  • Imagine coming to SE tomorrow and instead of seeing "1 2 3 4 5 ... 77 next" at the bottom of the "questions" page, you see a giant circle with a triangle inside pointing to the right and you no longer have the option of going from page 1 to page 5 in one click, but you must now click the big circle incrementally instead.
  • Or imagine your favorite weather website having a 10-day forecast horizontally across the screen like a calendar would have, then one day it changes to a vertical alignment because someone decided it was time for a change.

Questions:

Why do people do this? And is it normal to feel extremely frustrated by this? I mean, when something works well and makes sense, leave it alone?. Why change stuff just to change stuff? And especially when the change is less functional or intuitive.

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Not a complete answer, but it is quite normal to feel frustrated by the latest UI-tweak-du-jour. Some companies (Apple, Intuit) seem to make changes for their own sake without really doing usability testing. How would the average user feel if a "software" upgrade changed the location and function of all the controls on their stove or refrigerator. Changing those thing is really hard in the field, but software is infinitely malleable so people think they are required to make "improvements". –  Jim Garrison Aug 30 '13 at 8:05
    
@JeromyAnglim Well, I really didn't intend to limit the scope of the question to software as my examples alluded, but it's ok I suppose, it's just that those examples were easiest to illustrate. Updates are frequent in cars, apparel, appliances, etc. People sometimes decide to update their living room by moving the couch from here to there. It just seems people can not find a good solution and stick to it. What happened to "tried and true"? –  Randy Aug 30 '13 at 15:13
    
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2 Answers 2

1) Split testing designs in marketing (this is partially related to Jeromy's first point): You don't know which type of layout or content will accomplish the ultimate goal you want your potential customers or users to attain for you. Thus, you test several different varieties, measure the difference in them, factor in statistical validity, and get a better site/page for your goals. These litte improvements can mean the difference betwee, campaign (lets say for example a paid one) making you a negative return on your investment(s) or could cause it to make you a million dollars this year. When there are so many people online, the margins are thin and any little advantage you have will, essentially, be your profit most of the time.

2) They hired someone who is "specialist at UI design" and are paying them on salary. The UI is already complete, so they have all this free time on their hands to do nothing. So instead of looking completely useless to their boss/company they start making arbitrary and unnecessary updates to the website/webpage many of which may seem pointless and skewed within actual testing that is going on. They do this so they can keep their UI design jobs, that is, unless they're legitimately trying to test things and know how to go about doing this in the correct way (most have no clue what they're doing besides making something that is aesthetically pleasing and which could be obtained by simply looking at the UI's of other popular softare).

3) Different theories of search engine optimization for your website: A large theory out there is that Google likes sites with freshly updated content and that it is usually a positive variable towards increasing your rankings. Part of the thing about SEO is is looking natural as possible, if you were to update too much content too frequently there's a possibility that their algorithm may sense a red flag. Noone really knows how this works though. Thus some people may even prewrite content updates and then just release them as time goes on.

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Bingo! I think #2 sums it up! But apart from that, I think there is some psychological drive people have to change things. It seems people can't look at the same thing for too long. Why is that? –  Randy Aug 30 '13 at 15:29
    
Hmmm, I don't really have that drive. Every once in a while...yes, but usually it's for logical and not emotional reasons. Your mileage may differ. I think some of Facebook's updates are crazy though. –  user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 21:08
    
@Randy And by the way, this is actually a large part of my job, so I have A LOT of real world experience with it and especially seeing #2. –  user3433 Aug 30 '13 at 21:12
    
So instead of frustrating customers, why doesn't management send the thumb-twidlers to the beach on salary? –  Randy Aug 31 '13 at 0:41
    
@Randy Actually, from my past experience that would actually have helped as they essentially became obstacles. Within a smallish corporation, everyone has a different opinion though. Everyone also has a different level of motivation to succeed. What happened to me was I had more motivation than the UI (it was a landing page) designer or designers to test things out and has alot of good ideas that even the client liked. However, because too many people were involved (and by the way could code them out about 30x faster than the company) and ones with less motivation, they became an obstacle. –  user3433 Aug 31 '13 at 2:47
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Presumably, most updates to system interfaces are designed to achieve some goal related to the owner of the system. Often this would be usability, but of course, it could be something else like profitability, security, etc.

Interface changes for non-usability related goal: So the first point is that a subset of interface updates are performed with a goal other than keeping the user happy. Take for example, news sites that split articles over multiple pages. This generally reduces usability, but increases ad impressions. Another update on stackexchange meant that the stack exchange no longer works with the Reddit toolbar. This was done to prevent other websites taking advantage of stackexchange content through framing. The fact that it had collateral negative effects on usability was accepted.

Interface changes that fail to increase usability: Sometimes a change is introduced that is notionally designed to improve the interface of a system, but it fails to do so. Sometimes this is a failure in general. Sometimes this is just a failure for some individuals. For example, when websites introduce a flash landing page in the hope of improving the site, but they actually substantially reduce the usability.

Usability increased but disruptive: Another class of usability updates are related to the disruption caused to existing users workflows. Automaticity is an important part of skilled performance, both in terms of the speed and the low demands it places on limited attentional resources. The more time people spend with a system, the more they automate the steps required to use the system to achieve their goals. When a system changes, users are often forced to learn a new way of doing things. Even if this new way is better in a general sense, the disruption to automaticity can induce frustration and a drop in performance to existing users.

I remember seeing something similar when I started using OSX as my primary operating system. It was quite disruptive to my workflow, because for many activities that I'd automated on Linux and Windows systems (e.g., application switching, keyboard shortcuts, text editing, arranging windows, accessing menus, etc.) the workflow was a little bit different. I remember reading an article by a Windows user who listed 65 reasons why Macs suck. The user was trying to apply their Windows workflow to an OSX workflow and was feeling frustration because it didn't always work. More importantly, they hadn't grokked the new workflow required. Grokking the new workflow takes time as new strategies are discovered and automated (this was my attempt to respond to the critique). It also takes time for the implicit learning processes to gradually learn the relative speed and cognitive demands of the various strategies.

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I think I was looking more for what pschological mechanism is resposible for making people feel the need to change things just for the sake of changing things. If SE implemented the "giant circle" idea, what reason would they have to do this other than simply to change the looks of the site? It would be reduced functionality as collateral damage for the sake of someone's inability to deal with "the same ole". I didn't dream-up the "giant circle" idea... I've seen it done, yet have no idea why. –  Randy Aug 30 '13 at 15:26
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