Facebook releases their new design tomorrow to the masses, after months of letting it percolate and allowing developers access to ensure compatibility with their apps.

While it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the redesign, it’s not so obvious what they did with all that thought, since the redesign really rather travels two steps backwards in a lot of ways. (Though I actually like the new profile pages, they’ll take some getting used to for sure and I’ll focus on them in another post.)

Hit the jump and let’s take a look at the new News Feed/Home Page for now.

First Impressions

The first thing you’ll notice about this page is that it looks, well, empty. And that your eyes are frustrated because they’re not quite sure where to start looking. Facebook has 86ed the left sidebar and crammed everything that was there into the right side bar. This has a net effect of making the right sidebar look crowded vertically while simultaneously looking too drawn out horizontally.

But don’t worry, because now your news feed items have all the space in the world to breathe, grow and flourish, right? Except that they don’t need that much space, ever. News feed items are, by their nature, small tidbits about your friend activity on their profiles. They’re not content rich and they’re usually just a line of text and an image. And what’s worse is that there is now an enormous void of padding between the feed’s content and the right sidebar.

I’ve taken screenshots of the two designs, rendered through my account at the same time, in order to better examine where all the space has gone:

The Left Sidebar

The yellow on the left represents the old sidebar, weighing in at 150px. The same yellow on the right side shows you where the sidebar has disappeared to: into a gaping void. (The darker portion indicates where the news feed officially “ends,” as denoted by the horizontal rule above each item.)

The Void

Now let’s examine the void just a bit. The pink on the left represents the space between the old content and the right sidebar. Compare that to the padding in between the new news feed and the right sidebar, by looking at the dark pink. Or look to the blue to see the total amount of padding from the edge of the news feed’s content to the sidebar.

The pink and dark pink represent a “nominal padding” increase from 20px to 40px, that is, the padding if we ignore the enormous gap between the edge of the news feed’s content and the beginning of the sidebar. The “real padding” shifts effectively from 20px to 170px when you measure from content edge to sidebar. Isn’t that strange? Exactly 150px… or the exact side of the former left sidebar…

The Right Sidebar

Finally, let’s take a look at the right sidebar. The green on the left represents, and this should be obvious, the right sidebar. The same green on the left shows you how it looks over the ballooned new sidebar, shown in dark green for comparison sake.

The right sidebar has gained an extra 182px, ballooning to roughly 300px from 188px. What do they do with this newfound space? They double up the friends available in “people you may know.” And they make me scroll further for pokes or things of interest, because they wind up pushed down by the “bookmarks” that used to reside on the left sidebar.

The Framing Effect

The left sidebar served more of a purpose than simply providing you easy search and application access, in additional to ad real estate. It helped frame the content that matters most to you. Framing the news feed with bracketed sidebars helps channel your attention and focus your eyes on the content to the center. It’s the same reason we bracket our blog with the dark gray we use.

Removing the left sidebar ends up making the page feel sloppy and exploded and since we’ve had it there for so long, it truly feels like a piece is missing. Part of this is simply aversion to change and the shock of something totally different, naturally. But the greater issue here is that it’s very difficult to look at the new News Feed page as any sort of improvement.

Others among you might say that the old Facebook was too crammed and cluttered in just 800 pixels. I can see that argument flying, but I fail to understand how adding 150 pixels of pure empty space in one heaping void helps at all. What’s even more interesting is that the total width of the page has in fact increased from 800 pixels to 955 pixels; room enough for the left sidebar to stay happily intact.

If It Ain’t Broke…

The old News Feed served its purpose well. It presented a good deal of relevant information in a manner that was easy to digest and highly scannable. It allowed me to quickly identify items requiring my attention and provided easy access to my applications. The new design works to accomplish these things, but the void is an immense distraction and I have to travel further down now that my applications take up space on the right sidebar, before I get to anything juicy. They’ve also moved the search bar, because, frankly, they ran out of room in the right sidebar.

The new News Feed design truly feels like changing things for the sake of change. Facebook wasn’t looking for “better” here, they were looking for “different.” And it shows. I’m estimating we’ll see huge swaths of people creating groups with heavy resistance to the new design. I know that they’re phasing it in as something of an opt-in at first, but it’ll be interesting (for us and for Facebook, alike) to see the adoption rates after people try it out and realize that there was nothing wrong with the old News Feed to begin with.

I think that they were looking to simplify across the board, but by removing the left sidebar, it throws off the balance of the site. That’s compounded by the fact that a left sidebar exists on the profile pages, still. It feels lopsided and sloppy.

People are resistant to change. When you can’t justify that change in any meaningful way, expect for users to disregard your efforts, tilt their heads and look at you quizzically. I’m willing to bet that if you were to show some individuals unfamiliar with Facebook the two designs, they’d assume the old look was the “upgrade,” coming from the old, spaced-out model.

What are your thoughts on this? Did you find the old Facebook News Feed page cluttered? Do you think the left sidebar deserved the axe?

I’ll have a similar critique of the new profile pages once I find the time to write up my thoughts there. As a preview, I think that they have promise and I actually rather enjoy the new workflow they’ve essentially pushed on the user. But I’ll save that for a follow-up post.

And if you haven’t yet, get started with the new Facebook profile, if you’re not otherwise presented with the option tomorrow.

Posted in: Design, Rants