The Unexpected Effects of Redesigning the User Experience

eBay Relaunch Fiasco!

Designing a product is very difficult. Redesigning an already accepted and popular layout is harder still. When the user gets acquainted with a product, the slightest change to their experience can make them unhappy.

ebay logo

This is what happened when eBay tried to make a tiny modification to its website. eBay, being one of the most popular and longstanding e-commerce sites, had an interface that was designed in the company's early days to display some of its basic functionality. Over the years, as new features and services were added, the company kept building over the same old design. Now, years later, it became increasingly obvious that the site was a cluttered mess. The fonts were too large, there were too many images on the page, and the colors were too bright. Something had to be done. So eBay decided to change the yellow background color to white. But this change didn't go down very well.. eBay started receiving emails from customers lamenting the change, forcing the company to change the background color back to bright yellow.

ebay yellow

User experience is not solely about the user’s interaction with the product. User experience is an open-ended term, and there's no one particular element that makes a product likable. A user’s experience with a product can be affected unconsciously by many factors, including interface design, colors, patterns, size of the elements used, and so on. When the user grows comfortable with a product, they want their experience to be untouched. It should remain the same for as long as possible.

But this doesn't mean that there's no need to improve the product experience once the user is happy. With technologies advancing by the day, there's a critical need to continually enhance the user experience.

So what did eBay do after going back to the same old bright yellow background? Did the company decide to keep the design as it was? No. After failing in its first attempt at a redesign, eBay tried a different strategy. It had to make sure that the change was so subtle that it would barely be noticeable to the user. So it designed an algorithm that faded the background yellow color, one shade at a time over a period of several months, until the background was completely white. As predicted, none of the users noticed this change and eBay was able to attain the color change it had initially set out to make.

There are many similar cases demonstrating how a sudden change in UI can affect the whole user experience. An amazing user interface cannot ensure an amazing user experience. Reddit and craigslist are known for their lack for concern for UI design, and yet they are among the most popular sites on the internet. Users dislike change. They like familiarity, which eventually leads to mastery. Therefore, any design should aim to make the user feel smart instead of stupid, confident instead of confused. Otherwise, a redesign can result in lost users, even if the product has great a service and overall functionality.

Further reading on eBay's site relaunch and a video of the lecture (also embedded below).

"In this workshop we will take you through the steps in thinking about (and preempting) user interaction and user experience design. Then we will outline ways in which we can evaluate, test, and analyze interactions to pivot designs leanly. This session will be highly interactive and will use examples from real startups."

About the Author

nisha Kunhikrishnan

Nisha Kunhikrishnan is a Software Engineer at Intuit India Product Development Center. She is a passionate front-end developer and loves the field of design and user experience.