Social Media Design is Terrible

05 Jan 2020 - keyser

In which I rip interfaces to shreds.

Ask any anti-technology person why they dislike social media and you’ll undoubtedly get one of the reasons (besides the selling of your personal data) being that platforms are engineered to keep you hooked. They’re meant to keep you scrolling, liking, feeding your data, and to keep selling you stuff based on said data.

That is true, and they’re quite good in getting us hooked. Yet it seems platforms have been focused on how to lure us to share and need reciprocation, and not how to make us comfortable while they do it. Users are hooked to the content, but the interfaces containing it are dreadful. Search any social media and append “bad” “awful” “difficult to use” or any other negative terms that come to mind and you’ll see no shortage of examples. Interfaces seem to be an afterthought for UX designers working for big platforms in almost every sense, except when they need to look pretty to lure people in for the first time (haven’t you noticed how sign-up forms seem more and more seamless lately?).

Enough boring vague evidence. Allow me to show you how uncomfortable, time-wasting interfaces on the biggest platforms are, with concrete examples:

Twitter

The internet’s darling has almost every interaction either broken or made uncomfortable by baffling desicions made by the design team.

Let’s start with the obvious: I haven’t seen a single person ask for a curated feed instead of cronological. And yet, Home/Latest Tweets is a thing. Not only that, no matter if you choose Latest Tweets, at some point or another you WILL be switched without warning to the curated Home.

Then there are strange decisions. Why can I only choose a single picture when I go to tweet a couple? In a way, I get where they are coming from: You’d think a single picture would be enough. But why not give the user the choice of closing the window when they’re done? Automation is nice when it doesn’t get in the way. With most tweets now showcasing several images at once, this just seems more trouble than letting the user decide.

I could go on and trash the 2019 redesign of the web UI, but I feel this twitter query covers it.

Trending topics. What used to be a simple, single activity tab is now… whatever this is:

First, trending isn’t even the initial tab. “For you”, catered content is put before what is actually going on in real time in the world, unfiltered. Which is, well… the core idea of twitter.

Not only that, “for you” isn’t even catered properly. Using myself as the example: I consume Twitter and all social media exclusively in English. Google understands this, and so it gives me news in English, results in English, everything in my language of preference, even knowing I speak other ones. Twitter, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to get this, even if I lie and claim to be monolingual:

How is this appealing to me in the slightest? Not only is it in a language I have no interest consuming social media content in, it’s not current, it’s not urgent, it’s not news (Why do I care they showed a Disney movie, a topic I never tweeted about, on tv in a specific country I do not live in?).

I could go on about trending all day, but let’s finish with this one: Trending Topics used to be mainly neutral and uncatered, however they managed to focus on what was actually going on at a glance once you tapped on it. And now:

I’m pretty sure random people posting their faces on Instagram and twitter is not the reason there are currently 154k+ tweets about Instagram right now. This is a perfect example you can check whenever your service of choice goes down. I can’t tell how many times I saw Whatsapp or Discord trending, knew it was because they were down, yet clicking on them gave me tweets of people talking about something completely irrelevant to it. I’d say fix it, Twitter, but you had it! So bring it back.

Honorable mentions: Stop breaking threads, replies do not need reddit-esque nesting and it doesn’t work, improve DMs, let us follow topics within our timelines and create channels to separate content.

Youtube

Ah Youtube, where to start. Credit where credit’s due—given the size of the platform, it’s impressive how consistent their visual design updates are all throughout, as slow as they might be sometimes. But while visually it might be appealing, the platform is a disaster functionality wise. Here’s a glimpse of problems in different areas of it:

Skipping over its ad problem, infamously godawful, useless trending tab, the recommended section seems to be getting more and more generic. The wonderful algorithm that once took into account people’s input and opinions to suggest more content seems to focus more on talk show hosts, celebrity channels, and commentary videos.

Then you have some just plain baffling things such as these:

In case you can’t see the (legitimately irl) blurry text, it reads “This is how your playlist looks in English (United Kingdom). Switch to English to make changes.” You can’t make this up.

More on playlists, this is what one looks like nowadays:

At first glance, I find the interface very effective, drag to edit the order, click to rename, add a description. And then for each video, this mess:

This is a peak example of how bloated platforms are today, in every nook and cranny.

The queue feature is Watch Later redesigned. Why not just rebrand the original and relaunch it, instead of having both? That’s one button and one less convoluted feature. And why is save to watch later (a playlist) separate from save to (another) playlist, when that’s how it works on mobile? Why the discrepancy?

If you can drag to rearrange the order of things, are “move to top” and “move to bottom” necessary buttons?

Lastly, if you change the playlist name, it doesnt update on this menu:

This is all an example of Youtube’s (and present applications nowadays’) real problem: on the surface it looks polished, but the actual user experience is clunky and bloated for no reason.

So as not to bore you with an article longer than this is already shaping up to be, I’m going to quote two more tweets to summarize another example:

Analytics tools seem to be convoluted and unintuitive everywhere, but Youtube excels at making it more difficult for the user to interact with and visualize the data.

Instagram — Could be worse?

Surprisingly enough, Instagram is the least offending interface out of all listed. Granted, there are things to be fixed: the explore page takes way too much fine-tuning to provide anything mildly related to users’ interests, the timeline isn’t cronological, ads seem to be highly innacurate for a high number of users, and the obvious added package of “facebook bad” —the data collection is insane and unethical.

IGTV seems to be the most flawed feature—just try to pause a video or check comments and you’ll undoubtedly end up doing the wrong thing, either skipping through the video, pausing it, opening comments when you don’t want to, etc.

I was going to take my chance and rip facebook’s bloated UI bit by bit here too, but a company with such little respect for users does not deserve the time or the place, nor the recommendations for improvements.

Discord — The leviathan of user experience

Yes, the heading is dramatic. So is Discord’s over-the-top, unrelatable UX Copy. Their aim is to target the gaming community, however no one, even within the community, seems to think it’s effective. As part of discord’s demographic, I hear nothing but complaints from my friends and acquaintances when they open the app and see “abnormalizing some of the matrices”, when they update the app and see an update log talking to them like a dad trying to cram relatable references to their angsty teenage kid, or whenever they try to deal with its confusing interface.

The default size and spacing for fonts is unreadable for long periods of time even for someone with 20/20 vision:

And don’t get me started in the roles’ colours’ contrast:

Finally, the truly big issue with discord—the menus are the most unintuitive interface I’ve come across in years.

If you don’t use Discord, where would you go to create a role? Update your status? Turn notifications off for a server vs your general notifications?

And here, where would you go to enable Discord’s overlay in a game? “Overlay”, most likely, and yet…

Nope:

It’s actually in Game Activity, for some reason:

Everything takes minutes to find as a new user. I have no problem learning new interfaces, so long as they have logic behind them.

(I will probably make a standalone post on Discord alone, since it is truly a mess with so much potential)

Finally, its branding. Discord is aimed at gaming only still to this day, when its userbase has expanded well beyond that. People use it for anywhere from anime to work group servers/group chats. You would think they’d take advantage of this and expand, and yet, nothing.

Let’s hope they wake up and take advantage of it before the new big name comes along.

In conclusion: MAKE IT SIMPLE please

Ok, that heading might not be the most professional but, PLEASE! It’s not that complicated to give your design time to set and be tested. Listen to your users yelling in every social media possible and implement changes that actually matter to the user experience. We already have a billion alternatives for a billion features in the form of a billion apps, we just want an easier to use platform.

Focusing on stripping things down and dividing them into their simplest form has always been the technical cornerstone of design, why are we leaving that just to the aesthetics of it?

Let’s step it up in 2020, people. And if we don’t as designers, people, as users, will leave.