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Facebook’s new look: about design, or by design?

Written by in Strategy
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Ever since Mark Zuckerberg unveiled Facebook’s new design for user profile pages and brand pages the web has been burning up with chatter about the new look. Why did they do it? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Almost every angle has been tweeted and re-tweeted, every nuance discussed from Mashable to Myspace. Well, maybe not Myspace.

  But let’s face it, one thing is certain: the folks at Facebook don’t do anything on a whim. So of course we have our own theory as to why they made the design changes, and it comes down to two words: advertising revenue.

  One of the great things about Facebook from an advertiser’s perspective is the ability to target an audience with incredible accuracy. But click-through rates were sometimes disappointing, especially when compared with the click-through rates of more traditional display advertising formats.

  By moving the page tabs to the left navigation, the redesigned profile pages now have more space for the ads, and the new horizontal “spread” format gives much greater prominence to the ads from a design perspective.

  Larger, more prominent ads translates in to increased opportunity for advertisers. And that boils down to some serious black ink on Facebook’s once struggling Profit and Loss statement.

  Let’s take a look at the redesigned Facebook from a user experience perspective.

  First, we notice the adoption of a “user at a glance” technique for recently tagged photos, employment status and other information. This section is positioned on top, a natural space for users to highlight whatever information they’ve chosen to make available.

  The design of posted information is very “wiki” inspired in the way it provokes a user’s click to display. And, naturally, the more clicks, the more page views, thus driving up the number of impressions Facebook’s ad servers can fire off.

  The Send Message button has been moved to the top right for improved accessibility. This revision makes perfect sense given the impetus on the new Facebook message and chat features the company is introducing.

  The photography is larger, and Facebook’s new algorithms are working hard to display a relevant visual synergy between a user and their respective friends. This goes hand in hand with Places, which will spread their open graph concept into the offline world, bridging users’ locations and past memories as a connection to the once typical Facebook status.

  The new page does a better job at provoking user interaction, and fuses rich media together with textual content in a more progressive way than previous designs.

  The Facebook UX team has also added a great deal of consistency to their typography and color elements, giving the site a much more cohesive feel as a user clicks between areas on the site.

  With the push towards double sidebars they are starting to pack more content into the experience (myspace rebirth anyone?). All these changes give clues to a secondary motive, one possibly influenced by a former Google Adwords executive team now sitting in the Facebook camp and reporting to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer.

  We believe that this new advertising format will improve click-through rates. And improved click-throughs (CTR) mean that advertisers will use Facebook ads more often, therefore driving up costs. And driving up the costs for the ads… well, you can see where this is going.

  So to answer our own headline, we’ll suggest that the new design was, indeed, by design, and that the driving force behind the change was less to improve user experience than it was to improve revenue.

  Afterall, no one said you couldn’t make a tidy profit while you went about changing the world, right?

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