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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Revolting Listeners

Recently, thesixtyone launched a redesigned site, and the reaction has been interesting, showing some of the pitfalls of running a community site.

Old designNew design

I’ve seen several favourable reactions praising the look and overall bravery. The old site has a pretty conventional layout, so they’ve clearly tried to go for something more distinctive to try to stand out in the crowd of music discovery services.

On the other hand, many previously-devoted users hate the redesign. Really, really hate it. They’re complaining on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs, on Ning, in music and on dedicated sites. The word ‘shitstorm’ comes to mind.

Now, as a designer or site owner you have to bear in mind that some people will always resist change, and some are loudly misguided, so a bit of shaking things up is inevitable and beneficial. But when a web site becomes a community you need to be so much more careful in your approach, considering things like:

  • A sense of community is delicate; you have to carry most users along with you to preserve it.
  • You don’t own that sense of community, you’re just providing the venue.
  • Give adequate warning of changes; some people simply don’t like surprises.
  • When you add a feature, make sure it’s one that you want to stick around, because…
  • When you remove a feature, even those who never used it will kick and scream.
  • Be firm in resisting pressure from vocal minorities, but reassure them that you’re listening.
  • Ensure the user interface works well for both dedicated regular users and new arrivals.
  • Try to change gradually, keeping some branding/design/interface elements, so that there’s a sense of evolution and continuity.

I think thesixtyone probably screwed up on a couple of those points, but I’m sure they’ll address the obvious user interface problems and we’ll see what impact the controversy has on the site in the long run.


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