Redesign outrage | April 4, 2011

It’s surprisingly common for redesigns to cause outrage amongst their users. People complain that they weren’t consulted, criticise the quality and appropriateness of the new solution, and state that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However if you leave the site for a while, you often see the most critical detractors become the most vocal supporters. Why is this?

I think there are three fundamental cognitive biases at play here.

First off we have the concept of status-quo bias, the idea that people tend not to change existing behaviour unless the incentive to change is compelling. So you could argue that many people chose not to switch from DVD to Blu-ray because the benefits of higher definition viewing just weren’t attractive enough. In the context of a redesign, many people may not understand why it was even necessary as the existing site allowed them to do everything they needed and wanted to do.

Next up we have loss aversion, the idea that people prefer to avoid losses rather than acquire gains.So in the context of a redesign, people’s sense of loss may be overshadowing the benefits they have gained.

Lastly we have something called the endowment effect. This bias says that people often place a higher value on something they own than something they don’t. This may have something to do with the memories associated with that item. So in the context of a redesign, users will probably have bonded with the old site, while the new site has yet to create an emotional attachment.

Of course all of these cognitive biases are intertwined so it’s very difficult to tell which ones are having an effect and to what level. I’m also sure there are other factors at play here so I’d be interested to see if anybody has done any original research in this area.

This post was inspired by a recent interview in the Indipendant.

Posted at April 4, 2011 10:06 AM


Axel Berger said on April 2, 2011 12:59 AM

Are you serious with that question? Jacob Nielsen has been on about this for years. See

The important point is, people visit sites to get things done, not to admire their beauty. After a while they know how everything works, know where all the buttons are, and become quick and efficient. Then you come and take all their hard-gained and valuable expertise away from them and throw it in the dustbin, forcing them to start from scratch again and waste time on your site, they’d rather spend elsewhere. Of course they complain! So would you, if I came in over the weekend and completely rearranged your workspace, wouldn’t you?

Oz Dogan said on April 2, 2011 4:27 AM

One needs to consider the advantages over disadvantages and in most cases it comes down to customers (internal and external) expectations and needs for that particular website in question.

So, having a site redesigned is an issue that involves more so the marketing personnel rather then the aesthetics designer.

A real business owner would take these into consideration when taking a stab into the world of changing how their clients have used their company’s website(s).

So, if your aesthetics is more important than loosing say 5% of your clients then you need to ask yourself: “Is it WORTH it?”

Your new site, is it going to replace that 5% loss in old clients who might have been your top 20% of valued clients? Mind you, your top 20% clients might be brining in 80% of your businesses earnings. You see, the most OUTRAGED CLIENT here would not be a client but the CEO/Managing-Director/Owner of that very company/business.

At the end, it’s all about the money and it is really a numbers game regardless of business type.

Oz Dogan

Axel Berger said on April 2, 2011 5:12 PM

As an aside:
Blogging comments ought to be treated as text, not source code. Your broken blog swallows links without leaving a trace, this is simply wrong. The link I tried to give was And of course the name is Jakob with k not c, my mistake.

ABS said on April 3, 2011 2:18 AM

Many sites today allow you to revert back to the previous design. I think first-time visitors should get the new design and regulars shouldn’t have their familiarity taken away.

I don’t mind design changes, but usability changes where old URLs don’t work (lifehacker) are harmful. There is an overuse of AJAX in many usability redesigns.

Andy Budd said on April 4, 2011 9:26 AM

Hey Axel,

Just to clarify, this post was obviously looking at the cognitive biases which shape people’s reactions to a site redesign. On a lower level your comments are absolutly correct and closely mirror what I said to the Indipendent newspaper a few weeks back, where (funnily enough) I was interviewed alongside Jakob Nielsen.

Alex Kearns said on April 8, 2011 8:36 AM

Andy. I agree with much of what you say. But some redesigns are simply worse than the original and deserve criticism. I’d cite the example of metacritic.

Metacritic used to have a pretty good design that was easy to navigate and fun to use. Their new design is neither of these. This is not just a knee jerk reaction. I have visited the site a lot since the redesign (their content is still good) but I still hate the experience.

I also think a lot of big companies suffer from redesignitus (Facebook being perhaps the best example) where they are perpetually tweaking and changing features without actually making things better.

Dave said on April 12, 2011 4:40 PM

Actually, I’d suggest that Facebook is handling their design updates very well. Rather than alienating their users with major, sudden design changes, they are incrementally making improvements all the time. That’s the ideal, isn’t it?

Stephanie said on April 21, 2011 8:01 AM

I think it’s very hard to get people to understand that change is a good thing, especially in the case of web design. Things are changing and progressing so quickly in the web world that people are left behind in the dust in a matter of months.
Saying that, it all depends who you are and who your customers are. If things are working for you and you are happy with your clientèle and your website works for what you want it for, then I do agree with ‘why fix something that isn’t broken’.