The redesign, the wait, and the response

On Wednesday morning, I woke up nervous – in both the best and worst ways you can be nervous. We had just released the all new redesign of DoneDone the evening prior.  It was a load off of our team’s collective shoulders just to have it up – living and breathing – for all the world to see. We’re kind of used to releasing new features and updates often, so six months of design and development feels like an absolute eternity to us.

To set the stage, you should know that Jeremy, Jason, Ben, Craig and the rest of our company, along with a handful of wonderful beta testers, have been kicking the tires of the new DoneDone for several weeks now.  We’ve seen it go from initial concept to development to revision-after-revision.  But we knew the very thing we’d gotten really cozy with would be completely foreign to all of our customers.

Wednesday morning was a gigantic change for everyone else. And, gigantic changes in UI are rarely welcome. An old design is like a long friendship — it gets comfortable. Even the strange nuances get comfortable. The imperfect things just become part of the feature. You develop muscle memory. You stop even having to read the words on the app. Like an old friend, an old design is instantly familiar. And, familiarity can only ever evolve with time.

For our team, the initial strange feelings of all the newness were a thing of the past. Now, we can confidently look back at the old design and go — woah, this feels way way better than the old version.  We can now move on to the new set of features we’re planning that fit much better with the patterns of this new interface. But you, our users, are just beginning to go through the same ingratiation process with the new DoneDone.

Having used ourselves — and a few other willing customers — as guinea pigs, we felt confident that what went live the night before was a very thoughtfully designed application with all the right intentions. But, we knew some of you might simply not like this newness initially. It’s just human nature.

The day began with an extra grind of coffee.
The day began with an extra pulse from the company coffee grinder.

So, Wednesday morning was met with a bit of ecstasy and a heap of dread (but that’s just my nature sometimes, too). I ran an extra minute longer on the treadmill that morning. I walked into the office. I added another scoop of beans into the coffee grinder.

Wednesday Morning: The Early Reactions

Checking our support emails Wednesday morning, we got a lot of thoughtful initial feedback. There were a few relatively minor bugs reported that we didn’t snag during QA and beta. We’ve fixed a couple of those already and have the bulk of the rest ready to deploy in the next couple of days.

However, there was a lot of reaction to the new design. Overnight, and into Wednesday afternoon, we received dozens of messages through our support emails (and a few through Twitter) specifically critical of our font selection, colors, and sizing. Frankly, while some of you were pretty calm, it was clear that others were downright furious. But, most importantly, all of you gave us really well-written, critical feedback. For that, we cannot thank you enough.

So now what? Jeremy and I discussed our approach for the day over HipChat and Google Hangout (Jeremy works remotely out of Arkansas). Paramount to us was to get back to our customers and get back to them quickly. Jeremy spent the entirety of the morning responding to feedback while I manned the Twitter stream. If you wrote a support message that morning, Jeremy or I got back to you before our lunch hour.

What was also essential to us was not to overreact. That’s a good lesson we’ve learned over and over again. When you’re receiving large amounts of feedback, it feels like the world is caving in on itself. But, when you’re giving feedback, it feels anything but that. You give your opinion and you move on to the other hundred things you need to do that day. For us, it was important to stay calm and carry on — a phrase I’m thinking about coining. Still, the natural urge to react too quickly will always be there.

Mid-morning discussions on how to handle our redesign feedback
Mid-morning discussions on how to handle our redesign feedback

The great thing about receiving a lot of critical feedback is we can now find patterns.  When the dust settled later that morning, Jeremy consolidated the findings into a few groups of recurring responses:

  • Subtlety and readability. A few users found some of our design choices too subtle.  From the yellow color representing Medium priority issues to the readability of the body content (Adelle) to the readability of our large title and headline font (Verlag) in certain browsers and pages.
  • Size and space.  Some of you found words way too big — like the titles on issue pages. Others found words way too small — like the project names under the project selection box on the dashboard.  Some were uncomfortable with the vast amount of white space and liquidity of the new design.
  • Fonts. Some of you just didn’t like the fonts. Fonts are a really personal subject sometimes, like defending your favorite band. The heavy use of italic Adelle on our dropdowns and labels bugged some. The slightly-playful-slightly-serious style of Verlag rubbed others the wrong way.

These were really important findings. Having launched big updates before, we knew the drill. As one of our customers wrote, most people go through change-fear: Initial, gut reactions to something new and foreign are usually negative. Arguably, this is summed up best by Startup L. Jackson:

It’s our job to sift through the critical feedback and curate it. Which feedback is just a gut reaction and which feedback should we take to heart and make an update for? We asked everyone with a negative reaction to any of the above to give it a few days and come back to us next week with any revised opinions. And, we mean it. We’ll be reaching out to you if you don’t reach out to us, so we can see if your opinions change once you’ve had more time to get familiar and cozy with the new DoneDone.

Our guess is that many initial reactions will subside and you’ll end up liking the new aesthetics a lot better.  When I look at the old design now, I can — without question — say that the new aesthetics are a huge improvement. That said, we think there will be some reactions that persist. We want to address those quickly. We’re already addressing some issues with readability and subtlety immediately. For example, the medium priority color will have much better contrast soon. The title font will look less chunky on Firefox shortly. We promise.

A Post-Lunch, Post-Launch Comeback

Something that I can only describe as a phenomenon happened after we came back from lunch. We continued to receive feedback, at an albeit smaller clip. But, while the overnight and early morning rush of feedback was overwhelmingly critical, the afternoon and evening feedback was unanimously positive. It was almost as if we told the community to withhold praise until after 12PM Central. Here’s just some of the Twitter feedback we got later that day. We received even more compliments over our support email.

So, why the difference? In particular, why did we see so few positive overnight messages or Tweets? Perhaps, people that have negative opinions to something generally want to voice that opinion more urgently than those who have a generally positive opinion. It’s essentially the flight-or-fight response — a rush of cortisol and adrenaline that pushes us to react quickly.

In comparison, those that had an initial positive reaction certainly would have no sense of urgency to tell us things were going well. This all makes sense, but it was fascinating to see this actually unfold during the course of the day.

Our Next Steps

Wednesday was an exhilarating day. We’re still getting great feedback about the redesign, but the initial gut reactions are dissipating. Know that we are taking all of it to heart. We have a few tweaks going up later this evening and we’ll also remedy any bigger usability problems after we get a second round of feedback next week. Until then, a sincere thank you for your overwhelming support and patience to help make DoneDone an even better product!

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