The Importance of Managing Change in User Experience

Ildikó Tuck
September 29, 2014

I’d like to talk about the importance of managing change when working on an application - inspired by Hendrik Mueller’s talk at UX Australia. Let’s say you’ve built an app, launched it, gotten some users, some more funding and you decide to spend some of it fine-tuning the user experience. You analyse available data, you survey your users, you conduct interviews, create a prototype and test the new version with a few of your users. It’s certainly better than the old one, so you decide to go full speed ahead and update your application.

It’s very different from the old version so you make sure to include a tutorial. What could possibly go wrong? Quite often, in the first hours after the launch, you get bombarded by emails from users complaining about different issues. Where did the __ go? How can I get to my old __? Why did you change the _____?! Now I can’t find anything! It seems to be a common pattern. You’ve expected this, that’s why the tutorial is there. Yet, the emails keep on coming and the overall satisfaction with your app drops considerably. What could you do better? Here’s a few ideas worth considering and adapting to your specific situation.

Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Change

The more dramatic the change, the more your users have to re-learn your app. Chances are your app is a means to get something done, not the end goal itself - having to relearn it will cause problems to those who just want to get their job done quickly, in the familiar way. It may seem like a common-sense thing long overdue to finally move that search from the footer to the right side of the header. To your users, however, it is a very big deal. They’ve gotten used to the search being awkwardly positioned in the footer and that’s where they go - without thinking - to find it. This is why not finding it there will cause frustration no matter how much more obvious and usable the new place is. Fixing an issue after people learned to work around it can hurt.

Prepare Your Users

Don’t just spring it on them! Let them know that you’re working on a new layout by communicating it in your newsletters and on the page itself. Have a little “notice” area somewhere that lets users know to expect a new version. Make sure it’s not too intrusive, but noticeable enough for people to find it. If you know the launch date, make sure you mention it.

Offer Something More

In your communication about the new version, make sure you offer something that people didn’t previously have or couldn’t easily do. You’re launching a new, cool feature? Highlight it. You’ve changed the way some things work so they make more sense now? Make sure to let people know. Phrasing “change” as “improvement” can go a long way in convincing your users that it’s not such a bad thing after all.

Offer a Temporary Way Out

You’ve prepared your users, talked about the upcoming cool features and launched the new version. Good job so far. Another thing you should do, is to cater for the people who are in a hurry or don’t have the patience to discover the old functionalities within the new interface. Tell them that they’ve been upgraded to the new version but they can temporarily switch back to the old one. This helps ease the frustration of those who just can’t locate that one thing they need to get something done. Make sure you emphasise that the switch is temporary - you don’t want them to think that they can permanently keep the old one.

Offer a Form of Feedback

Every time a user decides to go back to the old version, make sure you offer them some sort of feedback form. Asking why they prefer the old can give you extremely valuable insight. And more, allowing people to “talk” to you directly, vent about their issues to you will decrease the chances of them going somewhere else to talk about it - such as public forums or blogs.

Lastly, just learn to live with it. Even after doing all these, you will probably notice a decrease in user happiness after every change. It’s just the way it is the steps mentioned above are meant to decrease the effects but unfortunately they aren’t able to completely eradicate it. Your users will learn your new app over time and will grow to like the new version if it’s indeed better, the new features useful and not just different or trendy.