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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

GUI Redesign Trap


English version of Wikipedia has recently gone through face-lifting. Now GUI is a bit smoother, a bit nicer. A thing I don’t really care about, but fine, people would like it.

At the same time they moved search box from the left sidebar to top right corner. What can I say, the new place is used on different sites to locate search box. On different sites, yes, but not on a freaking Wikipedia. On Wikipedia it is always on the left sidebar. Always. I mean it was until someone decided it to hide somewhere else.

As a comparison you can see Polish version of the site with the old design.

You may laugh at me but I spent like 20 seconds looking for search box. Why? Because I got used to the place where the control was and I expected it there. I would be as much confused if Google suddenly moved search box somewhere else.

I bet that if Wikipedia had left search boxes in the old place and in the new one vast majority of people, like 99%, would have used the old one.

Pretty much the same happened with Microsoft Office 2007 with redesigned menus. I use it for about 3 years already and it still happens I get frustrated trying to find one of these options you use once a couple of years. With the old Office it could be found in Options or other Settings. And now it is um… somewhere.

The problem is users get used to your design. And then, they expect there won’t be significant changes. And if there have to be a change people expect it will be done the way Google chose when face-lifting search. They polished graphic too, but the search box is exactly where it used to be for centuries.

If you decide to move important piece of your GUI somewhere else or, worse, redo the whole GUI just think about it once more. You will likely confuse your users.

I don’t say it has to be wrong automatically. Sometimes you just have to invite new design; otherwise we would still use command line interfaces. But if you took Windows 95 user sat him in front of Windows 7 he would feel familiar. Start menu, task bar and windows with the same elements: menus, status bars, title bars etc. And that’s not without a reason. It easier to switch people from one application to another when they know which function is where and they aren’t surprised with the way things work.

Personally I don’t really get the Wikipedia move. If I really wanted to move search box I would rather put it in the middle, Google-way, but most likely I would just leave it where it was. I don’t see how this change was needed but I do see how it confuses users. And that’s exactly the GUI redesign trap.

in: software design

8 comments… add one

  • Corporate Geek May 18, 2010, 11:10 am

    I think you are one of the few who dislike this. Some Wikipedia users actually use the search box from their browsers, in the upper-right corner (as in Firefox, for example).

    Plus on most sites, the search box is on the upper-right and Wikipedia was confusing in the first place. Now it got in line with the rest of the web.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 18, 2010, 11:47 am

    I will definitely get used to it. But I don’t agree that Wikipedia is like most sites. For vast majority of sites which have search box in top right corner search isn’t the key feature. I would put here pretty much every corporate or company site.

    However if think about sites which people use search intensively on, and Wikipedia is one of these search-sites, you will rarely find search box in top right corner. Usually it is placed in the middle top, or just in the middle like in search engines.

    That’s why I don’t really understand Wikipedia move. I agree that search box on the left sidebar isn’t a standard search box placement but if they wanted to change it I’d advice rather to aim for something like Simple English Wikipedia starting page which unfortunately changes once you go to article page.

    Anyway, the point I was trying to make with the post wasn’t really about criticizing recent GUI redesign done with Wikipedia but rather about users reaction for interface changes. Fortunately for Wikipedia users aren’t there for great usability but for content so they would be able to really screw their site up and people would still keep coming.

  • Corporate Geek May 18, 2010, 12:57 pm

    I know. Understood your point in the first place. However, some radical changes are needed sometimes in order to bring true improvement. And personally, I think that what Microsoft did with Office 2007 (which is now refined in Office 2010) was a great job.

  • Craig Brown May 18, 2010, 7:01 pm


    I think Wikipedia had it right in the first place and now have it wrong. We read from right to left. We move across the screen this way.

    On Wikipedia search is the PRIMARY and FIRST function.

    The top right search is a secondary function place, which is appropriate to most websites, as search is a secondary function.

    The reason that the blog/homepage search moved to the top left space was because it was otherwise dead real estate on a page and it was an opportunity to place search for people who could not navigate using the menus and other features of a site.

    Look at any screenshot of eye tracking, you’ll see my point.

    Dumb move Wikipedia.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 19, 2010, 1:07 am

    Corporate Geek,

    It is funny thing with new Office design. Many people I talk with tell me it is more intuitive now, but only for people who didn’t get used to the old design. If 2007 version (or later) is the first you use you should like it. But if you used the old design for like 10 years or so you would have problems with the switch.

    Personally I don’t have any problems when I need to find functions I use often – I’ve already learned where they are placed in new design. The problem is when I try to find something which I use for the first/second/third time since I work with new Office.

    By the way, I’ve never used Office help (and I mean Googling something about office too) as much as I do now before 2007 version.

    Honestly, I don’t share your enthusiasm on new Office design, but it wouldn’t trigger me to write a rant either. On the other hand Wikipedia move did. If you asked me why I’d answer that new Office design left key functions in a place users looked for them (on toolbar) while Wikipedia moved their key function to the other side of the screen.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 19, 2010, 1:13 am


    When writing the article I was tempted to point that search is the first and most important function for Wikipedia, but after a second thought I’m not so sure. I don’t know statistics, but my guess is Wikipedia get more traffic from search engines than it gets directly (typing wikipedia.org in your browser) and then through their internal search.

    But of course that doesn’t make search a secondary function.

  • Vicky Stamatopoulou May 31, 2010, 12:20 pm

    Sure, I am with you. Users don’t like changes. The thing is, sometimes companies don’t care much about irritating old users. They have bought the software, the updates are either for free or for a low fee… New users pay the complete price instead, so efforts will be taken, to ‘satisfy’ them. New users not familiar with the software are happy to learn its features. When the GUI has been really improved and not just re-designed, these new users will be quickly productive and they will probably bring new buyers with their recommendation to the software.
    Old users, needing to re-think may book update trainings, courses, etc…
    This also brings money to the company, and a company always needs money when improving software.
    So… I understand why a company my want to do changes. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t say this is ‘good’, I just think this is sometimes inevitable and good for the economics :-)

    All this argumentation has nothing to do with wikipedia, which is of course non profit and free service, but I hope I could make my point clear.

  • Pawel Brodzinski May 31, 2010, 12:58 pm


    I think it depends much on the application we discuss. If we consider business to business application it will differ much from the app addressed to mass end-user market.

    I think there’s a reason for very slow and evolutionary changes of sites like eBay or Amazon. And Wikipedia falls into the same category. After all they didn’t apply drastic changes to GUI, which is pretty well seen on screens above.

    Microsoft Office is a different story. But in both cases I’m not so sure whether productivity of new users would match problems of old ones.

    Regarding Wikipedia, my friend told me a story about new design. He stopped looking for search box before he found new location. He just used Google search with site filter instead.

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