Some Thoughts on MySpace's Redesign

MySpace is rolling out their new re-design, as of yesterday, which the brilliant folks at Adaptive Path played a large part in. I’m always impressed by their work, but I was surprised by the screenshots of the redesign I saw on Valleywag who notes:

“When Fox Interactive began interviewing Web designers for the job last fall, they told the candidates the main goal was to match rival Facebook feature-for-feature.”

Surprised because it seems like MySpace might be foregoing the design elements that made it so popular in the first place.

Friendster way back when…

Think back to 2004, when Friendster was all the rage. See below referanced obligatory trend graph…

Myspace Google Trends

At that time MySpace quickly surpassed Friendster — with easy linking to profiles that could spread over IM, self-promotion from bands and musicians, and a digitally native audience of hipsters, punks, and urban youth.

In retrospect, Friendster was so eager to attend the high school junior prom that is Web 2.0, that it pre-boozed itself into drunk, dry-heaving oblivion before the dancing even began. It forgot who it’s core audience was, but MySpace’s anti-design site design really resonated with the need for personalization. And as Danah Boyd pointed out — MySpace built a huge following amongst specific socio-economic divisions — those hipsters and punks, for example.

But by following Facebook, is MySpace abandoning its audience? Did its original design contribute to its success?

Undermining The “UnDesigned Aesthetic”

Scobelizer and others have deemed MySpace’s original approach to web design as “anti-marketing design” — I called it the “undesigned aesthetic” in a Forrester report on desirability. Scobelizer said:

“Why does anti-marketing design work? Well, for one, big companies will never do a site that doesn’t look pretty. Why? Cause of the prevailing belief that great brands need to be beautiful. Look at what corporate branding experts study. Apple. Target. BMW. Everything those guys do is beautiful. Aesthetic. Crafted by committees of ad marketing department experts… we’re sick of committee-driven marketing. We don’t believe it. If we ever did. We’ve built a bulls**t filter that filters out well-designed things in a commercial context.”

And so when MySpace’s traffic exploded, it had a lot to do with this undesigned, anti-marketing aesthetic. Where you could log-on to the site, and truly feel it was YOUR space… not some pretty template created by a pro designer. And the design fed function — you could customize and make MySpace your space with as much ugly bling and sparkling glitter graphics as your heart desired.

Focus on The User Experience, Not Feature Set

I found last year that despite it’s undesigned aesthetic, MySpace’s usability wasn’t that different from the competition.

I took Forrester’s Web Site Review methodology — a heuristic review for evaluating a site’s overall user experience — and went through sign-up processes for the top-five social networks. Here are the results from that research:

Forrester Social Networks Web Site Reviews

 

None of the five sites received what Forrester would call a “passing score.” Most important, the research uncovered a few themes, like a lack of privacy information, poor text legibility, and inefficient task flows. But despite sub-par usability from all the five sites, Facebook did shine. As Facebook rolls out it’s own redesign soon, it will be interesting to see if it actually improves. Bust most of all, it will be interesting to see what comes of MySpace’s redesign.

Looking at current site traffic, Facebook is clearly taking the popular lead… Will MySpace’s strategy of mimicking Facebook’s feature set keep it in the running? Or maybe as I’ve suggested, will its redesign cancel out the undesigned aesthetic that made it so popular? What do you think will happen?

Myspace Traffic via Alexa