Something unusual happened this week: Twitter got a major redesign, and people hardly freaked out at all. That might be because most of the updates appeared cosmetic, even trivial. But the project’s true aim — according to its lead designer Ashlie Ford — was to make Twitter easier for Twitter to use. And that, in turn, could mean a better Twitter for everyone, eventually.
The long-awaited revamp of Twitter.com rebuilt the desktop website from the bottom up as a progressive web app and merged it with the former mobile website. The makeover was met with a collective shrug, and scattered snorts of derision. (Did they get rid of the Nazis yet? Still no?) But the updates start to make more sense when you realize that they aren’t really about changing how people use Twitter — at least, not immediately. They’re about changing the company’s internal culture, and in doing so, paving the way for Twitter to fix all kinds of problems, large and small, in the future.
Twitter, as a company, seems to spend most of its time in various stages of existential crisis. Lately it has been rethinking everything as it tries to figure out how to address rampant harassment and hate speech and how to make its platform more conducive to civil, human conversation as opposed to dunking, trolling, and general cacophony. So one would expect that the first overhaul of its website in seven years might try to tackle these problems in substantive ways. After all, a platform’s design draws the boundaries for its use.
Instead, we got a series of seemingly surface-level tweaks that passed with surprisingly little notice, given the long history of Twitter’s loyal users reacting with nearly comical outrage to almost any significant change to the platform. (Remember the fury over threaded replies? The algorithmic timeline? The move to 280 characters?) Among the updates: The main navigation bar moved from the top of the page to the side, there are a handful of new buttons and features ported from the mobile app, and the site as a whole became cleaner and more responsive.