Why Everyone Always Hates Redesigns, Even When They’re Good
The strange psychology that shapes your reactions
In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today to give you a better tomorrow.
Whenever a popular web interface gets any kind of significant visual change, a lot of people react with confusion, dismay, and even anger. This month, it’s the new Google Docs sharing interface: The Next Web wrote an entire piece detailing complaints about the new sharing menu. One podcaster says she “just doesn’t like it,” and others are “completely baffled.”
Though the obvious reason people react so negatively to product redesigns and updates appears straightforward enough — people dislike change — the mechanisms behind why people get so frustrated, and what designers and companies have to do to mitigate that anger, is more complicated.
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One theory, the “endowment effect,” helps explain this aversion to the new. It posits that people prefer what they already have, regardless of the benefits they may gain from adopting something new, because they are afraid of what they might lose. A 1990 study, one of the first to provide evidence for the idea, helps illustrate how it works. The study separated participants into three groups. The first group was given a choice between two objects: a mug or a chocolate bar. The group was more or less evenly split between their choices. A second group was given mugs, but they were allowed to later exchange it for a chocolate bar if they so desired. A third group was given a chocolate bar and likewise allowed to later switch it out for a mug.
The two latter groups largely refrained from switching out their original items for something new, despite the first group being evenly split on what they went with. The researchers gathered from this experiment that even though people may…