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Facebook goes back to basics with latest News Feed redesign

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Almost exactly one year ago, Facebook laid out its vision for the future of News Feed. Facebook spent months refining its new design, which touted huge photos, a dynamic navigation bar, and Tumblr-esque profile photos. The company rolled out its new design to a fraction of its billion users, and then called the whole thing off. Users hated the new design. So for its next News Feed, Facebook went back to square one.

Today the social network is unveiling its latest design for News Feed, which takes learnings from its failed trial and applies them to a familiar but fresh design that it plans to roll out globally over the next few weeks. The new News Feed looks almost exactly like Facebook's mobile News Feed, bearing new iconography, bigger photos, new fonts (Helvetica and Arial), and story cards. The design ditches the prominent drop-down menu of feeds Facebook championed in its designs last March, and sticks them back in the left sidebar. In other words, Facebook's dreams about turning your News Feed into a newspaper of RSS-like feeds are officially over. News feeds like "All Friends," "Groups," and "Photos" have been removed entirely.

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Facebook_news_feed_comparisonA comparison of Facebook's old (above) and new (below) News Feeds reveals the move to a cleaner look.

"People don't like us moving their furniture around, because you break muscle memory," says News Feed product manager Greg Marra. Facebook's dark-themed sidebar, which collapsed into a strip of icons depending on your screen size, was just too confusing for most users, he says. "That's a particular design idea that looked cool but didn't help you get around the site," Marra says. "You don't need to relearn anything — that was one of our big themes." Facebook has also redesigned and simplified what were previously considered complex post types. If a friend commented on a post about a link that two friends shared, indentations — while accurate in terms of attribution — made things look really messy, Marra says. Profile photos have also notably been moved back inside story cards, like in the old News Feed, to limit clutter.

Facebook_failed_news_feed_testLast year's experimental News Feed redesign didn't go over well with users.

Another noticeable change is that all users will now see a big search bar at the top of their screen. English-speaking Facebook users will see a Graph Search bar, where they can type in queries like "Friends of friends who are single." Non English-speaking Facebook users will see ordinary search results, like people, places, and Pages. Facebook declined to say when its Graph Search feature would roll out to other languages, or to mobile devices.

Facebook_news_feed_most_recentFacebook's new News Feed is far from revolutionary, and paints a picture of a company that perhaps can't iterate nearly as quickly as it would like to. It's seemingly not so easy to "move fast and break things" when you have 1.2 billion users. This is ostensibly the reason why Facebook founded Creative Labs, a new skunkworks division tasked with building experimental products too progressive for the bulk of its user base. And to that end, Creative Labs' first product — Paper— is definitely a fun and novel approach to News Feed that's far crazier than the company's designs from last year. The web version of News Feed must, after all, cater to the least common denominator across all of Facebook's billion users.

While News Feed doesn't look as "new" as last year's redesign tests looked, Facebook seems to have learned a key lesson: mobile and desktop are not equal. Last March's redesign was pitched as way to create visual parity between the company's desktop and mobile apps. "We recognize that while we strive for design consistency, part of that is recognizing that the way you use things on a PC is different from how you use things on your phone," says Marra, "but it's important that we cut these from the same cloth."

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Facebook removed more complex post types, which is incorrect. Those posts are still shown, but have been redesigned.

The Verge
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