YouTube Designer Says He Wants to Make the Site More Beautiful — But at What Cost?

As YouTube works to update the UI, the designers need to make sure form follows function or risk getting into a shouting match with the site's users.


There’s been an increasing drive at tech companies to develop software that doesn’t just solve a problem, but looks good too. Apple was one of the first companies to focus on “beautiful design,” and since then, the most slick and intuitive the user interface, the better. The problem is that users will likely resist any changes that are made, but for reasons designers don’t understand.

While Google wasn’t always about clean and simple design, the tech giant could be considered an early adopter. And as part of the effort to improve the YouTube experience, it hired Ian Spalter, a former Foursquare engineer, to co-lead the team that is updating the site’s look.

“There’s a real hunger and desire to make some beautiful product. I’m excited to be part of that and play some role in that,” Spalter told Fast Company. Indeed, Spalter may be a much needed addition as YouTube users are often unhappy with a clunky UI and a site that’s got some underlying functionality issues.

“[W]e’re try[ing] to make products more simple, more useful and hopefully more beautiful,” Spalter told Fast Company. He talks a good game, but Spalter may have fallen into a common design trap — users and designers don’t always want the same things.

Christina Wodtke, a writer and former senior director of design at Yahoo, pinpointed where designers go wrong. “Users don’t hate change. Users hate change that doesn’t make things better, but makes everything have to be relearned,” she wrote.

And she’s right. Tech companies frequently get flack almost every time there’s a UI change. She points to the iOS7 website, which says the new design is “simpler, more useful and more enjoyable,” and declares these things make it “beautiful.” But nobody could find the search bar or settings menu in iOS7.

Twitter’s blue line, which connects conversations, was another example of a design feature that users hated because they saw no value in it. It was design for the sake of design, and that messed with Twitter’s clean feed. When designers in the social field lose sight of user needs, they’ve lost their purpose.

Designers, like Spalter, can choose to listen to feedback — or else every change will become a shouting match between users and staff. And that’s neither useful, nor simple, nor beautiful.

Image credit: Rego –