Brian Herron


The New Cokes of UX Design

From Apple's wonky maps, to Google's failed Buzz - there's no shortage of digital missteps from the web's biggest and brightest.

It’s 1985 – WrestleMania debuts at Madison Square Garden, Back to the Future is in the cinema, and Ronald Reagan begins his second term. It’s also the year that Coca-Cola unveils its response to the Pepsi Challenge: New Coke.

It’s a disaster.

That's why they did it"

After just three months Classic Coke was reintroduced. New Coke stayed on the shelves but was outsold by both its venerable predecessor and Pepsi. Eventually, quietly, production ceased.

A byword for high profile rollbacks, here are our seven New Cokes of User Experience – product ‘innovations’ from major players that were rolled back in the face of public outcry.

Windows 8 ditches the Start Button

The Metro interface saw Microsoft shrug off the shackles of its corporate geek heritage.

But getting rid of the Start Button, a foundation of the Windows navigation language since 1995, proved too much for the faithful – especially when it was replaced by a dual interface that confounded regular users as much as at it was feted by designers.

The Start button is making a return in the new Windows 8.1 update, but the rollback is grudging at best. Tech Crunch and others remain unhappy.

Turns out you if you start it up you can stop.

Death to the DiggBar

It’s not often that a web company will admit that its product is “bad for the internet”. Enter Jay Adelson, CEO of news aggregator Digg. In response to the uproar over the DiggBar, Adelson said: “It’s an inconsistent/wonky user experience, and I’m happy to say we are killing it.”

Offered as a link shortening service, the DiggBar placed a frame around the destination webpage. The result was an internet horror show. Branding the internet under your company banner is a trick that was common in the 90s but was mostly abandoned after everyone realised it was a shady trick and that users hated it.

Once a large internet presence, Digg was already on the way down when the DiggBar was launched. This misstep didn’t help.

Twitter's QuickBar becomes #DickBar

Short lived but universally reviled, the QuickBar was included in an update to Twitter’s iOS app that inserted trending topics and promoted tweets into your timeline. Sounds reasonable for a company that makes its money from advertising? Not in 2011.

It was called “offensive” by Marco Arment, who decried the “nonsensical” lack of context in the feed (his full critique is well worth a read). The re-christened #DickBar lasted only a few weeks before it was pulled and Twitter went back to the drawing board to figure out how to make money.

Google Buzz became a little too buzz-worthy

Google’s been trying to crack social for yonks and before its latest success attempt we had Buzz.

Delivered under the radar as part of Gmail, Buzz allowed users to share all sorts of things such as photos, status updates and comments.

It was so much about sharing and connecting that it also shared publicly those contacts you most frequently connected with on Gmail.

Yes – a public record of all the people who you had been mailing and chatting who you shouldn’t have been mailing and chatting. Internet chatter about potential relationship catastrophes bloomed (although real world examples are difficult to find).

Google amended the system, but the damage had been done. In the face of user apathy, Buzz was killed after 18 months to allow the company to ‘focus’ on Google+ instead.

Apple Maps loses its way

While we’re still talking about the big dogs, let’s not let Apple off the hook.

Maps was vaunted as the killer feature of iOS 6. It took centre stage at Apple’s 2012 Keynote and was inarguably beautiful. It was perfect – apart from the fact that the maps were wrong.

Tumblrs instantly appeared showing bridges to nowhere and Ireland had plenty of Maps Fails of its very own.

The company didn’t technically roll back on Maps, but Tim Cook apologised and admitted that it wasn’t ready for primetime. Apple swiftly started to advertise mapping apps by third party developers on the App Store. The entire iOS community (and probably Apple) were relieved when Google Maps relaunched a few months later.

SOS Apple! Save Our ‘Save As’

Apple has sometimes been accused of dragging people kicking and screaming into the future whether we want to go or not. And thus it was with the Modern Document Model, otherwise known as the Where-is-the-Save-As-Option-Gone? model.

With OS X Lion, Apple killed the venerable Save As function that has been a staple of file management for over 20 years. The logic goes, why should we have to bother with something as archaic as saving? Shouldn’t that just happen without us having to worry about it?

Does it make sense to new users? Maybe. But what about the rest of us who grew up with the pain of lost data and are conditioned into saving our documents every five minutes?

With the release of OS X Mountain Lion, Apple sidestepped and provided new options for those of us who don’t trust our documents to automation.

And not only that, they included a secret trick – hold down the Option key with the File menu open and, boom! Our old friend Save As is back. (Cmd Option Shift S also works). Maybe it’s one for the power users, but it’s a roll back all the same.

XBox One... careful previous owner

How about a product feature that never even made it to market before the makers backtracked? Microsoft’s yet to be released console, XBox One, was initially going to be ‘always connected’ and appeared to be able restrict the resale of console games. Publishers, Microsoft said, would be allowed to opt out of allowing their games to be resold. As the saying goes, never get between a gamer and her ability to trade in old titles.

Microsoft was forced into several quick shimmies to avert the initial flurry of negative publicity. Games will now have no restrictions on resale.

So, what’s your New Coke of UX?

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