Facebook reveal the user testing behind the new News Feed design

A blog post from Facebook this week gave us a glimpse of the user research methodology the company uses.

Changes to the Facebook news feed are always controversial with users, even when it was first introduced back in 2006. With the latest update beginning to roll-out, Jane Justice Leibrock has posted about some of the research methods they used when designing the new look.

Facebook news feed promo

Promo shot of the new look Facebook news feed

The team adopted a tried and trusted method of printing digital content out onto paper, and then getting users to sort it. Jane’s post includes pictures featuring the kind of post-it notes that can frequently be found rattling around the bottom of my bag.

Facebook user experience blog post

Jane Justice Leibrock’s post on Facebook

There’s a lovely quote from her about the joy of doing user research:

“Research participants often tell me they’re surprised to learn it’s the job of someone at Facebook to speak directly with people, instead of only analyzing metrics, and one of the most rewarding parts of my job is observing the satisfaction participants get from my listening to them.”

Facebook are nothing if not data-driven though, and Jane explains that:

“A look at our data showed that the stories people click, like, and comment on the most are actually the very stories they said they wanted the ability to filter out: page posts, stories about songs and games, and stories friends liked or commented on.”

Interesting to note that a lot of recent noise about the news feed has been from marketing people and journalists angry that not every fan gets every post put under their noses, when the users themselves are telling Facebook that is exactly what they don’t want.

Jane Justice Leibrock makes a brilliant point in her post, about how listening to users in sessions like this can only ever be part of the design process, not deliver complete solutions:

“I didn’t simply ask people which feeds they’d like to see, because as any user experience researcher knows, it’s very difficult for people to predict what they’ll end up liking. Instead I needed to come up with a way for people to show me — not tell me — which feeds would be valuable.”

And you have to be careful about what you allow yourself to hear:

“Stopping at literal interpretations is one of the easiest ways to end up with a product that fails to benefit the people whom it’s built for.”

I always think it is important, when users are suggesting a diverse range of feature requests, to try and listen beyond the specific requests, and to determine the original problem that needs solving.

You can read the full post by Jane Justice Leibrock at “User Experience Lab: How we designed a new News Feed using your feedback

There’s been a lot less attention around recently announced changes to Timeline. But maybe, with increased mobile usage, that is because the changes don’t seem so radical. When I saw them posted by Vadim Lavrusik, I was looking on my phone, and the screenshot he included showed a view of Timeline that I seldom see myself.

Vadim Lavrusik announces changes to Timeline

Vadim Lavrusik announces changes to Timeline

Their fourth quarter stats revealed that mobile use out-stripped web use, and I think for a lot of users, the single column Timeline view is the one they encounter most of the time anyway.

My Facebook timeline on mobile

My personal Facebook timeline on mobile

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