Every year or so, Facebook tend to roll out a new design and layout. These changes are always met with uproar from users and are eventually quietly accepted. The last major change was ‘Timeline’, which restructured profile pages into linear, narrative-style pages. Now, Facebook have made big changes to their news feed, events and group pages.

I don’t want to get angry about this for the sake of it, like many other Facebook users do whenever they are confronted with change. But when the update was added to my profile I was confronted by something horrifying: utterly unappealing new icons.

One of the great and timeless things about Facebook design is its simplicity. It has always relied upon a smooth and simple flat design with a colour scheme that has stayed more or less the same, that is, using different shades of blue and grey. These colours don’t distract the eye. This is effective because it allows the content you’re receiving to grab your attention (whether it’s a news article or Facebook’s new advertisement system).

The icons used to work well within this theme, appearing flat and consistent across Facebook’s many platforms. We can see this in the icons used on the Windows Phone app: they’re understated but functional, allowing users to get on with whatever it is they’re doing without creating a distraction.

Total overhaul

Now, however, the icons have been totally overhauled with soft shadows and new colours. That sounds great on paper, maybe even a welcome break from the monotonous, flat icons we’re used to. But the problem is that none of them are consistent and the icons are too small to actually look good. We have a whole mishmash of colours and shadow/gradient effects that are utterly wasted on these low resolution icons. Some of the icons look very similar to the old ones, whilst others look like they belong somewhere else entirely.

This is most acutely noticable in the icons for ‘groups’.

Lazy design work

It’s really lazy design work, and feels as if the designers did not realise or care that they were designing a whole set of icons rather than just a hodgepodge of random ones stuck together. Meanwhile, Facebook have stuck to their clean, minimalist philosophy with every other aspect of the new layout. Colour is great when used properly, but it feels like it’s wasted on these tiny icons and they actually feel like an annoyance compared to the rest of the design. They’re far too small and clumped together to make navigation anything more than an annoyance, forcing users to rely on more and more text-based signposts. It feels like a real step backwards.

The new design isn’t even consistent across platforms. The web update bar has the new style icons, whereas the mobile version is still the old, clean update bar. I’m sure Facebook are planning on releasing their horrible new design onto mobile soon, but either way, it’s lazy work to not even consider their cross-platform usage when designing.

Maybe Facebook should should stop purchasing start-up companies and thinking about their stock options so that they have more time to sort out more pressing issues: website functionality and end-user experience!

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