Tom Bracher
Tom Bracher 12 June 2018

Social networks are getting less graphically diverse: why?

The role Starbucks and Whole Foods played in boosting hip neighbourhoods, as well as Ikea’s contribution to city apartments - seems to be rubbing off on the world of social media.

Platforms continue to ‘borrow’ looks and functionality from one another and build towards a design concept that encourages a user-friendly interface, which means graphical diversity among different platforms has started to decrease.

So why is this an issue? 

Do businesses benefit from uniformity?

From a social platforms perspective, it’s understandable to want to inherit user interface aspects from other platforms, as most people use more than one social platform.

Improvements in usability and design are fundamental in many fields: consider the useful headphone slot on a backpack for instance, which came along after we became addicted to our personal music players. 

On top of that, most toothbrushes seemed to an introduce a ‘tongue cleaner’ at one stage; and white headphones became standard practice as a result of Apple’s famous ‘silhouette’ adverts.

Twitter said that the decision to move from the star-shaped ‘favourite’ to the heart-shaped ‘like’ was based on being “more expressive”. However, it could be that the decision was taken as the heart is a less ambiguous symbol than the star: and people are more likely to use something that they can make sense of and understand clearly.

This would indicate that changes to user experience are being determined by the behaviour of the user: from how they respond, to what they enjoy using. The primary indicator of showing appreciation or a ‘like’ for something is now determined through either a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘heart’ icon.

Profile head shots are another great example, with most now displayed in a circular frame. There are a number of reasons put forward as to why this happened, including “clearly helping users distinguish other users from content,” to “incentive users to use actual head shots as profile pictures”, as described by Mills Baker and other designers in Quora.

Experimenting at the margins

With uniformity growing in this way, there is a market for trying something different. Take for instance, a social network that’s intentionally designed to oppose the standard design elements of the bigger social platforms.

“I think a lot of current social networks don’t put enough trust in the user to think for themselves and in a way - they overdo it in terms of the style, the colours, the language–you notice a lot of sites that use this real jokey and playful language,” explains Co-founder Chris Sherron.

Users may also suffer as a result of a lack of graphical diversity, as their opportunity to share different ideas and emotion becomes restricted. If our only option is to ‘like’ everything, we struggle to differentiate between the things we care deeply about and other smaller things we take a liking to on a daily basis.

Studies have suggested that a high ‘like’ rate on social media accounts contributes to overall happiness, which suggests posting to each channel could become formulaic. In other words, it’s an easy way of seeking a quick fix during some downtime, instead of being a true expression of how we feel.

And as the algorithms behind the content suggested to users continue to be optimized with similar engagement-driven metrics, “the like button is the most mindless thing you could possibly do,” says Chris Barley, another co-founder with a background in architecture. Indeed, the company’s tag line is “spend less time ‘liking’ and more time thinking.

Where to next?

Platforms seem to be dedicating more of their time to the digital world’s they’ve created in 2018, which means they may end up noticing just how much of their design features and elements have been crowd sourced. Our experiences in the digital world continue to merge into a mass social interaction.

This could hold some worth and relevance to both marketers and advertisers, as well as users. Marketing teams are advised to come up with social strategies for each platform they work with, but as they start to look increasingly similar to one another we could see a lack of diversity in social strategies - which in turn adds to the problem of content being too repetitive or too similar.

As social networks sole responsibility from a business perspective is to build on engagement, how can we be sure graphical diversity will contribute to the right kind of engagement and interaction with social audiences?

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