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We’ve been running the site satisfaction survey on Stack Overflow since 2019. Since its creation, the Stack Overflow audience has told us that Stack Overflow’s design is a pain point—stating that the design is outdated, cluttered, messy, and unintuitive.

It’s clear that many users aren’t happy with some aspects of our design. We acknowledge we have made some missteps in recent design changes, and that our power user experience is very different from the reader experience.

So starting this month, we are going to kick off research to learn more. This research is to better understand those differences from a design standpoint so that we can try to better meet user (including power user) expectations.

Research Thread One: Navigation

We will run a mixed-method research study to capture the pain points of navigating our sites and products, and then work toward creating an improved navigation model.

The main goals of the study are to:

  • Assess the current navigation experience: Find out how users currently navigate Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, and Collectives.
  • Discover different user intent: understand users' goals, needs, and pain points or challenges.
  • Understand our users' mental models (users’ ideas of how the navigation is supposed to work): Determine whether our websites’ grouping, naming, and iconography conventions make sense to users.
  • Optimize the current navigation experience: Determine the best navigation experience for our various segments and platforms (mobile and desktop).

Participants

We plan to talk to readers, active users, and site moderators during this study.

Tools

This in-depth study will include:

  • Interviews

  • card sorting:

    Card sorting is a technique in user experience design in which a person tests a group of subject experts or users to generate a dendrogram (category tree) or folksonomy.

  • tree testing:

    Tree testing is a usability technique for evaluating the findability of topics in a website.

Scope

This study will look primarily at global navigation and how Stack Overflow, Stack Exchange, and Collectives connect.

Research Thread Two: Interface Design

As designers and researchers, we have an idea of what we dislike about Stack Overflow’s user interface, but what is most important to us is to learn what our users don’t like.

Questions we are asking during this study

  • We want to know what our users mean when they say that our design is “outdated” or “messy”
  • We want to know what you like or dislike about products you use so that we can better align with your expectations of good design (or a great user experience)

Scope

We want to gather data to inform future attempts to modernize the design in a way that takes into account user feedback.

How can I participate?

We know words like “modernization” or “redesign” may make people uncomfortable, but the goal of this research is to gather data regarding what is not working in the UI design so that we can make the site easier to use for all.

If you are interested in participating in this research, please sign up to be a part of our research pool. To better represent the developer landscape – according to our 2022 developer survey – we are hoping to get participants who identify as neurodiverse to sign up for research, but all are welcome!

In addition, we will be running a similar survey across the network some time in December. We hope you will find the time to participate.

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  • 3
    Will we again be limiting research to users who are willing to participate in interviews?
    – Kevin B
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:19
  • 6
    @Bella, These are some of the previous "new navigation" efforts, from before 2018: meta.stackexchange.com/q/251095/282094 meta.stackexchange.com/q/256814/282094 meta.stackexchange.com/q/300829/282094 and the most famous: meta.stackexchange.com/q/307862/282094
    – Rob
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:28
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    @Rob hopefully the project manager won't retire this time, taking the project to the grave in the process. Dec 5, 2022 at 16:37
  • 18
    @KevinB No, we will not limit research to users willing to participate in interviews; we will also conduct a survey(coming soon) in which anyone can participate and provide feedback. :)
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Dec 5, 2022 at 16:37
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    Is the research pool specifically for Stack Overflow, or other sites as well? Dec 5, 2022 at 16:42
  • 7
    @ThomasMarkov It is intended for use on Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange sites.
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Dec 5, 2022 at 17:32
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    @PChemGuy hopefully users who identify as neurodiverse do know what neurodiverse actually means. While it doesn't really matter whether users who don't identify themselves as neurodiverse know the meaning of the word or not. So, the expectation is exceptionally tame, IMO. Besides, there are many words. The chance of encountering an unfamiliar one should be happening at high enough rate to not be surprising.
    – VLAZ
    Dec 7, 2022 at 11:56
  • 30
    "stating that the design is outdated, cluttered, messy, and unintuitive" I found this really surprising and hard to believe, until I tried opening this page in Incognito. Sidebar, giant header bar, cookies popup, even a special welcome box above the Featured meta box. Stuff everywhere, it's crazy. Hide all that stuff by default as well as Featured, Linked, Related and HNQ and it might not be so insane for new users.
    – Clonkex
    Dec 7, 2022 at 22:17
  • 3
    @Rob also more recent 'design update' efforts (which relied heavily on community debugging even of basic style changes just to get the site back to a usable state): New post summary designs on site home pages and greatest hits now; everywhere else eventually, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/372049/…
    – pilchard
    Dec 8, 2022 at 9:37
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    @VLAZ Neurodiverse makes sense to describe a group, but people who know what neurodiverse means are unlikely to identify as neurodiverse. Neurodivergent, neurominority, or more specific terms like autistic, dyslexic and threat – it'd make sense for people to identify with things like that. But calling people "diverse"… either it's a mix-up resulting from terminological similarity (likely), or it's a sign of tokenism.
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 9, 2022 at 23:40
  • 3
    Is it ok to post broad feedback on current pain points here, and to resurface past feature requests? Dec 14, 2022 at 3:08
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    Having been involved in previous UI/UX research with Stack Overflow - I had a really productive Zoom call with an SO researcher that was a lot of fun, I can definitely recommend getting involved with stuff like this.
    – DavidG
    Dec 15, 2022 at 16:00
  • 5
    That is awesome to hear @DavidG :) Thank you so much for sharing this feedback!
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Dec 15, 2022 at 17:03
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    Oh, PLEEZE don't hide Featured! If you did that, we'd hardly get any meta interaction on our crawling-along community! I'd say it's one of the most, if not the most, important thing in view.
    – n00dles
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:21
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    I hope we will see something which helps people find the "Ask Question" button. Absolutely everybody finds the "Post Your Answer" button just fine. It is used for commenting, for asking new questions, for asking clarification questions, for asking related questions.... So many NAA flags could be avoided (I am convinced), if the "Ask Question" button would be right next to the "Post Your Answer" button; maybe with siblings "Ask related Question", "Ask clarification Question", "I want to support this Question to encourage answerers".
    – Yunnosch
    Dec 22, 2022 at 9:22

7 Answers 7

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Think of a terminal application. A terminal is outdated, boring, and doesn't have any pictures and animations. Young people constantly complain about that and get excited by anything that they think makes it more modern, like color prompts, ligature fonts, image support, transparency effects and so on, but in the end they stick with faster and simpler and less buggy terminal emulators instead, because they work.

Stack Exchange for me is the benchmark of usability, navigation and eye please. Although I fully understand that there might be pain points for some users regarding navigation or you may hear people complaining about SO/SE design being outdated or boring and I understand that things can be improved with some careful study and hard work, my main concern is that you do not break what already works and works best in the world. Just go to any other popular social platform out there to see what a visual mess and bad navigation it may actually be if you think SO is not perfect.

Redesign for modernity plagues desktop systems; think of what happens with GNOME or Windows for example. In the end, they usually go in circles adding and removing rounded corners, borders and other things, making things more flat or adding volume again, randomly changing navigation patterns confusing new and power users alike. They must be having the same complaints from the users as you do. Maybe those users are just bored?

This must be a fundamental problem. A good design tends to simplicity and simplicity makes boring looks. Apple's answer to this problem, I guess, is to throw in more good-looking icons and fonts and those they make are really good and probably very expensive to design.

I do not know why I am answering this. There wasn't any actual question asked, but I think I just cannot stand aside when I hear a scary "redesign" word in regards to Stack Overflow. What I think really confused me is that you stated two scopes at once; isn't it good to focus on a single problem at once? On the other hand, the tools you mentioned give some confidence that this is not going to be anything stupid. So I think, if I will find time, I will participate and I encourage others to do so as well!

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    I agree with this. What's more is that the effort/money poured into redesign might be used for something else, more related to the site functionality than the aspect.
    – Alexei
    Dec 10, 2022 at 22:03
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    Try viewing the site while logged out and in Incognito/Private/InPrivate Mode. It's a lot worse than when you're logged in and all the garbage is gone. That stupid pop up about cookies alone is beyond annoying. Not saying you're wrong; just saying be aware that SO has already gone down the rabbit hole of over complicating.
    – jpmc26
    Dec 13, 2022 at 4:03
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    "Redesign for modernity" ...never mind round/square corners… at least let users be able to see where one window ends & the next begins. MS really scr£wed the pooch on that one :\
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 14, 2022 at 16:07
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    My worry exactly. Don't try to fix it if it's not broke, coz you may break it.
    – n00dles
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:25
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    I mean... currently, unless you have the left bar always shown (which isn't a thing in mobile) getting to non-paid product pages via the nav menu is a pain. The current nav is designed (on SO at least) to draw your attention away from your current site and to paid products. If a new nav can somehow make that less intrusive i'm all for it.
    – Kevin B
    Dec 21, 2022 at 15:44
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    +1 for "... just go to any other popular social platform out there to see what a visual mess and bad navigation it may actually be ..." ... All I can say is, holy crap that's true. Dec 22, 2022 at 16:38
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    Stack Exchange for me is the benchmark of usability, navigation and eye please. That is far from being true. Too much exaggeration
    – Begueradj
    Dec 22, 2022 at 18:50
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    @Begueradj since it is an entirely subjective, personal opinion of the author, I am sure it is true. You might disagree, or even the entire world apart from exebook might disagree, but that doesn't make the statement untrue.
    – terdon
    Jan 2, 2023 at 0:25
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Thank you for announcing this research effort.

I'm very curious to learn what the SE design team already dislikes about the current design.

My reason for asking this is that I'm curious to see if the points the designers dislike align with the views of the community. Mostly to pre-emptively avoid any possible bias in conducting the research, not saying the team is biased in any way shape or form, but solely to make this clear beforehand.

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    Actually to avoid systematic bias, the SE design team should not report their current opinions about the UI/UX.
    – tdy
    Dec 8, 2022 at 0:56
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    @tdy I think you very much overestimate the reach of MSE
    – Luuklag
    Dec 8, 2022 at 6:55
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    We have similar thoughts as reported by the community (cluttered, dated, etc.), and have ideas of what we could do. When we design, we want to have a solution to a problem in mind, not just assumptions. That's why we are doing this research; to validate what we know or don't know. But as @tdy is saying, we can't reveal what those are or it would bias participants of this research who might read this post.
    – scoso
    Dec 8, 2022 at 15:18
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    I understand your concerns, although I perceive the risk differently, @scoso. Would it be fair to ask that you share your original ideas and how they were influenced from the survey once the survey has concluded? I think it is important to know to what extent the perception of SE the company aligns or differs from that of SE the community.
    – Luuklag
    Dec 8, 2022 at 16:53
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    Pre-registration of these sorts of things is really useful, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you could make a deleted question (only visible to employees, moderators and the OP, iirc) and write up your current ideas there, to only release when this research phase is over?
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 9, 2022 at 23:45
  • Anyone with sufficient rep could view a deleted answer. Better write it doen somewhere more private if you are concerned about people reading things @wizzwizz4.
    – Luuklag
    Dec 10, 2022 at 6:34
  • @Luuklag Deleted questions behave differently to deleted answers (iirc).
    – wizzwizz4
    Dec 10, 2022 at 16:56
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    @wizzwizz4 their harder to find, bt anyone could access it, given they know the question ID, which could simply be done by sequentially browsing to all posts. Not really an effective way, but not impossible, given the pretty low volume of posts here on MSE
    – Luuklag
    Dec 10, 2022 at 20:13
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Please stop adding needless whitespace!

Stack Overflow is a tool. I care more whether I can easily change the direction of my cordless drill than what colour it is. I care more about how much information I can see in Stack Overflow than whether it looks pretty.

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    I agree, website is fine as it is. It doesn't need revolutions
    – Vland
    Dec 16, 2022 at 14:15
  • I hope they take on board meta.stackexchange.com/a/367616/222623 of which they have made no progress on yet.
    – grg
    Dec 23, 2022 at 13:05
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Please keep in mind that the target audience of SO specifically has a very large amount of users working with professional GUI design. So there will be a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions about GUI. Just dig through "meta hell", the all-time most down-voted questions of this site and you'll find that a fair amount of them are about GUI changes.

Also, my personal experience from product design is that when it comes to features & functionality, technical details etc, not many users have opinions. Because these require some technical and/or product user experience. But when you ask people about shapes and colors, then you open the flood gates: suddenly everyone and their mother can and will have lots of opinions.

My point here: I'm sure there are ways to improve the GUI/navigation of the site further, but please don't launch some project just for the sake of changing things.

I'm sure there are a lot of higher priority projects. Some examples: solving the problems with review and flag queues, review audits, protection against spammer and DDoS attacks, turning the meta sites into something actually suitable for discussion and so on.

I've lost count of all the GUI changing projects over the years. Side bars, top bars, responsive design, etc., etc. User profiles and the bookmark system were very recently overhauled.

The site used to look like this, for crying out loud:

Enter image description here

(Source: https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2008/09/15/stack-overflow-launches/)

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    (Regarding strong opinions about GUI, I personally hate monochrome icons, aka "I bet you can never guess what this button does!"/"Here is the proof that even Windows 3.11 had pretty nice icons"... but that's just me...)
    – Lundin
    Dec 14, 2022 at 14:32
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    Wow… IDEA! We should go back to the old design for a week… Just for kicks!
    – n00dles
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:31
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    This old design is actually pretty good. Just the information we need, no cOoL lOoKiNg stuff. Jan 2, 2023 at 17:14
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Can we end the war on width? While the current design is 'fine' on 1080p, the use of space on higher resolution screens - like the UHD screens I use at home is inefficient. While I do realise there's a lot of smart people who found there's only so many words one can read per line, what I'd love to do is enlarge my 'view' (using my browser zoom) so there's more space used and the words are bigger but not squished into the same width normal sized letters are.

While my eyesight isn't 'that' bad, this helps me read more easily as a dyslexic person.

With things like the left sidebar, rather than using 'more' of the page, it took a nibble off the center panel with the actual content. Likewise, the sticky, non optional top bar eats up space that isn't needed when reading contents.

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  • I can imagine how this looks on UHD. Even with my WQXGA it's a pain using only 30% of screen space. Split screen is fine though.
    – DiMithras
    Dec 27, 2022 at 11:23
  • Great point, let's unsticky the top bar, or make it optional! Oh wait... Dec 30, 2022 at 21:09
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Issues with the latest survey

  • Where's the "Previous Page" option?

    enter image description here

  • In one of the questions, selecting the second last option should unselect all the other options right? But that doesn't seem to happen.

    enter image description here

  • "I search using sing..."? Please correct the mistake.

    enter image description here

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    The survey is a platform that SE dosen't run themselves. No idea if they can edit things after the fact but yeah, the typo and inability to go back/review's a bit annoying. Jan 26, 2023 at 9:12
  • @JourneymanGeek Yeah... let's see if staff can fix the issues. Jan 26, 2023 at 10:31
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    Thanks for letting us know. The team is working on resolving these issues. :) We have removed the survey from the post.
    – Bella_Blue StaffMod
    Jan 26, 2023 at 14:05
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Can we get the option to remove the right side panel in yellowish colour? It is somewhat distracting at times I want to focus on work.

Also, give us the ability to remove the all the right side panel, and rather have the linked and related posts on the bottom, so that, the main body is centrally aligned (after removing the left side panels from settings).

Now, since we have more space, can we also get the option to expand the width of the main body? I don't mind the width as it is but sometimes the code is very wide and I do not like to keep on scrolling to read the whole line each time.

What I really want is a distraction free environment to simply look at the question and answers.

As a beginner, I spend a lot of time on this website (but don't usually contribute). In this regard, I also want to upvote posts but I cannot do it without enough reputation points.

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