For the longest time, Facebook and its various technological tendrils, including WhatsApp and Instagram, have been a popular time killer at work. They're the sites and apps you flip to on your lunch break or when you can't stand looking at another Excel spreadsheet. Facebook, predictably, isn't content with filling these gaps in productivity. For the last few years, it's been pushing a version of Facebook called Workplace, which helps employees chat, collaborate and generally get stuff done.
It has, for the most part, looked and functioned just like Facebook. That was its biggest selling point, in fact -- the globe-spanning popularity of the social network meant that almost anyone could use it with minimal training. Starting this month, however, Facebook is taking a risk and rolling out a redesign that, well, makes Workplace a little less like Facebook.
The company teased the visual overhaul during its F8 developer conference in April. The biggest and most obvious change is the new navigation bar on the left-hand side of the screen, which now has three large circular icons: home, notifications and chat. Clicking on these will reveal a bunch of relevant shortcuts in a second slightly wider column.
Why the change? Well, the 'classic' Facebook design had a few drawbacks for enterprise customers. Almost half of them were using the old notification experience -- a tiny area in the top right-hand corner of the screen -- to figure out what they should be looking at next. Users would then click through or, more often, move their cursor to the left-hand rail to select the appropriate group or work chat. It was functional, but Facebook knew it could build something better and more efficient for users.
"For the world of work, we needed a slightly different emphasis on slightly different UI components," Kyle McGinn, Facebook's director of product for Workplace told Engadget.
The new left-hand navigation bar isn't hugely original. Many desktop applications, including email client Spark and note-taking app Bear, use a similar three-column system. For Facebook, though, it wasn't a simple decision. The London-based Workplace team needed to create "a better productive workflow," McGinn explained, without losing the powerful familiarity of classic Facebook. But whatever they changed would inevitably make the product less like its consumer sibling. The designers were also aware that the core Facebook site was being overhauled at the same time in San Francisco. The Workplace crew, therefore, had to balance its own ideas with two versions of the consumer-side social network.
"It was pretty difficult," McGinn said.