“First off, we love Facebook,” says Daniel Chin Yee. But (you knew there’d be a but), “we feel like there are some missed opportunities in the UI.” The cluttered feed, for one. Also: The styling, which, with its no-nonsense typography and its orgy of blue, looks utilitarian at best, dated at worst. “The design gets the job done, but it requires that the user do work, and the process is slower than it needs to be,” Chin Yee says.
Thus was born Octofeed, a website that pulls the particulars of your Facebook page and organizes them into a neat, unapologetically stylish two-column feed. Gone is the lefthand sidebar, with the unnecessary list of apps and groups and favorites. So too is the (even less necessary) Twitter-like feed in the upper righthand corner. And, refreshingly, there is no Facebook blue.
So what’s left? Not a whole lot, and that’s the point. Chin Yee, a programmer, and his wife Jennifer Puno, an interaction designer, divided Facebook into two sections–a wall and a feed–each of which can be accessed by clicking a large button at the top of the page. From there, all you see are extra-large photos, videos, and link descriptions in the lefthand column; and metadata on the right. A ragbag of typefaces (including Lorimer No. 2 Condensed, Georgia, Verdana, Chunk Five, and Calgary Script) and abstract icons for sharing and “liking” lend the page its rakish good looks.
In a way, Octofeed takes Facebook’s design ethos–which emphasizes visual and temporal storytelling to create an emotionally charged UI–and distills it down to its essence. “At its core, interacting with a UI is really just a series of decisions,” Chin Yee says. “Since we think of UI interaction as a series of decisions, we wanted to redesign the feed to reduce the number of decisions overall and simplify the ones that remain. Fewer, easier decisions make your brain happy.”
Here, Chin Yee takes us through Octofeed’s other key differences:
“One of the decisions you continuously make is where to focus your attention first. On Facebook.com, text color is used to categorize information types, but size and typeface aren’t used as effectively. On Octofeed, we bump up the size and change the font on text that we think should be emphasized. This helps you locate or ignore information elements more quickly.”
“Although different types of information on Facebook.com are grouped, the groups are positioned in a way that makes the information run together. Octofeed tries to be more explicit about separating content types, both in positioning and visual style. Photos, videos, and link description/summaries are on the left, metadata is on the right.”
“Another decision you continuously make is whether to pursue an interaction further. We simplify this process by selectively displaying information up front to help you make that decision or avoid the decision entirely. For example, we make photos as big as possible and we avoid cropping them. Showing a higher resolution photo means you don’t have to enlarge it yourself to inspect some detail that gets lost in a small image. Not cropping the photo means that you don’t have to expand it to see what you’re missing.”
“YouTube and Vimeo videos play automatically so you don’t have to decide whether to watch them based on a tiny thumbnail (unless you don’t have flash enabled). By the time you’ve finished reading the description of the video, the video is already playing, but muted until you click it. If multiple videos are in view, unmuting one will mute all the others. If you don’t want to watch the video you can just keep scrolling. Once it’s out of view, it will stop playing.”
“Another area we focused significant energy on was making the layout adapt to any window size you throw at it. Photos and videos are scaled appropriately to make use of your screen real estate. The layout switches to single-column mode when you make your window skinny (perfect for phones).”
Octofeed is still a work in progress. It doesn’t include notifications (those are coming soon). And only recently did Chin Yee and Puno add a small speaker icon and help message on videos to clarify how the audio-player works. The goal here isn’t to replace Facebook, anyway.
“The idea is for Octofeed to complement your Facebook experience,” Chin Yee says. But as more people hear about the site–and realize how much easier it is to navigate–it stands to reason that they’ll start checking their Octofeeds before their Facebook pages. At minimum, Octofeed offers a seductive glimpse of what Facebook could be if the social media giant set loose all those talented designers it has sitting around. Hope Zuck and friends are taking note.