A look at the new book page experience.
The day we thought would never come is here — Goodreads is actually working on updating its design. I recently went onto the website after a few months of not using it, and I was surprised by this notification:
As the popup notification says, the design is still being rolled out and we may see more improvements being made.
To those not familiar with Goodreads, it is a social website for readers, where you can track your reading, make lists, write reviews, connect with other readers and find recommendations. The website was launched in 2007 (founded in 2006), with a mobile app launching in 2010. It got acquired by Amazon in 2013, and apparently had 90 million registered users as of 2019.
The website in particular is notorious for its poor, outdated user experience which looks like they haven’t updated their layout since launching. The last redesign of the homepage was actually in 2016, from what I could find out on the website itself. Despite being plagued by usability issues, it still remains the dominant reading tracker website, even though arguably better products exist. Many articles have covered the numerous problems with Goodreads, such as this one by Daley Wilhelm.
I’ve been using Goodreads since 2013, and I have to admit there is a certain amount of nostalgia that I feel whenever I use it. That’s probably why I’ve learnt to live with the poor user experience, as others have as well. I’ve tried to use other products such as StoryGraph, which is easier to use and minimalist in design, but it didn’t strike the same chord, and felt a bit uninspired in terms of visual design.
So when I saw that Goodreads are working on implementing a new design, I thought, it’s about time.
My second thought however was to wonder whether getting rid of the nerdy 2000s nostalgia-look might lead to the “charm” being lost.
You might wonder what on earth I’m talking about. Many users might feel that the UX and UI of Goodreads is hot garbage, and they’re right. I think users who used it way back when it gained popularity, that is the late 2000s and early 2010s, it captures the feeling of browsing your local bookshop for the latest young adult novel, autumn atmosphere outside, sitting in your room over the holidays and seeing how many books in the series you can finish. My bookshelves on Goodreads of the time are reflective of my (rather embarrassing) taste during this period.
It’s obvious that the designers over at Goodreads have quite the challenge on their hands. On the one hand, there’s no doubt that the UI and UX need to be updated to be of this decade; also with so many features which are hard to use and harder to discover, the platform would need to perform not only a thorough UX audit but also a re-evaluation of its features and information architecture. With 90 million users, there should be a wealth of data available to them which they can use to figure out what to keep and improve, and what to throw out.
On the other hand (is there really an “on the other hand”, you ask) they haven’t improved or changed much since launching and they still have millions of users; could a redesign lead to the charm and nostalgic-inducing feeling being lost to a sterile look and feel, and perhaps leading to Goodreads finally losing its dominance?
You would think that a redesign could only be an improvement, but sometimes a redesign could lead to some aspect, which is not immediately obvious or deemed important, being lost. A lot of the “redesign of Goodreads” exercises on Dribbble and elsewhere, have this problem of creating designs which have merit, but also the charm.
It’s a bit like a new extension being added to an old historic building — if done badly and with the wrong intentions, it looks like an eye sore. If done right with consideration for what exists and the surrounding spaces, it can create harmony and even help to uplift the surrounding spaces.
To be clear, it goes without saying that Goodreads needs an update to its UX and UI— but the challenge is bigger than just updating it to a modern-looking interface.
So it’s interesting to see which way a redesign of the Goodreads platform would go.
Bad user experience and nostalgic feelings aside, I’m still glad to see something is being updated. What has it improved though?
The redesign seems only focused on the book page for now, which is what you see when you select a book, and you’re taken to the detail page where you find an overview of the book and author, reviews, and recommendations for similar books. The beta version was actually available in May last year already. According to the notification seen in the image above, they’re still working on launching this new design.
This is what the book page looked like before the redesign (you may still encounter this version):
As you can see, it is cluttered by non-essential information, making the important information hard to distinguish and focus on. The information on the right is either unnecessary, of lesser importance or should be somewhere closer to the title (such as the ability to follow the author.) It’s also hard to distinguish between the sections at the bottom, because the heading text is the same size and not much white space is utilised.
One of the 10 usability heuristics for user interface design listed by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) is “Aesthetic and Minimalist Design” and it states that:
“Interfaces should not contain information that is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in an interface competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.” — 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design, Nielsen Norman Group
I would say that the above paragraph sums up the problem on pretty much every page on Goodreads, book page included. It’s something that we see in website design of the 90s and 2000s, which further shows how long it has been since Goodreads got a meaningful overhaul.
So let’s take a look at the new book page and see what improvements have been made:
Immediately obvious is the reduced information noise. We have a cleaner layout, more distinction between sections, and it’s easier to digest and navigate. The cramped two-column layout is finally gone, and you can scroll down to find the sections which previously lived side-by-side, competing for attention.
Improvements have also been made to the typography, making it easier to read smaller text, which previously felt heavy and cramped. Heading typography is bigger to better distinguish between sections.
It’s leaning more towards a clean minimalist look, but the branding remains the same, so the header with its logo and colours remain unchanged.
What I find that could perhaps be better is instead of scrolling down the page to discover further sections, a system of chips as filters, or tabs could help show a user what they can see on this page at a glance.