There has been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook and privacy. Users are angry, upset, and concerned that Facebook is exposing their private information without their consent.
JP Mangalindan from Fortune.com recently contacted me and asked me and several other User Experience professionals and designers how we would redesign Facebook’s privacy settings (if you want to jump ahead and see the end result, view his article here). I then started working on what turned out to be an incredibly challenging design problem. I quickly learned that creating a safe and secure environment on the popular social network while still accomplishing Facebook’s desire to increase information sharing is easier said than done.
The challenges include needing to thoroughly understand the current privacy concerns, what needs user have to address these concerns, and how to design an interface that not only puts a new face on the current system, but addresses deeper issues with how privacy is integrated into the user experience.
So, how do you go about solving these problems?
The process I went through can be broken down into a series of steps, which mirror a typical User Experience Design process. Many believe it’s easy to jump to creating a visual design, but by going through the User Experience process, many ideas can be analyzed and iterated upon before committing to a high fidelity solution.
In this post, I will discuss the first three steps in the process that involve research and strategy. The next post in this series will explore the final three steps showing how I arrived at the final design solution.
I started by engrossing myself in as much information as possible regarding Facebook’s privacy settings and the issues users have with its implementation. There have been thousands of articles written about this issue in the past few weeks alone.
From what I read, some key trends emerged:
In addition to user concerns, I also looked into Facebook’s approach to privacy and what they’re trying to achieve as a business. While much of Facebook’s strategy is still unknown, what I found included:
While my solutions ultimately focused more on user needs, I wanted to create a flexible solution that still allowed opportunities to encourage increased information sharing.
The research I collected led me to focus on two primary types of privacy issues prevalent on Facebook today:
The next step was to define some key changes that need to be made on Facebook in order to address the two primary issues listed above. It would be easy to state “Just make it simpler!” and redesign the privacy settings page to expose different ways of managing your settings. However, my research exposed that privacy on Facebook needs to be treated as a system of multiple interconnected pieces. Focusing only on redesigning the privacy settings page would not solve some of the core issues that people have understanding and managing their privacy.
The strategy I followed focused around three key themes:
I then focused on specific ways of addressing the two key problems identified above.
Ways to address unwanted public disclosure of information:
Ways to address the difficult management of social networks:
With a defined direction and an understanding of the high-level elements that would be incorporated into the redesign, I was ready to start figuring out how these ideas manifested themselves in Facebook’s interface.
I should note that ideally, at this stage in the process as well as during the design ideation phases that follow, these concepts should be validated with end users and tested to gauge value and understanding. Also, the ideas need to be discussed with the business. Without this, there is the risk of going down a path that ultimately will not be successful. This project is more of a proof of concept than an actual recommended solution as a result.
The next post will explore the rest of the process in more detail, including how the strategy I have described translated into an interface.