Reddit’s head of design on how the site was redesigned

Following the online forum being given a new look by its in-house design team, we speak to Diego Perez about what they were trying to achieve with the redesign, and the importance of community-led design projects.

Design Week: Tell us a bit about your role, and how Reddit’s design team is structured?

Diego Perez: As the head of design at Reddit, I’m responsible for leading and building the design discipline for the company, as well as the overall user experience (UX) of our products. My team is a multidisciplinary group of designers, artists, and researchers. Together, we’re delivering new experiences to Reddit’s more than 330 million monthly users, driving increases in user engagement and helping shape the company’s overall brand perception. We have people with many talents and passions on the team, which brings different perspectives to all the work that we do. As for the nuts and bolts, Reddit’s design team is organised into a number of smaller product and initiative-specific teams, headed up by a design leader that is responsible for the team’s goals and professional growth. We also have brand, creative and research teams that support our projects across the entire company – redesign and otherwise.

DW: Why did you decide to redesign the site?

DP: The redesign has been in discussion for quite some time. We haven’t updated the look and feel of our desktop website in about a decade, and the old Reddit was actually built on the same code that our CEO, Steve Huffman, wrote when he founded the site 12 years ago. Across the company, our goals for the redesign were to make the site more welcoming to all users and ensure that we can build and update the product much faster in the future. What has been missing from those conversations, however, was both a team that was up for the challenge and a clear direction to embark upon. When I joined the company about a year and a half ago, we quickly got to work understanding the existing website along with the pain points and opportunities for our users. Across the entire design team and the wider company, we spent a lot of time and energy visualising where Reddit could go, which informed our decisions throughout the redesign.

DW: Can you tell me about the process of the redesign, and why you’ve involved Reddit users?

DP: We started early on by visualising and defining what success would look like for the redesign, given our motivations and where the site was at the time. We had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to go, but had more questions than answers. So we cast a wide net in terms of design concepts and started testing them with a diverse group of people within the company, along with current users and people who had never used the site before. Our research team has taken that same approach to communicate with testers. They’ve relied on everything from user surveys and video calls to in-person office visits and on-the-ground canvassing throughout San Francisco. We even had the pleasure of visiting some of those early testers during last year’s first-ever “Mod Roadshow.” Getting to see and understand the different walks of life, perspectives, and personal values that our users derive from Reddit has been both gratifying and crucial as we’ve looked to build a better product.

DW: What are the most significant new design features?

DP: The most significant aspect of the redesign is all the work we’ve done to empower users to customise their experience on the site. A great example of this are our new community tools, which allow moderators to create unique identities for their communities in both form and function. You can see the same principle of customisation at work for users, as they can now choose between several viewing options: classic, compact or card view. This way, users can tailor their experience instead of having to adapt their behaviour to our design. Another big part of the redesign is our work evolving the brand. Our mascot, Snoo, has been on a journey as well. We now have a new brand universe that we’re using across all our products. We think the brand plays a big role in how we introduce people to the new Reddit.

DW: Why was it so important for you to introduce more choice for users?

DP: Reddit is a personal experience. How people spend their time on the site and within its communities is very different from one user to the next. The kind of community you’re browsing, your role within it, your physical location, and even the device that you’re browsing from can heavily influence your experience and needs. Whether we’re talking about moderators, new users, “lurkers” or even the uninitiated, a user’s experience on Reddit is completely dependent upon context. That said, context was a really important consideration as we built the guiding principles for the redesign. We wanted to build a site that was approachable, inclusive, personal and human. To do that required building choice and customisation into the product.

DW: Do you think that community-led projects such as Mozilla’s rebrand by Johnson Banks are something than can be successful more widely?

DP: Absolutely, and I’m fascinated by the range of concepts that were part of that rebrand. It was certainly the right approach for us, as we’re always learning from our users. We acknowledged very early on that our users brought the product to life for many years. They’ve come up with creative hacks to deal with the lack of features and grew communities from the ground up. We knew that success would depend on their direct involvement. Our team came into the project with a clearly defined perspective, but throughout this process we’ve adapted and been open to the ideas and needs of our community. We established a good foundation for the site by defining our basic building blocks in terms of information hierarchy, typography, and base user interface (UI) components. This allowed us to better collaborate with our community when working on features.

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