Throwing Out the Comfy Old Couch: Avoiding Pitfalls of a Product Redesign

Avi Muchnick (Aviary, inc)
Design & UI, Product Management
Location: New York West Level:
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 2 ratings)


I have created a number of internet companies and products in my 13+ years on the web, including and I have learned a ton from mistakes on various levels (partnerships, hiring, product design and more). One particular area I want to focus on is an area I think lots of businesses across the spectrum can learn from: Redesigning a product that is used by a loyal, rabid audience. I made and learned from many mistakes during various product redesigns and would like to pass the knowledge forward so others planning to launch new product versions won’t make the same mistakes.


This talk will cover many mistakes made while redesigning a popular product and strategies for overcoming them. The target audience will be startup founders, members of small business teams (both for enterprise-level and medium-sized) tasked with conjuring up new products.


Some examples of mistakes I will cover:

  • Stealth mode is for suckers

Discuss your relaunch plans with key members of your community before doing it. You need to see how people react to the change conceptually. Surprising your community with a massive upgrade they had no intimate say is in, is like surprising your girlfriend with an engagement ring she didn’t pick out. Lots can go wrong.

  • Don’t assume that conceptual feedback has real world application

People may love the idea of an upgraded feature and give you that positive feedback but beware: until they start using it for a period of a couple of weeks might find that it feels alien to them over time in an unquantifiable way, even if it is clearly better than the old version. I call this the Comfy Old Couch Conundrum. Users will almost always prefer the comfy old couch, stains and all, to the newer store model with built-in recliners.

  • The dangers of ignoring your users emotional ties to your product. Aka Replacing the comfy old couch.

Designing from scratch versus adding to existing infrastructure. Sometimes you just need to overhaul your system from scratch. What do you do then to avoid the emotional devastation of throwing around someone’s couch?

  • The dangers of always listening to your users

Sometimes you do know what’s best for your userbase. What do you do then to have as seamless a transition as possible? Examples cited: Facebook, Paypal, Worth1000

  • Never allowing panic and deadlines to cut corners in the process

The remodel process is an intricate being and requires a considerable amount of time, resources and user communication. Feeling like you need to hit certain milestones should not force you to cut corners and talk to less users (for example). This will cover examples including external sites that left out key portions of process. Examples: Myspace

  • The ideal transition plan

How do you get your users comfortable enough with the old platform to switch over to the new? There has to be a clean transition plan in place that affords them time to experiment with the new system, feel like their peers are comfortable with the new system and finally, like they aren’t giving up access to the old system.

  • The importance of a rollback plan

Myspace and Digg rolled out new versions without having a way to roll things back. When it was clear that they were shedding users by the thousands, they were stuck.

  • When is the right time to redesign a product?

An investor once asked me why I hadn’t changed a products homepage over the course of 9 months since he invested, as if that’s just standard course. You don’t change a product simply because you haven’t changed it recently. You change it when it needs to be changed. If it isn’t broke you don’t touch it. Examples cited: Digg, Drudgereport, Reddit

  • And some more…
Photo of Avi Muchnick

Avi Muchnick

Aviary, inc

Avi Muchnick is an artist, author and serial entrepreneur based in NYC with a background in business, law, design and programming. His personal mission is to empower others to make the world a better-looking place.

He has founded several awesome startups focusing on creativity including Worth1000 and Aviary, backed by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Reid Hoffman, Spark Capital and some other really accomplished folks.

Avi holds a JD from Cardozo School of Law (2004) which he has happily never used a day in his life and a Bachelor’s degree from Queens College (2001), where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the campus newspaper .

MIT’s Technology Review named him one of the Top 35 innovators under 35 (2010).

Awards his projects have won:

  • SXSW Interactive: Technical Achievement Award (2009)
  • CES Best of Show: NYC Startup Classic (2009)
  • CNet’s Webware 100 (2008+2009)
  • PC Magazine: Top 100 Websites (2007)

His proudest accomplishments to date:

  • His 3 awesome children and the understanding startup wife who helps keep the trains running on time at home.
  • The Pentagon issued a statement distancing themselves from obviously photoshopped pictures of Saddam Hussein uploaded to Worth1000 .
  • He has authored, edited and helped publish 3 books on graphic design.
  • He has helped thousands of people hone their creativity, sharpen their skills and in some cases find new careers, friends and even marriages based around their passion to create wonderful things.
  • Visa
  • IBM
  • HP
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • dynaTrace
  • EffectiveUI
  • Elastic Path
  • FireHost
  • IBT
  • Litle & CO
  • Plimus
  • Quest Software
  • Research In Motion
  • SoftLayer
  • Yottaa

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(415) 947-6306

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