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How one small change made by twitter could make you love more.

“The more you hypothesise, experiment and explore every aspect of your product or website, the more you’ll understand your users, your empathy for the user will increase and your product or website will reflect that.”

Recently Twitter made a very small - yet arguably huge - change on their interface. No longer can you 'favourite' a tweet using the classic 'star' icon. Now to show your appreciation, you 'like' a tweet using a heart icon. What's happened to your favourites then? They've been converted to 'likes'.

Facebook = Likes

Some people may think this is just Twitter aligning itself more with the Facebook model by following the more general social parlance of 'liking'. LinkedIn as well, particularly in their latest app update (see below), has taken a very 'Facebook' turn in their layout. They now also have the ability to 'like' posts. Liking and social media appear to very much go hand in hand.

What has interested me more than that however, was the change of icon from a star to a heart. Facebook's like is a thumbs up, as is LinkedIn's, which you can see clearly in the above example.

Facebook's 'like' works really well for them, the context works and people universally understand it at this stage. So much so that, Bloomberg, in reference to the like button, says "changing the button is like Coca-Cola messing with it's secret recipe". A pretty big claim. LinkedIn's 'like', I believe, works OK for them - although it feels a little like jumping on the common pattern train, rather than a specific design decision. This isn't a criticism, more a point that they aren't trying to be 'trailblazers' in this space.

That's where Twitter have jumped in. They've tried to be a little different. They've always had the 'favourite' option, to save a tweet to your favourites list, which used a star as the icon. But that's now been replaced with a 'like', and with it, a heart.


So what does the heart bring? It adds a deeper level, it beings emotion. Personally, I have a few favourited tweets, but it's not a common interaction I have made on Twitter. When I've seen something I liked, I generally pass on by. A favourite was reserved for something I really liked. For me, starring something as a favourite felt like a personal thing - I was saving it to MY favourite tweets. A personal reference list, that, let's face it, I never referenced.

A heart however, is another thing altogether. It's giving someone love. It's got an emotional connection - whether you think about it consciously or not, it definitely adds an extra factor. A heart has more emotional value than a star. In fact, the GIF above, created by Twitter upon it's launch, shows this. It uses the heart as equal to a 'LOL' or 'congrats' - it's to tell someone you're thinking of them. This is a far cry from just adding another tweet to a list.

Twitter tested the concept and claimed it worked well throughout testing, causing them to make this major change across the whole site - all platforms and as a permanent decision (well, as permanent as a software decision can be - it's an agile world out there). I imagine this is due to increased interactivity with their new icon, which would imply that users loved (pardon the pun) this emotional connection that they can make with content, more so than a boring ol' favourite.

What was Twitter's reasoning for using the heart?

"The heart is a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones. The heart is more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people. And in our tests, we found that people loved it." (Reference)

Also worth noting is that awesome micro interaction when you click on the heart (that one above I keep referencing) - they had something similar for the star, which was popular, and they've brought it across. In fact, the very action of clicking on the 'like' on the Twitter mobile app, is just a 'delight'. It feels nicer.

Moving on from Twitter

Having spent some time cogitating this particular point, recently I have been looking at properties online, using a couple of big Australian real estate agencies. The couple of sites I'm using have been using stars as their 'save' function and it just feels like such a missed opportunity.

A gold standard for good product design recently has to be the AirBNB website. More and more websites seem to be taking inspiration from different aspects of it. This ranges from direct competitors, to those in other industries. Looking at the Stayz homepage, after looking at AirBNB and the influence is there to see - particularly if you view the Stayz page from a couple of years ago. Beyond Stayz, the iconography, text on image overlays and grid system on Red Balloon, certainly look to have been at least influenced by AirBNB.

Why am I talking about Air BNB all of a sudden? What icon is used to save a property to a wishlist? A heart. In fact even the name - wish list - it's an aspirational title. It evokes emotion - the heart ties in with this perfectly. And so it should do, a holiday is an exciting event. Researching a holiday, is generally an exciting time and the use of language like 'wish lists' and using heart icons makes sense as it will help to start the user develop an emotional connection with the content they are interacting with.

So back to my Australian real estate hunt...

I believe this is the perfect opportunity to use a heart and get me feeling emotional about my new property.

Making a decision about where to live, is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make, but along with it comes plenty of emotion. I've found on so many occasions that even looking at 2 or 3 property photos, I'm seeing myself living there. I'm already developing a connection. The heart would tie in with this so much better than a star ever could.

And just beyond the logic behind using a heart icon here - is the consistency. One of the sites I'm referencing above has a function called 'Saved Searches' - the icon? A heart in a magnifying glass! The 'saved properties' icon? A star! Feeding into the Air BNB example from before, the website in question doesn't have a 'wishlist' - it's a 'shortlist'. It just feels so much more transactional than AirBNB.

The 1%'ers

This example I'm referencing, is not a bad website at all. In fact, I found the user experience to be excellent and I enjoyed the process of apartment hunting, much more than I have done in the past (if you've looked for properites on Craigslist before, you'll really appreciate it). The point is really about making those 1% changes. The changes that turn a product from being a very good, usable product, to an excellent, world class product. A product that people get a buzz out of using.

The take-away

The more you hypothesise, experiment and explore every aspect of your product or website, the more you'll understand your users. Your empathy for the user will increase and your product or website will reflect that.

And I couldn't finish this article without a quote from Don Norman's 'Emotional Design', because I would feel ashamed writing a post about this topic and not quoting Don...

"It is not enough that we build products that function, that are understandable and usable, we also need to build products that bring joy and excitement, pleasure and fun, and, yes, beauty to people's lives"

-Don Norman

Indietech blog article author - Digital Marketing and Web Design insights
Noted by Vincent Feeney

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