Did you notice something new about LinkedIn lately? If so, you probably got updated to the professional network’s completely redesigned version. The company is leveraging familiarity with the Facebook newsfeed style in an attempt to simplify their own experience and focus users on key objectives.
The redesign has caused something of a stir in our office, with some coworkers loving the new design, with others continuously finding themselves lost. We’re sure LinkedIn did extensive user research, but we decided to double down and generate some insights with Alpha’s platform. Ultimately, we learned that our company’s internal debate is actually quite indicative of widespread user sentiment.
You can explore our entire report here, or read on for key takeaways.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
To set the stage, we started by filtering out non-LinkedIn users and then requesting demographic information from remaining respondents, thereby enabling us to categorize all of our research along these segments. While our data does not constitute definitive market research by any means, it can often serve as a directional indicator into larger trends. And the breakdown of LinkedIn’s userbase got us thinking…
The professional network skews toward younger, full-time workers at the higher end of the income spectrum. Our preliminary findings are proportionately similar to studies done by Pew Research, which confirmed our suspicions that LinkedIn’s userbase differs significantly from Facebook’s. As opposed to LinkedIn, Facebook has a large segment of older users, and skews lower on the income spectrum. Similarly, while 70% of Facebook users login every day, our survey and Pew Research show dramatically lower rates for LinkedIn:
Altogether, this makes the Facebook newsfeed a somewhat odd inspiration for LinkedIn’s redesign, given the disparities in audiences and usage.
Nevertheless, given that LinkedIn’s objective was to simplify the site’s experience for users, we proceeded to examine how effectively they achieved that goal. Again using Alpha’s platform, we split respondents into two cohorts. One group was directed to a prototype of the old site while the other group was directed to a prototype of the new design. After, respondents were directed to identical surveys, so that we could easily compare perceptions of the two experiences.
In purely aesthetic terms, the designs appealed to different audiences. The old site (Version A) performed favorably with older audiences, while the new site (Version B) appealed to younger audiences.
Given LinkedIn’s demographic skew toward younger audiences, this might well be a good thing for the company.
Jobs to be done (or to be found!)
While we’ve found that the aesthetics of a platform sets the tone with users, usability and feature set are the ultimate factors. To that end, we asked users to accomplish a common task on the site: search for another professional in your industry with a similar role. Using Alpha’s plugin, respondents recorded their screens as they spoke aloud navigating the site.
Interestingly, it seemed that users were less concerned with the site’s design as they were with the many aspects of LinkedIn that have received criticism over time, namely the infinite connection requests, spammy posts in the newsfeed, and the unreliable search capability.
Two unmoderated interviews highlight these sentiments, first on the old design and then on the new design:
We also collected open-ended feedback from those who had strong preferences. Below are some quotes from respondents who preferred the old version of LinkedIn’s website:
“A is more professional and utilitarian. B is a copycat of Facebook and feels more like a social network. I would have a hard time using version B because it would be hard to keep on track with what my needs are.”
“Everything was slightly larger. Maybe it is my age, but that is more appealing.”
“Does not seem as cramped and includes the new jobs information more prominently.”
For respondents who preferred the new LinkedIn website design, below are some enlightening comments:
“I like how the second version was more interactive and streamlined instead of cluttered at the top like the first version. The second version made it easier to find certain information.”
“…it is familiar to Facebook which I am very familiar with and therefore more attractive.”
“I have a more firm grasp since it is very similar to the Facebook layout and is updated.”
Further, other responses (which you can read about in the full report) informed us that most people think of LinkedIn primarily as a way to find a job, and only login when they are looking for a new role. That’s quite a bit different than how we use LinkedIn, which for us is primarily a vehicle for sharing best practices and networking in groups.
User research commonly exposes user sentiments and behaviors that are entirely different than our preconceived notions or actually niche use cases. Despite all the features LinkedIn has built around communities, that’s not why this user segment visits it. That’s an interesting dissonance for LinkedIn product teams focused on user jobs to be done.
To date, LinkedIn has only rolled out the redesign to web, but we couldn’t help but wonder how mobile would be impacted. We created two InVision prototypes, first of the current app and then of a new app with the new design and styles. Because LinkedIn didn’t really introduce any new features, we left the menu items untouched.
We then set the stage by qualifying respondents based on their usage of LinkedIn’s existing mobile app, filtering out those who don’t have it downloaded on their phones.
Next, we presented users with the interactive prototypes to gauge their preferences. Unmoderated interviews showed that there was a slight preference for the original color scheme, with some users providing some positive qualitative feedback for the new color scheme as well.
We collected open-ended feedback as well, which led to some interesting insights. Overall, even those with the app don’t see much benefit in using the app instead of the website, as quotes below illustrate:
“I use it but sometimes it’s easier to find things, or get more features, by viewing LinkedIn in my browser instead of the app.”
“I used it for a job hunt prior to retiring, now I just catch the changes in friend’s lives.”
“Not searching for new job so don’t access much. Only to accept connections.”
When we showed respondents both versions, there wasn’t much preference. Remember, the only thing we tested was the new color scheme, so many users expectedly had no preference.
We’re excited to see where LinkedIn goes with the mobile version, and how they’ll factor in the Facebook style design. Will they break the messaging capability into its own app like Facebook did? Will they consider users’ jobs to be done and separate features accordingly? Only time will tell.
Again, you can check out the full breakdown of our research here. Let us know in the comments if one of your favorite platforms undergoes changes and we’ll consider generating on-demand users insights to evaluate it.