I decided recently to join the so-called “front page of the internet” – the Reddit community – which had up until now remained somewhat of an enigma to me. I would consider myself having a somewhat nominal online presence; I rarely post, my followers consist of people I’ve actually met in person (even if only once or twice), and I just don’t get the whole Twitter thing. It was my opinion that Reddit was one of those peripheral online communities such as Pinterest or Twitter, where no one really bothered to contribute that much to the sites themselves as all the best bits were generally screenshotted and shared across other platforms anyway. My friend, an avid Reddit pioneer, however assured me that it was a great place to go not only for interesting articles, news, and general humour but it also seemed that they would actually post original content on this site more than any other, expressing opinions, and asking questions, sometimes personal in nature. This to me seemed quite alien and absent in any other social media site I’d encountered before, considering my Facebook feed for example is generally filled with 90% recipe videos and Buzzfeed quizzes rather than any kind of information about the people I follow on the site.
My curiosity peaked I decided to give it a go, and as I begun the sign up process I was actually feeling rather excited. So with high expectations I typed in http://www.reddit.com and hit enter… My first impression? I thought I was in the wrong place.
What in the hell was this? Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a UI expert, I’m very much still a student in this respect but it doesn’t take a designer to see that this homepage looks straight out of a 90s webpage in that I wonder whether Reddit developers have even encountered the term CSS. Once I’d recovered I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt considering I have learnt that bad UI does not always equate to bad UX. So, powering through I began my search for the sign-up page. … After 5 minutes I eventually found it up there in the top right corner in what must be about 10px font size (upon inspection I found ‘x-small’ in the style sheet). In fairness, once I had figured out where the signup option was the actual process was pretty standard in terms of usability. The only thing I wish Reddit had warned me about was the permanence of my username. If I had known at the time that this would be the name I would be branding my account with for life I may have chosen something a bit more laudable than ‘neonfalafel’.
After spending a few days now with my new community it has brought me several realisations. Firstly, I get it, it’s functionality over aesthetic. Reddit more than anything else is a content based site, and in many ways it’s UI is geared solely towards bringing you as much content as possible. But does it do this in the most efficient way possible? Probably not, in my opinion Reddit’s main problem lies in discoverability; it is so consumed with giving you all the content first you are often left wasting valuable minutes searching for a particular subreddit or figuring out how to actually contribute anything, and the whole process leaves you feeling slightly overwhelmed. However, my second realisation would be, it obviously isn’t hurting their success. Reddit receives millions of visitors every single day and if the site was unusable then they would probably know about it, so not only is UI probably not on their list of top priorities but it might actually end up hurting them more than helping them, everyone knows everyone hates change. I guess my final point would be this; while bad UI does not necessarily mean bad UX I do believe good UX almost always leads to good UI so, in the case of Reddit, I find it hard to believe that functionality and usability are taking as much priority over its general ugliness, as we are led to believe.