How often should we update our designs?

Over the last couple of days, popular social networking site Facebook has unveiled yet another user interface design, just 6 months since the last big change and once again this drastically changes the way a user interacts with the site.

The new ‘homepage’ has taken a page out of twitters book (someone jumping on the bandwagon maybe??) in the way it works and focuses on what users and their friends are doing right now, from reading the comments on the facebook blog the general consensus is that changing the site to be more like twitter is a bad move and a majority want the old designs back.

This issue raises an important question over user interface design and how regularly we should update our site designs and application interfaces. Changing the way your users move around and use the site should never be taken lightly, people generally don’t like change, we get used to doing something a particular way and don’t like being told to do it a different way. On the other hand we like and enjoy new and exciting looking websites that are easy to use and don’t take us too long to do what we want to do.

The rate that design trends come and go and web technology moves on, mean that we would have to update our sites every few months to keep up and keep new members joining up, but update your site too often and your existing members may get update with the constant changes to the site.

The trick to this delicate balance is to keep your changes small and regular and make sure you let people know before you make the change, spring a big user interface change on people and they will get their backs up (as people on facebook are doing now) but if you release smaller updates and tell your users why your doing it and how it will improve their browsing experience then they are more likely to accept the changes without starting a lynching mob. There will always be those that are resistant to change and threaten to leave and take all their friends with them but if you keep your users in the loop, maybe offer a few beta testers a chance to provide feedback on new designs / interface and you will keep your existing users happy while still bringing in new ones.

Enough of me, let me know your thoughts below...