Decoding Design

Facebook's secret design sauce? It's serotonin.

Facebook's secret design sauce? It's serotonin.

Posting in Design

Facebook designers want users to remember and experience good interactions with friends -- so much so that serotonin, our happiness hormone, has become a design guideline.

CNBC and The Economist have partnered for a special report to chart the next four decades in Megachange: The World in 2050. One chapter of this series considers the evolution of social networks and media. It tracks the growth of our online lives from niche chat groups in the 1980s, through to today's ubiquitous cyber-universe, Facebook. It declares:

The Facebook era of social networking has seen the notion of formalising and nurturing friendships online shift from a minority pursuit to a mainstream activity around the world. And this is changing the notion of friendship and collaboration in several ways.

Anyone who has found a long-lost friend, met a spouse, landed a job or even discovered something horrific through social networking would very likely agree with that sentiment.

But plenty of social networks have come and gone. Why is Facebook sticking? And how much of its staying power is owed to good design? Fast Company has delved into those questions in its recent issue, interviewing Facebook's design team, which, it says, has grown from 20 to 90 people in the past three years.

The most recent big design change on the site is not a design innovation, by any stretch of the imagination. The timeline is as standard a graphical representation of history as they come. But that's OK (well, unless you're someone who hates the new timeline). In fact, the design goal is to make the design something the user doesn't even notice, and something that let's her access more of her page's content. Like, for instance, memories of a vacation or photos from college.

Going further than that, the team is trying to remove the entire computer interface from the user's experience. "We don't want people to remember their interactions with Facebook," Facebook's director of design, Kate Aronowitz, told the magazine. "We want them to remember their interactions with their friends and family."

More specifically, Fast Company's E.E. Boyd, explains, Facebook wants its users to remember and experience good interactions. Its intension is to elicit feelings of warmth and happiness among Facebook users who scrolled backward and forward through their Facebook histories. So focused are Facebook's designers on this mission, notes Boyd, they're trying to mimic the power of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is considered a contributor to feelings of happiness in humans.

Facebook design manager Julie Zhuo broke it down this way: As a design guideline, serotonin is "our term for those little moments of delight you get on Facebook."

Via: Fast Company, CNBC/The Economist

Image: Benjah-bmm27

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure