Twitter's new design was made by women. Is that a good thing?

Holly Brockwell
People aren't happy with the redesign

People aren't happy with the redesign

Perhaps they should have waited a little longer to announce that, given the backlash, argues Holly Brockwell

Usually, when a big tech company announces that a new feature was created by an all-female team, women in the industry rejoice. But when Twitter said that about its recent redesign, I cringed.

Not because Twitter is notoriously bad at diversity issues and the announcement felt a bit self-serving (although that is true), but because the redesign has gone down like an absolute turd sandwich, and inevitably this will now be blamed on the femaleness of its creators.

You see, when a man does a bad job of something in public view, it's his fault. He's a bad designer, a bad filmmaker, or a bad president. But when a woman does it, it's because women are bad at things.

The webcomic XKCD summed this up perfectly:

In fairness to the internet, criticisms of the design started long before we knew it was female-made. Frantic Reddit threads asking how to get back to the old layout abound, and the most positive comments only manage weak praise like "it's OK if you change all the settings."

That said, Steve Jobs himself could create a new Twitter design and it'd still be absolutely lambasted, because when you change the layout of any social media site, people riot. Interestingly, they then become used to and even enamoured of the new design, so when it's time to switch again, they're not appeased but enraged once more. So the whole job was a poisoned chalice to begin with - it was never going to go down well, regardless of what those women did.

Whether you love or hate the new layout, though, Twitter naming the women responsible in a high-profile article while the rage is still raw is at best ignorant, and at worst - as someone on Twitter put it - "a bit bus-throwy." You'd have to be pretty unaware of internet misogyny and trolling not to realise that if you put the full names and faces of the people who've designed something people hate into the ether, those people are going to get abuse. That's really not a fact that should have gone over Twitter's head, considering it owns the platform from which much of the internet's anonymous abuse is propelled.

Still, it's genuinely good to see an all-female user experience team redesigning something as popular as Twitter, and as anyone who's ever worked with digital products will attest, it's likely the final design was a cacophony of compromises and bears little resemblance to their original plan.

Even if the redesign is never taken to heart and loved by the Twitter masses, it's refreshing to see women being allowed to fail in public - as mediocre men are so frequently allowed to do. Too often, we expect women and other marginalised groups to show their gratitude for being given an opportunity by being absolutely perfect, and if they fall short, it's seen as validation that the job was given for diversity reasons and not on merit.

The test, of course, is whether a woman who trips up in the public eye goes on to be offered further big opportunities - like an 'auteur' filmmaker who makes one flop after another - as their male counterparts would.

After all, equality isn't about women being the best all the time. It's just as much about allowing us the freedom to fail, suck, and screw up with impunity - just like men always have.

Computing has launched the Women in IT Excellence Awards and the Women in Tech Festival to celebrate and promote the many female success stories in the industry. Nominate yourself and a colleague for the awards, and join in the fun at the Festival to do your bit to help promote IT as a place for women to enjoy varied and rewarding career.

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