Slack-lash? Slack defends controversial redesign amid sharp criticism Slack-lash? Slack defends controversial redesign amid sharp criticism
If you are one of the estimated 18 million daily users of the instant messaging application Slack, you may be shocked to open the... Slack-lash? Slack defends controversial redesign amid sharp criticism

If you are one of the estimated 18 million daily users of the instant messaging application Slack, you may be shocked to open the app one day soon and see that things look, well, quite a bit different. It’s as though your favorite coffee shop suddenly moved the furniture around — a disorienting experience, even if you ultimately approve of the changes. But of course, not everyone will.

Earlier this week, the Salesforce-owned company published a blog post announcing “a redesigned Slack, built for focus,” that is rolling out now for new teams and to existing users in the coming months, which includes lots more white space and more nested view panes.

Animation showing the new Slack redesign from August 2023. Credit: Slack

The changes didn’t go over smoothly, however. Several users — including other tech founders, executives and influencers — took to social media (predominantly X, formerly known as Twitter) to decry the new direction. Now Slack has responded with a defense of the redesign in a statement emailed to VentureBeat. Read on to see what the company says.

What Slack changed in the redesign

The changes include a new “Home” button that consolidates all your Slack channels and direct messages into a single view pane, including across multiple workspaces; a new Direct Messages (DMs) tab for one-on-one messages located just below the Home button; a new “Activity” section with all the updates to your various channels, workspaces and messaging conversations; and conversation-specific notification bubbles nested deeper within each view.

“With its better organization and more intuitive layout, you’ll be able to get work done faster,” the Slack blog post reads, saying the changes are designed to reduce distractions and improve focus.

Fast and pointed criticism

Within hours of the Slack redesign being announced, the complaints began on X.

“The Slack redesign is perfect because what you want in a professional tool is to be able to see half of the information you need and for everything to be three clicks away with enormous amount of white space,” posted a sarcastic Austen Allred, founder and CEO of Bloom Tech, a coding school that offers an income-share program for those who don’t wish to pay for tuition.

Similar sentiments followed from Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke and human interface designer Ilya Miskov. The latter called the redesign “so 2010.”

Even within VentureBeat, a Slack customer, staffers were not convinced the new design was helpful. “I am not updating my app until they fix this,” wrote one team member.

Slack’s defense of the changes

Still, Slack and its parent company Salesforce seem committed to the new design. When contacted by VentureBeat about the vocal backlash (Slack-lash?) on X, Ethan Eismann, SVP of product design at Slack provided the following statement defending the changes, including a diagram illustrating how the redesign includes larger views (in pixels) of both the conversation panes and channel list.

“When we kicked off the redesign process, we started by looking at user feedback to identify the biggest pain points. One of the most common pieces of feedback was that Slack can feel overwhelming, both in notification volume and the different places to access all of the information needed to get work done.

“What we’ve aimed to do is put focus front and center, and turn down the volume on cognitive overload by dedicating more space to your tasks at hand. The redesign gives users space where they can focus on the most important things to their work, without worrying about losing notifications or critical updates.

“As an example, see the before/after image below of our new Home view, which is focused on channel communication. Since this is the primary place where users spend their time, we’ve increased the available space to view your channel list and DMs, as well as the conversation. We know some users prefer more information density, and some prefer less. We aimed to strike the right balance.”

Those of us who have been following tech and consumer-facing apps for a while know that nearly any redesign is met with initial pushback, before users ultimately quiet down and accept the changes as the “new normal.” This was the case certainly with numerous Facebook, Microsoft and even Apple software changes over the years. Slack’s redesign is likely to follow a similar acceptance curve, but until then, the company is sticking by it through the initial rejection phase. We’ll see how long it takes users to come around to it — if they ever do.

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