Circles: Redesigning Social Media


A recap of my qualms with social media is outlined in one of my previous posts Redesigning Social Media to Feel More Intimate. I’ve added a quick blurb from that article below. You can also check out more about Circles here.

I have been a member of Facebook since 2009, yet my wall only has a handful of posts. The occasional life update, or profile picture upload, in the past decade of being a Facebook user, I have only posted about once or twice a year.

And here’s why: I don’t like how superficial social media has become. Take for example my current Instagram page:

Wow I need to start being more active on social media

The posts are mainly a couple of milestones: getting into my CS master’s program, studying abroad, playing at Coachella, being invited to Adobe’s conference as a student VIP.

But none of this tells anyone about who I am or what my life philosophies are. Instead, it just exacerbates the current status quo in social media of superficiality. People are so obsessed with getting the most amount of friends and likes and reactions that they tunnel vision on those quantitative measures. But the qualitative measures you can’t see: how your posts make others feel, how your posts make yourself feel, and how your posts strengthen your bonds with your friends. These qualitative measures are so often ignored, and at its root is what makes social media so enticing. At least to me.


For this redesign, I had a lot of features I wanted to implement.

  1. Taking the quantitative element out of reactions. I believe human emotions can not, and should not, be simplified to a vector heart icon on your screen.
  2. Create granularity in one’s social circles. I mean in real life your social circles are granular. Why isn’t that the case in online social circles?
  3. Make users really focus on each individual post. I believe horizontal infinite scrolls have been designed to make users go on autopilot and as a result, users no longer engage with one another online in a meaningful way.
  4. Improved navigation. This isn’t an issue in social media, but in mobile apps in general.

Qualitative Reactions

So… how does one make reactions online qualitative instead of quantitative?

Too often I’ve seen my friends posting ‘candid’ photos feel dissatisfied when they only receive X amount of likes or Y amount of hearts. Instead of a similar issue arising on this platform, I wanted the users to receive validation through how their posts made others feel.

In order to do that, I decided the best reaction system is one that’s ambiguous. One that makes the original poster think hey is this a positive or negative reaction? I believe only by doing so will users begin to focus on the qualitative elements of a reaction rather than the quantitative measures of how many reactions they got. After all, that’s how it is in intimate social interactions in real life. I don’t care if you gave me just any reaction when I tell a story to a friend, what I care about is what kind of reaction I created.

So instead of adding a heart or a like I think it’d be really powerful if instead users applied the color they felt when they see a post. The ambiguity of colors has an interesting aspect of having a different ‘culture of colors’ arise between social circles and seeing how to interpret these colors between friend groups would add an additional layer of complexity to social media that will make it more closely resemble real social interactions.

Play with the interaction here.

Granularity in Social Circles

If social circles in real life aren’t one dimensional, why should they be one dimensional online?

In real life, you act differently between different friend groups. How you act with acquaintances is vastly different than how you act with your family which in turn is vastly different than how you act with your close friends. So why is it that we have allowed social media platforms to simplify how we act to one dimension? By forcing our posts to be seen by every single person you’ve ever added on Facebook, you force users to act as a median version of themselves at best, and a diluted version of themselves at worst.

Instead, I wanted to create a platform where you allow a specific set of friends to see what posts you create. Similar to group chats, but on a larger scale, I wanted users to be able to define who sees their posts, and within those posts be able to have different captions for different social circles. By having personally tailored content, I believe social media will feel less superficial.

While there is the argument that Eliot people don’t want to take this many steps when they’re posting content! Make it as simple as possible! But I’d counter that it is this exact mentality that has allowed social media to deteriorate to begin with. If from the beginning, a social media platform aimed to churn out as much content as possible, as easily as possible, it’s going to be at the expense of having quality content. The reason I feel confident in this assumption is the rise in popularity of the finsta accounts, and how it feels like an intimate social media platform.

Play with the interaction here.

Focusing on Photos

How come so many photo-based social media platforms feel superficial?

I think the issue with a lot of photo based applications, such as Instagram, is that the photos aren’t the actual product they sell — it’s the ads. Due to this, by design, these platforms aren’t there to be engaging but rather to have users absorb as much content — and by extension as many ads — as possible.

This is seen in the infinite scroll design that Instagram implements where users can mindlessly scroll through their feed without engaging on the content. Only by doing so will users interact with as many ads as possible after all.

Even the creator of the design itself has stated:

“It’s as if they’re taking behavioral cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface. And that’s the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back.”

Instead, I wanted to create an interface where every single photo you interact with will be the focus at that time. You don’t see what’s coming up next, you don’t see the comments, you don’t see anything but the photo. By designing the feed to be so photo-centric I believe users will be more likely to be engaged and foster genuine discussions online.

Play with the interaction here.

Improved Navigation

Starting from Apple’s introduction of swipe gestures, an increasing number of users are comfortable with user interface designs that don’t explicitly tell you what to do. Building off that, I wanted to create an app where navigation was no longer point and click, but instead by gestures.

Without the navbar persisting in every screen you are able to free up screen real estate that can be dedicated to making the user feel more immersed in the photo that they see. With an increase in immersion comes an increase in engagement on the platform, and again will ultimately lead to more genuine interactions online between users.

Play with the interaction here.

Wrap Up

Now, while the designs are far from finished, I believe I’m on the right track to what the future of social media platforms should look like.

Other features I want to explore are how to not just allow, but actually nudge users to meet new people online and engage in a constructive way. I think the next step is creating public albums where users can post their photos of the topic at hand, similar to subreddits on Reddit. However, this comes with its own design considerations such as allowing anonymity and being able to moderate posts.

But for now, my focus is going to shift gears from the UI/UX design to the look and feel, branding, and eventually development (been pushing off learning React for too long).

If any readers have any ideas, suggestions, or critiques feel free to send me an email over at: (video credit @Ayub Dahir)




Designer with a background in software engineering and research looking to make intuitive and beautiful products

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Eliot Chang

Eliot Chang

Designer with a background in software engineering and research looking to make intuitive and beautiful products

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