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How rebranding cost Ravelry the trust of their community

Knitting website Ravelry lost the trust of their community after a rebranding effort caused several users adverse side effects from browsing the site. Well-known among knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, and dyers, Ravelry is a free platform where users can organise and keep track of their projects, network with other people and sell their designs.

Flat lay of three grey yarn skeins
Photo by Tara Evans

Ravelry’s Wikipedia page states that, as of March 2020, they had almost 9 million registered users, and approximately 1 million monthly active users.

What happened

On 16 June 2020, with no previous announcements, Ravelry rolled out a redesigned interface with new branding. As people started browsing the site, a percentage of them started to report episodes of eyestrain, migraines, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision and even seizures.

Comments poured in a thread that had more than 7,000 replies. Some were enthusiastic, others critical. Besides the aforementioned physical issues, the fact that screen reader software doesn’t work properly blocked a group of people from accessing the website. The Ravelry team was slow to respond and, when they did, the community felt like the apology was inadequate.

The fallout

A few days later, they provided the ability to switch back to the old design, a decision that was greeted with gratitude but also with reports of previously non-existing bugs.

Redesigns can be controversial: the more people are used to an interface, the more difficult it is to accept changes. There is a strong subjective component at play in judging a new design, to the point that it is almost impossible to make everyone happy. With time, users get used to the new: but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Because of the nature of the community, even the ones who didn’t experience any problems felt disillusioned.

Suddenly, Ravelry wasn’t anymore the inclusive and friendly website everybody knew; it turned out to be a web company like any other.

The precedent

While researching this blog post, I found an article stating that this cannot be anything different than mass hysteria. But what happened in 2013, when Apple released iOS 7, proves that those reactions are genuine. The issue with the iPhone’s operating system was clear: the newly introduced animations and the way they were implemented made people with vestibular disorders sick. In Ravelry’s case, even those who are free from these issues are suffering from visiting the site.

The Epilepsy Foundation of America issued a warning and indicated what might be the trigger to the seizures. Follow the thread on Twitter:

The design

The new branding is colourful: there are at least three bright accent colours and two others that are more neutral. The layout elements have dark solid borders, while the background is white. People tend to spend a lot of time looking for patterns and instructions: arguably, a less contrasted interface might have worked better.

To avoid causing problems, I’ve created a separate page to show a couple of screenshots of the redesigned interface.

The icons

Finally, the newly redesigned icons have many details that get lost in the small rendering on the page: a 16px square that seems to be a code legacy. Thus, the icons are not conveying their true function, adding yet another challenge.

As stated in a blog post published three days after the release, the team at Ravelry started the redesign in January 2019. The platform is massive: 800 pages that needed updating one by one. It’s a tremendous amount of work. Based on my understanding, they waited for all pages to be ready before starting to test the new design, a choice that backfired.

Advantages of early testing

As a designer, I know how exciting it is to redesign interfaces that feel dated and how hard it is to receive negative feedback. I also know that we design for other people: we need to listen to them to create successful experiences. Involving users as soon as possible in the process is paramount; we need to gather feedback and iterate to avoid wasting time and money.

The best practice is to conduct user testing sessions, where users are given tasks to complete. One of the goals is to understand if an interface is usable. Another facet is watching reactions: a session of half an hour per person would have uncovered many of the current complaints.

In the absence of early user testing, it might have been a good idea to roll out the redesign in batches, letting people use the new pages and leave feedback.

Accessibility and usability

There is no other way to put it: accessibility and usability need to be an integral part of the design since the beginning of a project.

They are concerned with different aspects of the design, but overlap. Accessibility makes sure people with disabilities can access the web. Usability ensures that a product is effective, efficient and satisfying while it stays accessible. Tools are available to check whether a website is compliant, but again, testing with people gives better and more realistic results.

The survey

Ravelry published a 35-pages survey. While it’s clear they want to make the redesign work by fixing the problematic areas, the survey was troublesome:

  1. People needed to look at screenshots from the same pages that caused them problems.
  2. It was a lot of work. Each question required to check designs which had to be opened in a new window. It was hard to understand the differences without seeing them side by side.
  3. Checking static images will never compare to checking live pages.

Final Thoughts

Ever since the first release, Ravelry made some changes to the interface, but they need to win back the trust of their community as well. Accessibility and usability are among the core areas of user experience, as is credibility. A website is credible when it engenders trust in its users. Even more important now is for communities, online and not, to be more inclusive than ever.


The text has been corrected to delete inaccuracies about when the old design will be retired (there will be a six-month notice) and the fact that screen reader software didn’t work correctly with the old version, too.


  • 💬 mtnbeachmama – Your blog post was excellent. It explained everything so well. I am heartened to see that the Black Lives Matter is getting the attention it deserves. I want to see each of the marginalized peoples get the attention they deserve, and that necessary changes are made for all that need them. Ravelry's disastrous and totally tone deaf manner of updated has put the focus on a diverse and serious group of marginalized users. I discovered a setting in my laptop that allows me the option of dimming the contrast, but Ravelry still bothers my eyes. I have downloaded all of the patterns I had saved in my account. I am dismantling my account, have left all of the groups, and use only my pages when I am there. It is heartbreaking, but I am going to move on from Ravelry. I will miss the knit a longs I was participated in. My hope is that enough of us will move on, and utilize other platforms to access the designers we love. That the individual designers will not suffer, but will realize how important it is to be aware of and sensitive to the needs of all of their users. Ravelry is saying all of the right things about inclusivity, but their actions prove they 'talk the talk' but don't know how to (or don't really care about) walking the walk. Thank you for an excellent article!
  • ↪️ Silvia Maggi – @mtnbeachmama Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I’m glad you liked it, and I’m sorry your experience with the new Ravelry is not good. I’m not an assiduous knitter, and I wasn’t using the platform that much, so deleting my account was a natural step. But I believe that moving on is the best thing to do now. I understand that for someone it’ll be difficult, but I saw a few designers offer now alternative spaces where to buy their patterns. It’s good to see that the community is actively looking for ways to help who cannot access the website.
  • 💬 Jennifer – I like your summary very much! While I developed a mild headache after viewing patterns through the new interface, it was the callous disregard for others in the Ravelry response that has left me avoiding the site. I hadn’t considered Ravelry as an industry monopoly before this occurred, but I’m now left me hoping to support some form of competition!
  • ↪️ Silvia Maggi – @Jennifer Thank you very much, Jennifer! I felt the same. It’s quite scary to think that a company has had a monopoly on a market for so much time, even if it happens very frequently these days. That's probably because Ravelry was always perceived as a community. Looking at the bright side, this could be the right moment for bringing about some healthy competition and other ways or spaces to meet.
  • 💬 Carrie – Same. They've doubled down now and issued a form letter heavily implying that the people having difficulties are making it up, and that no one from the Epilepsy group actually looked at the site. I'm so disappointed in them.

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