Behold: the new Flickr.

The main theme throughout the site is putting the emphasis back on the image. Instead of a tidy grid of thumbnails, awash in white space, Flickr now uses a dynamically arranged, tightly-packed UI.

Images get uploaded at full size, and each user gets a free terabyte of space to stretch out in.

On individual photo pages, metadata gets relegated to the bottom of the screen.

The main feed shows shots nice and big.

The uploader’s been streamlined too.

As Adam Canah, the Yahoo senior VP who showed off the redesign at yesterday’s event noted, "Flickr had become about words, little images, and blue links…Flickr really was not about the photo anymore." This design rights that.

Co.Design

The 3 Best Features Of Flickr's Massive Redesign

Flickr’s site-wide overhaul puts the emphasis back on the images.

The response to Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr, generally speaking, has been one of suspicion. And considering Yahoo’s track record on these sorts of things, rightly so. More than anything else in recent years, Yahoo’s become known for gobbling up web properties big and small and doing everything in its power to make sure they don’t thrive. Flickr, which was arguably the web’s most beloved photo-sharing site before Yahoo bought it in 2005 and promptly let it fall into disrepair and disuse, is perhaps the most perfect, painful example of this strange phenomenon.

So what Yahoo did yesterday--rolling out a dramatic redesign of Flickr right on the heels of the Tumblr news--was a little bit shrewd. When, yesterday morning, in a Tumblr post announcing that acquisition, Marissa Mayer promised "not to screw it up," we had every right to be skeptical. So we can see the Flickr redesign as a gesture of good faith, a reason for us to take her at her word on the new purchase. And maybe we should believe her; the new Flickr looks better than ever. Here are three aspects of the new design that are especially smart.

DEATH TO THUMBNAILS

Aside from being a sort of gross metaphor, if you really think about it, thumbnails are a largely inefficient way to browse a collection of photos, especially in an era of increasingly high-res displays. Thankfully, the new Flickr (along with the new Android app, which accompanied the web redesign) largely does away with them.

Instead of the standard grid, with thumbnails buffered by unused white space, the site now uses pretty much every available pixel for displaying photos. Borrowing from the UI from the site’s old Explore section, user pages and search results now show pictures crammed together in a dynamically arranged quilt, a wall of photos stretching from one end of the screen to the other. In this view, landscape and portrait photos are interspersed like so many rectangular puzzle pieces, using up all available real estate. Scroll a little ways down into a set, and save for the thin black navigational bar at the top, your entire screen will be plastered in photography. It looks great.

It also changes photo browsing on a fairly fundamental level. Where before the thumbnail pics were just big enough to be identifiable--useful for scanning and selecting an image, which you’d then enlarge with a click--the new layout shows collections in a way such that each individual picture is just big enough to be enjoyable. That is, what before was a useful overview of images in a set is now a way to browse through them all, relatively comfortably, without diving in to see each individually.

PHOTO FIRST, THROUGHOUT

It’s not just that Flickr got rid of much of its white space with the new tightly packed tile UI. It hid and got rid of navigational chrome, text, links, and metadata throughout, as well. As Adam Canah, the Yahoo senior VP who showed off the redesign at yesterday’s NYC event noted, "Flickr had become about words, little images, and blue links…Flickr really was not about the photo anymore." This design rights that.

When looking at those dynamic walls of photos, only a small text attribution is overlaid in the bottom left corner of each, keeping the focus on the photo. Clicking an individual image reveals a similar visual focus. Here, the picture itself gets prime placement, with all the title, description, and metadata relegated beneath, where you have to scroll down to see it. To serious photographers who referenced this stuff all the time, this might be an inconvenience. But the new Flickr isn’t as geared toward the serious photographer as the old one was. It’s geared towards a slightly wider audience--one now accustomed to the pure visual pleasures of Instagram and the like.

Other new features show this same commitment to a photo-first experience. At any point when browsing an image, you can jump into a slick, full screen Ken Burns-style slideshow of the set it’s in. Since you don’t have to worry about opening some processor-choking app (looking at you, iPhoto) or diving into a different section of the site to do it, the new slideshow feature is a remarkably fast and easy way to cycle through shots, hands free, while you’re leaning back in your chair. It’s quick enough that it becomes not just a tool for showing your photographs off to others, but for looking at other users’ sets and collections too.

TERABYTES FOR ALL

One of the big, screaming, "hey look we’re taking this seriously!" features of the new Flickr isn’t necessarily a feature at all. It’s the simple fact that Yahoo’s giving users a terabyte of storage for their photos. That’s enough space for 537,731 photos from your smartphone, or some 250,000 from your fancy pants DSLR (thanks to the roomy new accounts, photos get uploaded at full size--a significant advantage over compression-happy platforms like Facebook and Google Plus.) Since very few people have a quarter million photos in their collection, much less a half million, what this means practically speaking is that Flickr’s giving all its users unlimited storage.

It’s a play right out of the Google playbook (or maybe at this point just the Marissa Mayer playbook). When launching Gmail back in 2004, Google got the web’s attention simply by blasting the longstanding inbox size constraints to smithereens, offering users a jaw-dropping gigabyte of storage for their messages. The promise, essentially, was that you’d never have to delete an email again.

Of course, from a marketing perspective, both a gigabyte then and a terabyte now are even better than just coming out and telling people they have unlimited space. The word "terabyte" is far more impressive, making the whole thing sound like a grand feat of data center engineering and a refreshingly benevolent corporate deed, as opposed to a simple acknowledgment of the fact that data storage is dirt cheap for a company of Yahoo’s size. For most of us whose laptops’ hard drives are still measured in paltry gigs, this is the first taste of what a terabyte really feels like. It tastes cool.

And for old Flickr users, it’s already proving useful. Wired’s Joe Brown noted that, with his new, super-sized account, he immediately got access to all sorts of photos that were lost when he failed to keep up with his old "pro" subscription: "Best part of new flickr: all the photos I lost when I didn’t renew my pro account are magically back thanks to the new storage 'limits.'"

In all, the new design is a nice way of signaling that, under Yahoo’s new stewardship, Flickr won’t just be left to die. Now they just need people to start using it again.

Try it out here.

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14 Comments

  • DB

    Flickr's new features and the publicity surrounding them will, no doubt attract more thousands of users than the thousands who have either just left because of the new design or those that will soon. You Speak to impernit.com or to 500 px about their recent windfall of new users that have abandoned flickr. Those that are going or are unhappy are the photographers—talented amateurs and professionals—who paid for and used. There may be talented photographers in the new intake but they and their photographs will, or are already being, swamped by photo dumping on a massive scale. I have already scene several examples of people or organisations uploading 30,000 or  more (subjectively) bland and repetitive images. Now given that the new biz model at Yahoo is about advertising, that'll all be good news in the short term. I doubt it will take long, though, for advertisers to see how little value there is in advertising in such and environment.

  • Lori

    Well I used to have unlimited storage for my photos. BTW the photos all look like crap all mashed up and crammed together.The new flickr wasnt built for photographers but the instagram, face book crowd. I am not afraid of change but I hate to have to move all of my stuff just to have a nice place to show my photos. The white space actually made photos pop more and be more eye catching. All this said their are bandwidth limits on how much I can use flickr from my internet provider without running up big bills. So now someone who used flickr A LOT is not going to be able to.

  • Bimma

    I don't like it. I've been using the site over over 8 years and it's the black navigation and the overlaying text on images that annoys me.

    I'm a designer. I understand that some new sites takes time to get used to but this just looks like it's following the trend of current sites fb, instagram, google+ but they've done a bad job of it. I like all the photos shown a big bigger but previously it was displayed beautifully like art gallery on white background.I miss the whitespace, I miss the small thumbnails on the right of my photos to look through photos, I miss the "hello" in different languages, I hate the cover photo (it's pointless and adds nothing to the profile, it's just something that everyone else has done to add some colour to bland social media text heavy profiles i.e. g+, fb, twtr). Flickr is a photo website for photographers. It does not need a cover photo to make user's profile look more busy and direct their eyes away from photos in their photostream. They also have the cover photo in the dropdown when you hover over the profile picture in the top right. Pointless.

    I don't hate because of the changes (change is often good), I hate because it's not keeping to how flickr looked originally. Usually a "redesign" just involves realigning content and elements of the site. This feels like they've gone into a meeting and said go look at the other sites and do what they've done.

  • Incognita Nom de Plume

    You make me weep for the future of design. I suspect that you know nothing about visual design, usability or photography -- or perhaps your positive opinion can be bought by any PR hack. Unless Co-DESIGN meaningfully represents a more expert opinion re the Flickr farrago I will also have lost all respect for the site as an authoritative or useful design information source. Flickr is now a travesty -- its un-usability is neither an improvement nor an update. Essentially it is telling the core users and pro subscribers of flickr that they are not valued and the lack of meaningful response from the flickr team to the storm of negative responses bears this out. I, along with many others, have made flickr a central part of my creative life, investing significant time in carefully curating my photostream and building a network of contacts whose work inspires me and whose opinions I respect. This ‘redesign’ has destroyed all that and I will be closing my account as soon as I have migrated my stream to ipernity. Hope to see others there — look for Incognita Nom de Plume

  • Clonkers

    I see your photo and note you are about 3 and know nothing of flickr (old) or photography. I'm guessing you are n apple weilding troglodyte who spends thier time "socialising" on the interweb. Your opinion is not valued and I think I've seen this article somewhere else as well

  • Miffed off

    I think your column is correct but the title is wrong. 

    The 3 WORST Features Of Flickr’s Massive Redesign

  • Greg Formager

    "The new Flickr isn’t as geared toward the serious photographer as the old one was." That's absolutely right. This redesign is aimed towards social photography ala instagram, not considered work. I'm not saying you can't make beautiful, considered work with instagram or any other similar service, but such services aren't designed for it because of the way they treat and present the images.

    One specific design choice that such services make is the lack of whitespace that you mention in this review. This is fine for social photography where the images are visual journal entries, and not (usually) works of art. But whitespace is important and valuable when you are looking at considered work; it is not simply wasted space. Do art galleries and museums cram every square inch of wall space with artwork? No. It sends a subliminal message that the work is not worth your attention. The eyes and mind become overwhelmed and it all fades into a tedious, noisy static. It's something a teenager does with their bedroom walls.

  • ieatstars

    "It sends a subliminal message that the work is not worth your attention."
    Ding, ding, ding. The lack of white space is what irks me most. What is the point of making sets, of writing descriptions, etc.? There is none, anymore.

  • forestine

    I wish the redesign carried over to groups.  The groups pages still look the same, crappy and hard to navigate, with all that white space from before.  Groups are the main reason I use Flickr, and it looks like they'd rather not have them at all. 

  • Dahlia Pham

    I like it. And if there are some glitches in the new layout, then it's just a matter of patching it up like any other site redesign. I just clicked on a link to show more comments and got a cheeky "Bad, bad panda!" photo, saying that there was an error and they're working to fix it. Fair enough. I do agree that the larger quilted interface makes for a slower load, it may pay to slightly compress the photos a little for faster loading.

    I was also concerned that Yahoo had prevented Flickr from moving forward, but this gives some hope to the site. How this will play in the long run will remain to be seen.  

  • Pink

    I agree that it's a step in the right direction, lots of people will hate it just because it's such a massive change. One thing I was unpleasantly surprised by was the user icons and text overlaying onto photos. As a photographer I really don't want that stuff junking up the corners of my images.

  • Iankirk

    The new design is appalling! Its a mess, confusing, many features are hidden, its too big which means too slow.  This is the Yahoo version of Apple Maps. Tumblr will be wrecked next.

  • Unhappy at the redesign

    The redesign is a catastrophic failure. Photo first? More like photo only. Who is the genius who thought that anyone would be helped by making crucial details like titles, descriptions, dates, licenses, etc, practically invisible in searches, streams, sets & groups. I can only imagine it was someone who had never actually used the site to look for a specific photo. Although that probably explains why they would also make the disasterous decision to do away with thumbnails completely, not even retaining it as an option. This goes beyond arrogance, into total stupidity. Any redesign that results in it actually being easier to search the site's contents using google's site: prefix rather than its own UI is a total failure on every level.