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Changes to Sidesheet Behavior

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@Phil_Rose @LarsJohnson 

I'm not sure who to direct this to, so I hope one of you can help.

I need to get some idea of what is going on with the changes that seem to be going on.  I have a interface designed for a client, and finally have reached the point were I am getting to have them upgrade their production account.  To get ready I needed to make some final changes based on their feedback using my test account.

I needed to add some list pages with sidesheets that are where some fields are made editable.  The ones I have on the existing test interface were easy to format and allowed resizing of the fields as well as positioning several on a line.  A partial section looks like

BillH_0-1689362164803.png

With the changes that have been made all I can do is stack the fields with the labels to the left 

BillH_1-1689362283854.png

This is totally unacceptable.  I know it looks like a minor thing, but this was only the simplest example.  When you multiply the issue over the number of fields and pages it's much more serious.

It's taken months to get everyone in agreement on how this is to look and behave, and now I can't deliver what they agreed upon.  

Please let me know that you will be rolling back these changes.

 

45 Replies 45

I also posted this on the other thread....

I started the other thread with the hope that if I directed the post to several airtable employees there might be an official response, but so far nothing. 

I think the best quick solution would be to provide an option when a record detail page is created where we could stick with the older style, at least for existing interfaces.  I have users just getting acclimated to the existing sheets, and having two different styles and workflows is not going to make things easier for them, or make them more receptive to using an tool that they haven't gotten to see the benefit for at this point.

 

To clarify: My screenshots and tests with the inspector are in no way meant to insuate users can or should use code to adjust the new detail pages how they wish.

The point was to show it would be easy, in theory, for Airtable to add additional settings/toggles that accomplish what users want. I am advocating that Airtable make adjustments based on their chosen design architecture rather than blindly guessing or suggesting something impractical.

That being said, Airtable is not a no-code platform. It's a low-code platform, evidenced by all the places wherein users are encouraged to write their own code. One thing people have been begging for is the ability to use scripts within Interfaces.

@Kamille_Parks 

Apologies if I misworded my response.  

Of course Airtable isn't totally no-code, but it provides a platform that allows users to access without code.  They provided an addition with their interfaces where I could build a workflow based tool that could be used by people understanding the business of what they do could easily replace their various spreadsheet applications with a better controlled and easier to use solution.  I did this without writing a single line of code or any scripts (although it does include automations).  

Now they took that away.  New sidesheets will have a different look and feel.  Some of the current functionality can't be replicated.  My users are upset, I'm upset.

 

Phil_Rose
Airtable Employee
Airtable Employee

(Hi, I’m Phil and I work on the Product team at Airtable.)

Thank you all for the detailed, thoughtful feedback in this thread. I apologise that the rollout of this feature caused frustration and disruption to your work. That wasn’t our intention, and there’s a lot we can do to improve the way we roll out new features. While we tried to create documentation for this release, I fully acknowledge that there’s a lot more we could have done, both in terms of communication and also in how the feature itself was rolled out. We hear the feedback loud and clear and will learn from it with future releases.

@BillH, @kuovonne and others who mentioned this: I want to make it clear that your previously-created Record Detail layouts will not change. You can continue to edit them and your collaborators will be able to view and use them exactly as before, with no risk of unexpected changes. The changes released last week only apply to newly-created Record Detail layouts.

We were eager to launch the new Record Detail layouts for a few reasons:

  • New functionality: working with linked records is more powerful in the new layouts:
    • Collaborators can now create new linked records from List/Grid/Gallery/Timeline/Calendar elements (both with forms and, coming soon, inline in Lists and Grids)
    • Collaborators can filter, sort and search linked records
    • Linked record elements now adjust to fill the space they need
    • Builders can now easily switch between Card/Pill and larger visualizations like List/Grid
    • Builders can configure specific permissions for linking/unlinking and creating/deleting linked records
    • Builders can create pre-configured filters for their collaborators to use
    • Comments now appear in a consistent, predictable location

  • Foundation for new Interfaces capabilities: the structure introduced with sections in the new Record Detail layouts is key to enabling Interfaces to work across different devices, screen sizes and content formats (like PDF) without adding lots of new complexity for builders. We hear from many customers that they want to use Interfaces in different situations than they can today, and we’re investing to make Interfaces and Interface content available in more places in the near future. We also want to support more complex workflows in Interfaces in the longer-term, and this new structure provides a foundation for builders to make sure their collaborators see only what’s relevant to them to take action and move a process forward.

  • Making it easier to build good Interfaces: lots of people in this Community have built intuitive, useful Interfaces, but many more of our customers struggle to do so. We believe layouts like these can play an important part of making it much easier to end up with an Interface that looks good and works well without needing lots of fiddling or prior experience making software.

But making building good Interfaces easier doesn’t have to mean that builders lose the ability to customise them to fit their needs. We are extremely grateful for the extensive feedback you’ve provided (I deeply appreciate the level of detail from @Kamille_Parks and others.) Along with valuable conversations we continue to have with customers (including some in this thread), it is directly informing short-term changes we’ll make to allow more customisation and restore missing functionality to these layouts that you can expect to see very soon.

I’ll close by reiterating that no changes will be made to any existing Record Detail layouts and they can continue to be edited and used as before. I’m keen to hear further feedback about the new Record Detail layouts - particularly as we make improvements in the coming weeks and months - and apologise again for the frustration the rollout of this feature has caused.

Product Manager at Airtable, working on Interfaces

Hi Phil! Thank you for chiming in on this conversation and providing your perspective.

I want to make it clear that your previously-created Record Detail layouts will not change

This did not need clarification. I did not expect my previously-created designs to change, and the fact that I didn't get reports from surprised users made it clear that my existing record detail layouts hadn't changed.

However, it isn't currently possible to create new record detail layouts with the same design patterns. And this is a problem. It's not like I am done making interfaces. I still have an ongoing need to make interfaces and when I find a design pattern that both my users and myself like, I want to be able to reuse that pattern in new interfaces. I wanted to start a new project that involved making more interfaces, but now I cannot use the design patterns that I want to. I don't know if I should try to make all new designs with the current constraints, hope that you will restore the ability to make the old designs in a timely manner, or look into moving to a third party portal.

I understand that you want to add new features and make things easier. But, it is very unfair to take away the ability to build things the same way we had been building them, especially with no warning.

But making building good Interfaces easier doesn’t have to mean that builders lose the ability to customise them to fit their needs. 

But that is just what you did. While we gained the ability to customize in some new ways, we lost the ability to customize in other ways that we were invested in.

We believe layouts like these can play an important part of making it much easier to end up with an Interface that looks good and works well without needing lots of fiddling or prior experience making software.

That's great! Having an easier way to make interfaces that look good and work well is a plus for everyone. Lowering the floor is a good thing. However, can we also keep that ceiling high? And part of having a high ceiling is having as few restrictions on how builders build things as possible (even if it means allowing them to build ugly, non-functional designs).

Along with valuable conversations we continue to have with customers (including some in this thread)

When do you have these conversations (before of after you make changes)? How do you determine which customers you have conversations with? Do you feel that the system you have for interacting with customers about potential changes is working or could it use improvement?

short-term changes we’ll make to ... restore missing functionality ... very soon.

Thank you for restoring missing functionality. Please keep us updated on the progress and when we can expect the functionality to be restored.

I'm also excited about your plans to bring interfaces to new devices and screen sizes (mobile!?!?)




Thank you Phil for the detailed and thoughtful response.  

I'm in agreement with everything @kuovonne mentions in her response, so for the most part I won't repeat what's she's already stated other than to emphasize that once you have developed interfaces (or any other application that will be used by others) it's important to keep designs consistent for the benefit of your user base.  In my case this has already meant stripping away features on existing pages that have not been rolled out, because I would never be able to include them on new pages.  

So before I go much further on this and several other projects, is there any way to get an idea of what else might be going away?  In particular, you mention the ability to create new records from additional elements, which in itself is a step forward, but does this mean that the current interface form pages will be going away shortly?  Many of the design features for positioning and resizing fields behave similarly to the no longer supported features on the sidesheets, and if they are eliminated in one place I have to be concerned that they may be eliminated in others as well. 

Thanks again for the response and I think we all look forward to hearing further on the upcoming strategy.

@kuovonne 

 I want to make it clear that your previously-created Record Detail layouts will not change

This did not need clarification. 


Yes it did. People in this thread and other threads said they were worried abut touching ones they already made. Someone from Airtable explicitly stating "your old detail pages will be fine" helps clear that confusion.

@Phil_Rose 

Thank you for your response. Do you know if Airtable is planning on doing an AMA for this release? Previously, major updates like this got one. It might be a good way to showcase how someone would design a page using the new system. A lot of users respond better to examples, and screenshots would be helpful in the support article for detail pages for that same reason.

We covered these changes briefly in the latest episode of the BuiltOnAir Podcast (Season 15, Episode 2). This is hopefully useful to your product team, and fellow users (I show how to "fix" the default section added for new detail pages, and explain why I feel its poor UX).

https://www.youtube.com/live/9isqqt6kJiI?feature=share&t=2756 (1:17 - 6:50 for an intro to the topic, 45:56 - end for a detailed rundown and a brief "how to use these" look)

Based on your response, it sounds like all linked record visualizations auto-adjust their height based on the content? If so, I'm less concerned as I was before at having control of the height for these elements (though I still want to control the height/row-span for field elements, and text elements should they make their return). I do strongly feel that even in full-screen, the container width is too narrow for elements like grid and list. If full-width sections make their return, this may solve that issue.

I'm happy to hear in-line adding records will be added to lists/grids. I'm looking forward to the implied PDF export capability, as it may solve simple use cases where Page Designer is infeasible/unideal.

With some additional controls for column width and row height and the return of some missing features (hierarchies for lists, free-text elements, and charts), I think the update will be in far better shape. As your team continues to work on detail pages, will we get a timeline of when these (or other) updates can be expected, before they drop?

I think half the problem here was we weren't warned in advance that such major changes were imminent. We would have planned our builds differently had we known this would drop in the middle of a sprint. Rough timelines for these things are critical for teams like mine to build efficiently and to stay well informed about Airtable's capabilities.

@Kamille_Parks Thank you for your level-headed analysis. I probably got a bit too emotional because this change hit right when I wanted to start building a major new interface. You are right, there are people who did need the clarification that existing record detail pages wouldn't change. 

I think half the problem here was we weren't warned in advance that such major changes were imminent.

I think the problems are
- Airtable not understanding the full range of how people used record details and taking that into account when redesigning the project. When you are anticipating a redesign like this, you could put out a call for existing designs from users, sort of like the Interface Designer contest. Except you wouldn't need to give out big prizes. Just have people showcase their designs so you can see what people are doing. People are much more likely to share designs if (1) they believe that sharing will impact future product changes, (2) they can choose how much to share, like just screen shots versus having to share to the universe where everything gets shared and it is hard to clean up a system for publication.

- The abruptness of the change. People woke up to find the product different with no warning and inadequate documentation. We found out about the change from other users and we were all feeling around in the dark. I really like Kamille's idea of an AMA and more examples. I would like it even better if you released the features as an opt-in beta with the AMA partway through the beta.

- Airtable not explaining why it was necessary to take away features to people who used those features. If you explain up front why the changes are necessary, people are more willing to accept the changes. 

For contrast, I think that the move from API keys to Personal Access Tokens and OAuth and the move to expiring attachment urls were both handled much better. Airtable recognized that people use API keys and attachment urls in a lot of different ways. Airtable announced both changes well in advance and gave clear timelines for those changes. The reasons for those changes were much easier for users to understand.

I feel that Airtable does a good job announcing major new features, such as the introduction of Scripting Block, Custom Blocks SDK, Automations, Interfaces, etc. These have splashy announcements, lots of ways to learn about the new features, and most importantly users could adopt the new features on their own timelines.

Changes to the UI/UX are not rolled out with as much care and are often a surprise. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised and embrace the changes (like being able to clear all notifications in bulk, sections, or new colors). But other times these UI/UX changes have a huge, immediate, negative impact on users' existing daily workflows. Here are a few past examples off the top of my head where Airtable changed the UI/UX to "make things easier" but actually caused so many problems for existing users that a redesign was necessary after the initial release:
- Creating new fields by clicking open space
- Views sidebar redesign
- Interface side navigation width
- Home screen redesign

Frank_Gannon1
5 - Automation Enthusiast
5 - Automation Enthusiast

I was enthusiastic to bring our project management system over to Airtable a few month ago, after lobbying for it for several months.  But with our roll-out around the corner and 2 major, unannounced UI changes since I started working on this interface, I am... concerned.

I'm inclined to move our interfaces to a third-party more than ever, and tempted to explore other data stores more seriously. 

It's very hard to invest in a platform that seems to shift on a whim. I'm sure plenty of thought went into this change and I'm excited for what it may be paving the way for. However, its starting to feel like the smart assumption is that we shouldn't rely of Airtable because there's zero communication about workflow-breaking changes.

I want to invest in Airtable, but I don't want to invest SO MUCH TIME redesigning pages everytime there's an Airtable update.

Joseph_Roza
7 - App Architect
7 - App Architect

I had trouble putting my finger on what was the real part of these new sidesheets that didn't sit right with me. 

There's a very different 'building experience' to them that is nowhere else on interfaces. With Interfaces, you can drag and drop, shift things around, nudge them, etc. It can be a bit clunky, but it's creative and fun and 'hands-on', so to speak. You can build really powerful pages and tools with the flexibility the interface desigers allows.

But with these new sidesheets, it's more of a 'design by sidebar' building experience.

  • 'Hide/unhide' from the sidebar.
  • Drag fields from section to section from the sidebar.

I have to be honest, it feels counterintuitive. I want to click and drag between fields and sections, because that's what the interface designer is all about, and it's a jarring transition.

I don't know if it's intended and supposed to be this way, or if this is what you eventually hope to make interface page building like, but I hope not. It just feels like checking boxes.