How Facebook’s Messenger Got Its fresh Look in a fresh Jersey Basement

Only six social media apps within the entire world have a billion or more users, along with also four of them belong to Facebook. Tops can be the eponymous flagship app, known as “Big Blue,” followed by three apps all focused on messaging: Instagram, WhatsApp, along with also Messenger. So when Facebook decided to do a significant redesign of the latter—currently used by 1.3 billion people—you would certainly expect the key interface creator to be an experienced hand working at its Menlo Park headquarters, surrounded by co-workers monitoring his every move.

Instead the key shaper of the fresh Messenger’s look can be Christian Dalonzo, a 23-year-old who was still an undergraduate at Rowan University in fresh Jersey when he crafted the “bubbly” vibe of what was known internally as M4, announced today after a long gestation. He blueprinted the screen experience of a billion-plus people while living within the basement of his parent’s South Jersey home.

Christian Dalonzo


Dalonzo had twice spent summers interning at Facebook, embedded with the Messenger design team. He had been so impressive in which the company agreed to hire him after his 2015 summer stint, even as he returned to fresh Jersey to finish his degree. The ideas he came up with in his basement a year later helped Messenger evolve its own distinct brand.

These days, Facebook sees itself as a tightly bound family of social apps in which all share infrastructure. Whatsapp along with also Instagram were born as independent apps in which have been slowly integrated into This specific family, while Messenger was split off through the original Facebook in 2013 along with also can be at This specific point assuming similar status as those two acquisitions—big important apps in which, under the hood, are Facebook.

Messenger 4 isn’t a drastic redesign. although users will first notice in which its tabs have been pared down through nine to three. Each tab invokes a different screen. The first can be Chats, the inbox where you manage your conversations with friends—along with also the only one where ads currently intermingle with the list of conversations. (Expect the sponsored stuff to spread.) The second can be People, essentially a “fresh age buddy list,” says product manager David Breger. At the top of in which screen can be a carousel—at This specific point supersized—of your friends’ Stories, the ephemeral collection of photos along with also videos in which can be the Facebook ecosystem’s fastest-growing feature, along with also the company’s best wish of fresh revenue growth.

The third tab can be Discover. Messenger, just like Facebook itself, can be also used by businesses. Messenger executives have been frustrated in which although millions of businesses use the service, actual people have been slower to strike up a conversation with them. They wish in which will change with M4.

Stan Chudnovsky, the Facebook VP who heads Messenger, sees the three tabs as recapitulating the White Pages along with also Yellow Pages of bygone days. He refers to the first two tabs as “the people’s directory.” The Discover tab, meanwhile, can be the modern yellow pages, a gateway to commerce as well as games along with also some other services, current along with also future.

some other M4 design elements show things like the backlog in your inbox along with also an increased way to organize group communications. Conversational threads at This specific point can be personalized by coloring gradients, changing through one hue to another as a chat progresses. Even the logo has been subtly revamped—the sharp corners of the stylized lightning-bolt ‘M’ have been rounded, to signal in which a friendlier experience lies ahead.

Finally, the Messenger team has produced a much more dramatic Dark Mode design, where the brights along with also dims switch places, for a striking photo-negative effect. in which won’t launch for a while. although in which’s true of many aspects of the fresh Messenger: the idea’s meant to expand along with also evolve.

M4 can be the coming of age of a product in which, several years ago, Facebook ruthlessly carved out of its main application. When the idea kicked messaging out its flagship app, Facebook—which had purchased one messaging app for a billion dollars along with also another for more than $20 billion—was essentially creating a third potential powerhouse, for free, along with also without having to worry in which its founders might storm out of the company, as happened with both Whatsapp along with also Instagram.

The opportunity to grow the Messenger user base through a paltry 150 million was sufficient to lure a top executive to the company in 2014: David Marcus, then the president of Paypal. The shift “happened just before I got here,” Marcus told me in February, when I was first briefed about M4. (This specific past May, Marcus left the Messenger organization to explore blockchain possibilities for Facebook, along with also his lieutenant Chudnovsky took over.)

Marcus understood immediately in which once Facebook’s messages were moved out of Big Blue, the fresh app would certainly thrive. “in which enabled us to do a couple of things,” he says, citing notifications as just one example. Many Facebook users kept notifications off; by splitting off messaging, the company surmised in which users would certainly be more likely to activate them. “Notifications are actually primordial in a messaging app—if you message people along with also they respond to you at the speed of email, in which’s not okay.” Even more important, he says, having a standalone app allowed his team to work more independently. “We could build things much faster inside of a messaging app than we could inside of the Facebook app.”

Build things they did—Messenger added voice calls, both one-to-one along with also among groups. the idea added stickers along with also some other visual frivolities like the ability to festoon photos by giving your subjects digital makeovers. the idea opened its platform to outsiders; more than 0,000 developers have since used the idea to build games, interact with brands, along with also more. the idea rolled out peer-to-peer payments. While its attempt to create a giant ecosystem of erudite, automated business bots fell short of its considerable hype, Messenger has still managed to draw about 20 million businesses, which exchange more than 10 billion messages with customers every month. although as these features rolled out, people’s screens started out to look overstuffed. “At some point you can’t keep adding in fresh tabs,” says Breger.

Another issue was the experience of Messenger, which has not been terribly distinctive. According to the design team, in which was intentional. Because the app began as the landing spot for people whose communications were booted through Big Blue, Facebook wanted to make the transition as un-annoying as the idea could. the idea looked, as Dalonzo puts the idea, “a little bit wire frame-y along with also sort of sterile.”

Meanwhile, competitors like Snap, Apple’s iMessage, along with also Facebook’s own Instagram had forged ahead by adopting the innovations Messenger had popularized (like stickers) along with also coming up with fresh ones. Messenger’s designers realized the idea was time for their app to get a more distinctive look. “We were starting to shift into generating something actually expressive along with also fun along with also engaging,” says Jeremy Goldberg, a Messenger product design manager.

in which’s where the former intern through fresh Jersey came in. After Dalonzo completed his second internship, he returned home with an arrangement to continue working for Facebook while finishing his undergrad studies at Rowan, a few miles through his home. “I moved down to our basement along with also turned the idea into sort of a dorm room: a couch, desk, bed, TV,” he says. Messenger’s design team in Menlo Park became very familiar with the dark blue wall in which Dalonzo sat in front of while videoconferencing into meetings.

In November 2016, Dalonzo was working on a smaller problem in which involved layering a set of whimsical flourishes on top of the actual content of a message. “I started out playing with how to make things feel a little bit more bubbly, a little bit more playful, a little bit more friendly.” The term he liked was “lickable,” the word used by Steve Jobs to describe the look of Aqua, the Mac OS X interface through the early 2000s. Dalonzo pitched alterations such as the ability to personalize a conversation with different colors, which could shift as a chat progressed. As he shared his ideas on the company’s internal drawing board, his colleagues came to realize in which these tweaks might scale to a general refresh of the entire Messenger experience, along with also they encouraged him to keep going.

“At a company like Facebook, every single pixel within the app can be iterated or worked on all of the time,” says Loredana Crisan, the product design director who headed the redesign team. “the idea becomes difficult to rethink the whole system. So you look for those moments of opportunity for risk. We were like, ‘This specific can be not just Christian in his basement, playing around with ideas.’”

within the spring of 2017, Crisan approached Marcus with the idea of merging Dalonzo’s work into Messenger’s road map. After he graduated in which May, Dalonzo moved to California along with also continued working on the redesign, alongside an expanded team.

One major theme was surfacing some of the buried features in which many users weren’t taking advantage of. at This specific point a swipe to the right on a contact’s name reveals options to send a text or begin a video or voice call; previously This specific was a multi-tap process. Gathering contacts for a group message also requires fewer steps. There’s more to come: Soon, a long press on a message will allow you to instantly “power up” the communiqué with emojis, stickers or GIFs.

Not everything was easy. Streamlining Messenger to three tabs meant in which some teams, like the ones integrating Games into the product, would certainly lose their main-screen real estate. “When you suddenly want to take in which away through them, the idea’s very emotional,” says Marcus.

Last December, the designers showed off the app’s fresh look at an all-hands meeting. the idea then took another 10 months—while Messenger’s leadership underwent a transition—before the idea was ready to roll out to users.

Facebook’s future can be in messaging. For the Big Blue app to push beyond its existing 2.2 billion users, the idea has only high-hanging fruit left to pluck. Properties like Messenger, though, have plenty of easy opportunities to attract more users along with also bring in fresh revenue. A big reason for Facebook’s reorganization last May was to put 1 person—Chief Product Officer Chris Cox—in charge of the entire family of apps. “I do believe in which the best world can be one where people along with also businesses communicate with each some other the same way in which people communicate with people,” says Chudnovsky. “along with also all of in which can be happening on the messaging platform.”

Better yet if the idea’s lickable. Even if you have to go to a fresh Jersey basement to make the idea happen.

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How Facebook’s Messenger Got Its fresh Look in a fresh Jersey Basement