Following the last post on how life is simple, it has been starting to dawn on me that consumer web design is also simple.
I don’t mean it is simple to think of something and get traction. I just mean simple in design.
This is for good reason.
When a new user reaches a website, everything is new. If you do a good job with design, and if the user is interested, they might learn a few concepts.
Sites with one concept seem to be rare. You should hope to get across at least two concepts. The two concepts needed usually turn out to be (1) a data format, and (2) an interaction with respect to the data.
Here are some examples of early products:
- Twitter: tweets, and follows
- Reddit: posts, upvotes
- WordPress: blog posts, follows
- Tumblr: blog posts, and reblogs (follows could be a third)
- Myspace/Facebook: profiles, and friending (the wall messages is a third)
- Pinterest: Pins and repins (with board, and maybe follows)
- Yelp: Places and comments
- Instagram: Picture art, and share
- Snapchat: Picture art, and temporary share
Pay attention to your product’s data format and main interaction. It seems that these concepts define what your product will fundamentally become. If you can’t get the site off the ground with these concepts, you may not have a good product. If you find yourself white-boarding or coding something with more concepts, you might want to reconsider.
A good number of startups in the short list above seem to have something that could be considered a third concept. If you have one, it should add a lot to your product. For example, people love to curate boards on Pinterest. Writing on Facebook walls were pretty popular back in the days.
Also, from the inconclusive list above, it seems like each combination of concepts ultimately becomes dominated by the one startup that executes it well. By dominating, I mean that this startup is usually serves the general user well and covers many (if not all) niches.
Be sure to clearly define your few concepts. If they are the same as another startup (particularly one who is winning already), be careful. You probably don’t want to clone it unless you have a good idea of how you are going to be different. It could be execution. Facebook beat Myspace because of how its execution influenced the community. It could be tweaking the product. As Andrew Chen says, it may be good to clone 80% of a startup as long as you tweak 20% of the product. One way is to tweak one of the concepts in a fundamental way so that your product changes. This would be the best. A second is to cater to a particular niche and add product features for that niche. If you do this, you can still succeed, but you most likely will never get as big as the main startup that dominates your combination of concepts.
In general, this is good news for consumer web product designers. Keep it simple, and focus on your two (or three) fundamental concepts.
How do you think about consumer web products? Simplifying consumer products has helped me begin reasoning about different products. I would love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. This is post number #34 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!
Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.
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