The Information Architecture That Is Pinterest
By: Lauren W. Mosena
Pinterest is a social media platform and is described as a visual discovery engine where people find inspiration from artists or creators, shop new products and seek out ideas of all kinds for everyday life (Eckert). Pinterest describes itself as “the world’s catalog of ideas” whose mission is to inspire everyone to create lives they love. The social media platform was co-founded in 2010 by Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra. Since then, the platform has grown and developed to include a variety of features such as shopping, creator profiles, Pinterest for Business and more. As of May 2020, Pinterest had amassed over 320 million monthly active users (Lincoln). Furthermore, according to Pinterest, 97% of the top searches are unbranded, meaning individuals search in generic terms instead of by specific brands. As of January 2022, Pinterest was the 14th largest social network in the world. But what makes Pinterest unique is that it is not where one goes to share work or life updates like Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram. Instead, Pinterest is primarily a source of inspiration, or “pinspiration.”
Data & Taxonomy
Pinterest is made and sustained by user-submitted data and metadata. This data is made of billions of “Pins’’ added to the platform by “Pinners.” Each Pinner has a home feed page where Pinterest showcases Pins the user would be interested in based on previous activity. Users are also shown Pins from people and boards they follow. There are many levels of hierarchy or organization offered to the user. However this exploration will examine the primary and overarching levels of hierarchy of Pins, boards and Idea Pins.
Pins are simple, static images uploaded onto the platform. Boards are where Pins are saved, like tacking a picture onto a posterboard with a thumbnail. Idea Pins allow users to record videos, add multiple images and add lists or custom text if desired. The taxonomy of Pinterest has these items nested within each other. Though nesting is not the same as hierarchy, Pins, boards and board sections are “nested” within each other maintaining Pinterest’s simple hierarchy (Hinton, 94). The placement of Pins on boards, as well as sections within larger topic boards, demonstrates the benefit of context of nesting reliable invariants like the stable Pin and board (Hinton, 94). Invariants are defined as “…persistently stable properties of the environment; they persist as unchanging, in the midst of change…” (Hinton, 87). Hence, with the reliable invariances of Pins and boards, Pinterest maintains its organization and hierarchy in spite of the continual addition of user-submitted data and metadata.
Creating a Pin User Flow
To create a Pin, users are first asked to upload their photo. They are then prompted to add a title, description and the destination link (in case other Pinners want to learn more). Lastly, Pinners choose either to create a board on which to save the Pin, or pin to an existing board.
So it remains, despite their growth and development, Pinterest has kept the process of creating Pins quite simple.
- First, Pinners tap the plus sign at the bottom of the screen.
2. Then Pinners are asked what they would like to create, an Idea Pin, Pin or board. If creating the simplest Pin (using the more frequented mobile app), photos on the Pinner’s phone open as options for posting from which to choose:
3. After choosing the photo to be pinned, the next page opens asking for the other details of the Pin:
4. Then as the Pin is saved on a board, the Pinner is presented with all of their existing boards, or the option to create a new board for this new Pin. Boards can be made “secret” or private and only visible to the individual Pinner, or open to other collaborators.
Depending on how the board is named and other details provided, Pinterest will then provide Pins it thinks will be appealing to the Pinner. For example, when a board is made about a small dog named Teddy, Pinterest provides many pictures of stuffed teddy bears:
While that board was made for a dog, the board title provided by the Pinner, “Teddy,” forced the Pinterest algorithm to produce Pins of actual teddy bears. To bring dogs and dog-oriented things to that board, the Pinner would need to add more dog Pins.
After users have spent some time on Pinterest, made some boards and saved some Pins, Pinterest will start to not only provide Pins, boards and Idea Pins, but also suggest the boards to which the system thinks the Pin fits. For example, someone who pins lots of recipes is presented with new salads of all kinds and next to the “Save” button is the name of the board, “To try some day” making it that much easier to pin and continue their use and exploration of Pinterest and all it has to offer.
The taxonomies on Pinterest are quite elaborate. The amount of data any Pinner may save to Pinterest is enormous. Therefore, the company provides many different systems of taxonomy and categorization. To start with, on a personal board, Pinners are offered the first easy separation of Pins they have created versus Pins they have saved. There is also a search bar to “Search your Pins.” A user’s Pins are offered all in one board, “All Pins,” while still presenting their other existing boards for perusal. Next, there is a filtering option allowing further organization and customization of boards.
As is visible above, the filtering allows for sorting and organization alphabetically and manual sorting of boards. The default option is “Last saved to” in an effort to keep user experience optimal. Therein also lies the option of editing board visibility for instances when users may want to keep boards private, for example surprise party planning ideas.
Within an individual board, there are further methods of organization. Users are presented with a variety of opportunities, starting with the ability to invite collaborators to their board to contribute. Additionally, users are presented with the following:
- “More ideas” — Pinterest opens a new page of ideas and suggestions
- “Organize” — Pinners can sort, reorder or group Pins into different sections
- “Board Options” — Pinners can edit, merge, share or achieve their boards
These levels of hierarchy can lead to boards within boards. For example, a board of “Homemade dog goodies” within the larger board of “To Try Someday.” Note that the number of individual Pins is displayed on each board and board level.
All of this is only describing Pinterest taxonomy at the board and Pin level. Remember there are Idea Pins as well as Pinterest for Business, shopping and more. The site creates taxonomy to support a taxonomy: users want to see this Pin, so they go to this board. Needless to say, as each Pin and board is created at the user’s discretion, the taxonomy of Pinterest is nearly endless.
Part of what has allowed Pinterest to remain so successful is its simple user flow. Users search, are given results, choose a board and “Pin” their chosen image (Munoz).
While there are some slight differences between the desktop site and mobile app, according to Pinterest, most Pinners now use the mobile app. There are a few key design items that make the mobile app so easy to use.
- Navigation — only a local search navigation instead of global searching throughout the app
- Scrolling — Infinite scrolling allows for a never-ending sea of results to any search, and after pining, users are taken back to to the same place on results page
- Carousel — Beneath the search bar is a carousel of ideas which might help the indecisive user, narrow down the search or spark different ideas
- Cards — each board provides a peek of the images shown, then if selected, more detailed information is provided
- Saving — By pinning something to a board instead of just liking it, the experience is more organized and complete for the user
The combination of the simplistic user flow combined with these key design staples make the app very easy to learn from a new user’s point of view, as well as easy to return to for previous users. Users can add to existing boards to their content, reorganize both Pins and boards, and scroll infinitely for new Pins!
The understanding that visually-oriented design is easier to digest is not new. Visuals have a much faster and more powerful impact on humans and their emotions (Suleman). As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. This, combined with the infinite scrolling allowed of the images, makes users much more likely to spend more time engaging with the interface than if they had to continually click, “next page” (Suleman). Additionally, Pinterest keeps items of interest to each particular user at the top of their feed. There are no updates from other users or “what’s new” sections that are not centered around each individual user. Users are genuinely interested in the content they create, organize and pin. The user-based data supports the user and their interests entirely.
The most difficult user pathway is “hiding” a Pin or board, after which users are asked to provide a reason why. After “hiding” the view, the card space remains visible but dark gray, noting the user’s desires. This is true whether it is an advertisement or user-supplied Pin (see image below).
With infinite scrolling, the grayed-out cards are eventually replaced with new material, but expressing disinterest or dislike is by far the most difficult task on Pinterest. There is no easy “thumb down” button to make it disappear back into the sea of material provided by user upon user, every single day.
While the use of Pinterest can become significantly more complicated with things like Idea Pins, shopping and Pinterest for Business, for the everyday average individual looking for inspiration, there are no deterring technological hurdles to overcome to access all of the “Pinspiration” within Pinterest.
Pinterest & The Future
Pinterest will continue to be popular for years to come given its growth rate and user base in the recent past. In 2020, with the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, Forbes tells us how Pinterest’s user base skyrocketed with monthly active users (MAUs) rising 39% to 416 million over the second quarter. The difference between Pinterest and other platforms like Facebook is that Pinterest focuses on ideas, hobbies and products as opposed to personal information (Trefis Team and Great Speculations). This makes Pinterest a great potential resource for advertisers. Pinterest has also been working to improve its technology driving monetization with tools like automatic bidding, improving the user experience for both advertisers as well as public users (Lincoln). At the same time, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has been under the spotlight for issues of trust and confidentiality. This could potentially turn many advertisers and users to Pinterest instead of Meta platforms.
Of course the company will continue to evolve with time, but what has made, and kept, Pinterest so successful over time is its simple user flow and design. It is those basic principles which will help maintain the company’s success. While not specifically targeting the audiences, over 60% of Gen Zers and millennials say they love to search by image (Lincoln). These generations are already inclined towards the technology, and so maintaining the reliable and trust-worthy user flow seems like the wise choice. In terms of the unknown and what is to come, the company is still improving and growing with its new shopping and business relationships. But one thing comes to mind — what will happen when all those Gen Zers and millennials decide they are tired of seeing what they already know interests them? Will Pinterest lose popularity or will “Pinspiration” be enough for survival? Maybe there’s a board for that?
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