Great design exists in all shapes and sizes. We tend to remember the sexy, big launches, the “oh-my-god-they-removed-the-physical-keyboard,” or the “wow, that looks stunning.” But there are interesting design decisions in every successful product, decisions that have a big impact on behavior. Here are five I’ve encountered recently (which—it should be acknowledged, is by no means complete nor in any particular order.)
Snapchat’s single button for taking photo + video
Just a simple, big circular button. Tap to snap. Hold to capture video.It’s intuitive because the thing you want to capture is the same in both instances; what’s different is how long you want to capture it for. The effort your finger puts in directly controls how much you get. No mode switching. No posing with a cheesy grin only to discover you’ve been recording a video of yourself smiling awkwardly like an idiot. I suppose one downside is that there’s some uncertainty around exactly how much time elapses before a photo becomes a video, but hey, this is Snapchat, not MovieMakerPro. Easy trumps all.
Candy Crush Saga’s “5 more moves.”
I am not ashamed (okay, maybe slightly ashamed) to admit that this little maneuver has cost me tens and maybe even hundreds of dollars. For all its other shortcomings, Candy Crush has got addictive nailed. And the clincher is the option to purchase five more moves after you run out.There are a couple of reasons I find this so effective. First is the sense of control. I’m the one who couldn’t finish the puzzle in the allotted number of moves. Such a thing is clearly possible (well, until Level 135, though that’s a different story entirely), if only I had played better. And yet. It happens not infrequently that I need only a handful of extra moves to win. It’s kind of like running a race where the winner gets a cold, refreshing glass of lemonade at the end (yes, I have been watching the new Arrested Development season), and if you don’t win, you can always try and run the race again. BUT—if you got second place and you were so, so, SO close to that tantalizing reward and you were presented the option to drop 99 cents for that lemonade… Well, you can see how that might be tempting.
At its core, the mechanic here is the classic time vs. money tradeoff that most free-to-play games employ. But the difference with Candy Crush is that this one feels far more personal. It’s attached to my past decisions on how I’ve chosen to solve the puzzle rather than the game’s own arbitrary decisions. I’m in this situation because I couldn’t finish the puzzle, and I’m only two moves away, so help me god I will not give up on this level I will pass I will pass I will…
Path’s sticker store
Over the top in the best way possible. After all, what’s a sticker but an expression of fun and playfulness? And that’s exactly what all the little design decisions for Path’s sticker store reflect. Go to the shop, and the striped awning rolls back as the door bell chimes to announce “open for business!” like your favorite neighborhood patisserie. The sticker packs are displayed oh-so-prettily on neat little shelves, complete with dramatic spotlight as if this were a museum exhibit of sorts. Tilt the phone, and the stickers swing along, playfully reacting to your movements. It’s humorously skeumorphic, and it works so well because it’s not trying to be real (because let’s be honest—has anyone ever seen a real-life sticker store?) It’s intentionally exaggerated, and the end effect is pure delight. One thing I always imagine when seeing the store—the designer working on it must have had loads of fun.
Spotify’s “Popular” section
Recently, as I was undergoing the sacredly important ritual of preparing a playlist for a roadtrip, I discovered the new Popular section at the top of every artist page on Spotify. Now, while the feature itself isn’t news (pretty much every music service has some kind of sorted list of songs based on popularity), the difference is that Spotify’s also includes an extra bit of data about each song: the global number of plays. For someone looking to discover new British artists (said roadtrip was across the pond), that little number packed a power punch of information. For one thing, the discrepancy between the order of the songs and the global plays gives you an indication of what’s popular recently vs. what’s been popular historically, useful if you’re new to an artist. You also get a sense for the difference in popularity between various songs, something a simple sorted list doesn’t give you, so you can tell if the artist is a one-hit wonder or a consistent chart-topper.
Of course, there are likely more elegant ways to display that extra info than with a single large and very specific number (which is hard to understand at first and kind of hard to read.) But when the power of modern technology lets me choose between millions of songs to listen to with a few clicks, I appreciate that Spotify put in some additional transparency to help me more easily make a choice.
Evernote’s note cards
I’m talking about those little squares that look like white Post-It notes that show you a preview of the note’s content. There’s something about the tangibility and physicality of that design that makes it work so much better for me than a list. Notes (at least the way I use them) are scattered little things, about a lot of different and parallel topics, not something you can easily put in any order, so the two-column grid, while unconventional, feels appropriate. Not to mention, the Post-It look really hearkens to keeping these notes simple and lightweight, as if to hint, “don’t make these too complicated, you can always tear off another sheet.” One final plus—the oversized width of the preview pane ends up reducing the width of the composer pane, making the note you’re writing feel less like a giant, imposing sheet of blankness. You’re jotting down notes, after all, not composing some formal document.
Of course, there are many more examples beyond just these five. (They just happened to the first ones I thought of that I hadn’t read a bunch of other articles about.) While each were either a single screen or a small part of an overall product, they all caused me to pause and reflect on their impact. Any product, after all, is a sum of all its small parts… and when each part is thoughtfully designed, the whole experience can come together beautifully.