The Pinterest Effect on Web Design and Usability: Let’s Evolve, Not Devolve

Design and Usability in the Age of PinterestI was recently asked a few questions by a design magazine DOLODY about some of my Pinterest observations in my Web Design is Dead post. (Questions provided by Joanna Wiebe.)

Q: In comparison to previous methods of cataloging information (esp. visual info) online, can you please unpack how you feel Pinterest’s approach – i.e., visual, random, social – is different?

A: The pros and cons of Pinterest are both in it’s visual simplicity. I was amazed the first time I looked at a Pin Board at the quality of the photos. “This has to be planted material, how could consumer generated content have such great photos?”
So Pinterest is all about the image. The photo or video still represents the content. There is room for a CATEGORY (a board) and  a short description. But the majority of people visiting Pinterest and PINNING and LINKING out will only react to the image.

The downside of this approach is the Pin Board is not sortable. So your navigational systems are very flat. And with the current UX the user must bounce back and forth from the Pin Board to the various Pins. I have written a post on fixing that problem with simple back and forwards arrows on the PIN page itself.


Q: When designing in this new Pinterest world, what should a UI or UX designer keep in mind? In particular, I’m interested in hearing what will kill a novice who’s not paying attention vs helping someone who is?

A: The image is everything. Can you sell the entire story with your image? Do you have a hero image that will draw in the Pinners?


Q: What do you think Pinterest is going to do to user/visitor expectations from an interaction perspective? From a content perspective?

A: I’m hoping Pinterest won’t have too much of an influence on navigation and UX design. We would be moving backwards and not evolving. The Pinterest API is coming, so soon you will be able to embed Pinboards into your site. But do you want to? Do you think giving Pinterest all of your link-love is wise? I think you will want to add PIN THIS buttons on your sites, but finding a way to not lose your traffic to PIN-happy visitors will be a challenge.


Q: What is your opinion on the type of content being pinned on Pinterest?

A: For the most part, Pinterest has been a women’s network. The Likes of Pinterest on Facebook are 97% women. And there are 2 million Likes. So Pinterest is a force to be understood. As the mainstream internet users get ON to Pinterest, the content will evolve. Today the taxonomy overlaid by Pinterest’s categories is a bit rudimentary. And I would guess the SEARCH function is not used very much, yet. But for Pinterest to be of “interest” to the mainstream net user it will have to provide more features and functions. Today it is like electronic scrapbooking with other people’s pictures. And it’s not very social.


Q: What might ‘democratizing’ visual feedback mean for bloggers and web designers alike, if anything?

A: I’m not sure what you are asking. If the PIN is a VOTE then Pinterest will have an affect as long as the buzz continues. I’m already a bit bored with it. And even bored of talking about it. I want to see what it will become, or if it will fade back into a scrapbook of shoes, skirts, and kitchen ideas.


Q: Is there any cause for concern – or joy – about Pinterest users shaping expectations of what is beautiful / pin-worthy (in a way similar to machines in the Industrial Revolution influencing Art Deco and then the Arts & Crafts reaction to mass production)?

A: Well, there’s going to be a ton of Pinterest clones. Walls of images with little or no coordinated navigation. And there will be SOCIAL Pinterest extensions as well. Today it’s a PIN and POST network. Tomorrow, I’m betting the PINS and your friend’s PINS will become more connected, more threaded. It’s not social today, but I’m sure someone is working on that.


Q: Did Pinterest kill web design as we know it? If you think so, please explain why. If you think not, please explain why.

A: Web design as we used to know it has been dead for awhile. I think the first wave of destruction was blogs and the ease of use of WordPress and the free template. Certainly grabbing your information from RSS-feeds, as I do, rather than from the site itself has gone a long way towards taking the “design” out of the information for me.

Pinterest is again going to challenge the designers of the world when new clients arrive and ask, “Can you make it like Pinterest?” The designer’s question needs to be, “What about Pinterest do you like? What things do we need to change?” And the most important question of all, from a design AND business angle, “What is the goal of your site?”

The User-Interface on Pinterest is pretty simple. See a picture, click on a picture, click BACK, and repeat. After a while that gets quite tedious. And that’s were designers can come back in and make a better Pinterest-like site.

The visual is ever more important  today, but the navigation is key to the usability of the site. Without navigation and organization, Pinterest is merely pretty pictures. And what is the user goal of that model?

@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

All Pinterest posts:

Other posts about kicking ass in social media:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John, Pinterest may be just a whiteboard rather than a design, but here’s one way in which it’s being exercised into a social media direction:
    Now, how in the world one drives traffic to these bits amidst the morass of other undifferentiated stuff — as you rightly emphasize — is another matter, and awaits a true social platform for Pinterest.

    1. Great example Brad. Pinterest as a resume promotional tool. I’m gonna do that. #jobhunt #resume #pinterest

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