Evolution vs Revolution – changing your site’s design

I tend not to talk much about web design any more, but my attendance at IA Summit 2009 brought a thought to mind. I sat in Jared Spool’s talk on “Revealing Design Treasures from the Amazon” where he pointed out what others can learn from Amazon’s design decisions.

Among his points is that over the last 15 years Amazon has never “redesigned.” They’ve evolved and tweaked their design so that today it doesn’t really look at all like it did a while ago, but there was never a glorious unveiling of a whole new design. Jared’s been arguing against large-scale redesigns for a while, so this point didn’t surprise me.

What Jared neglects to address is the context in which these design changes take place. Because I’ve seen wholescale redesigns work (I lead one at Epinions), and I also know of many services that currently require a fundamental redesign. Amazon has never warranted a wholescale redesign because Amazon’s basic value proposition has never changed: they sell stuff. And it’s business model hasn’t changed — they make money through selling stuff.

But look at a service like LinkedIn. LinkedIn has done what Jared suggests — many changes over time. The problem is, LinkedIn is a mess from a user experience point of view. I know there’s heaps of value buried in LinkedIn that I cannot realize because I can’t figure out how to use the system. The difference with LinkedIn (compared to Amazon) is that its value proposition has evolved, the services they offer are radically different than what was available at their outset, and their revenue model has also changed. What a site like LinkedIn needs to do is step back, assess who they are *today*, and go back to first principles and design a site that matches their current reality, not a cobbled-together experience that has accreted over time. (And don’t get me wrong — I’m a fan of LinkedIn, and use it frequently. That’s *why* it frustrates me so much, because it’s so incoherent.)

Anyway, my point is that, well, sometimes you do need to blow up what you’re doing and approach your site’s design from whatever fundamentally new position you find yourself. Don’t be locked in to old ways just because they made sense once.

Post-Ownership Society – Track That Meme!

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve termed, in my head at least, a “Post-Ownership Society.” This was spurred by an interview conducted of me on user experience trends 55 years into the future. One thing that’s clear is that the importance people associate with owning stuff will decrease. It will be supplanted by access, experiences, and the act of creation.

This is a meme I’m starting to track. Kevin Kelly wrote about how access is better than ownership in a post on his blog, “Better Than Owning”.

Kelly focuses much of his discussion on media, where it’s patently obvious that in 5-10 years we’ll all be subscribing to access to The Media Cloud, listening/watching/reading pretty much whatever we want when we want (with some exceptions, notably live events).

My key realization about post-ownership is something Kelly neglects to mention — carsharing. So I found it interesting that The New York Times published a lengthy feature last weekend on this emerging phenomenon. (I’ve had this post brewing for a while, so this struck me as serendipitous.)

A few weeks ago NPR’s Science Friday featured an interview with a quantitative psychologist who found that experiences, not things, lead to longer term happiness. (This was presented in the context of Valentine’s Day, and what you should give your honey.)

In early February BusinessWeek had an article on falling prices, though it turns out the prices that fell in 2008 for products; the price of services rose last year.

At the end of last year, futurist Paul Saffo spoke on KQED’s Forum about the emerging Creator Economy, which will push out the Consumer Economy.

I’m bummed I didn’t get to see Lane and Thor’s talk on “The End of Obsolescence: Engineering the Post-Consumer Economy,” as I’m sure it touches on this as well.

I’m excited about this development because I’ve long been an advocate of Less Stuff, and I think it provides a remarkable opportunity for those of us who work in the area of designing for services and experiences.