How Old Magazines and Lamborghinis Inform Flipboard’s Design Process and Approach
Before joining Flipboard, Didier Hilhorst co-founded and designed IntoNow, the “Shazam for TV”, and contributed at IDEO as an interaction designer. Now, Hilhorst is a part of the product design team at Flipboard, where he helps shape one of the most popular apps on earth. The First Round Capital team was thrilled to host Didier at our Design+Startup event series where he shared Flipboard's design philosophy with the other 160 designers in attendence.
Make It About More Than Just the Designers
While your design team will be largely responsible for the actual design implementation, involve everyone in your company — from the engineers to the support staff — along the way. You want your company’s DNA to be felt throughout your product, and the only way to do that is to make the design process an inclusive one. At Flipboard, this mentality is pervasive: Everyone chips in and everybody understands what the product is.
Create an Emotional Connection
Regardless of whether you’re in the B2B space or driving a consumer product, it’s your job as a designer to create products that form an emotional connection. Envision the 1971 Lamborghini Miura. It’s an objectively beautiful vehicle, and you might even say “It screams sex.” More impressive than this car’s raw emotion, however, is its level of detail: When you open the car’s front doors, they look like the horns of a bull. While this type of design generally adds very little functionality, it manages to leave people exceptionally happy. And the best designers, digital and non-digital alike, make sure that their products evoke this sort of delight.
The Prius, on the other hand, is the “anti-car,” driven by data and efficiency. While it’s not fair to say it doesn’t create an emotional connection, the principles behind it are completely different. Whereas the Miura might invoke an extremely emotional sentiment, the connection you have with a Prius is bound to be much more practical.
Taking Product Inspiration & Design Philosophy from the Physical
Flipboard takes its product inspiration and design philosophy in part from the beauty of print.
Newspapers and magazines are beautifully laid out, and are still very much an amazing form of design. But like so many physical products, they don’t always translate well to the digital realm. Between the browser, complicated menus, and obtrusive ads, websites used to be crummy. And when you compare the magazine to its website counterpart, it’s a completely different experience.
The iPad disrupted this: Suddenly you could touch content. At Flipboard, this meant that the company could finally design in such a way that it could take the beauty of print and combine it with some of the functionality that the digital world allows.
When you pick up a magazine, there’s no manual. It has no buttons, no sign-up flow, no Facebook Connect. Flipboard takes a cue from that. When you open the app, the first and only thing to do is flip. The same goes for layouts and articles. Flipboard designs beautiful interactions with less navigation so that it becomes an experience to use the product.
Print is an inspiration, but it's not the objective to present a replication. Rather, it's to take the best qualities of print and bring them to a new medium in a way that is authentic.
When you’re designing, especially for content-heavy applications, there are UI elements that wouldn’t make sense in a print layout. Some things are still lists and some things require a user interface.
Flipboard’s goal is to separate these two spaces, because if you try to combine the two, it won’t work well. This extends to the car metaphor: If you try to combine a Lamborghini with a Prius, you probably won’t get a great car. As a designer, you have to decide when and where to apply a more traditional UI, where you have the functionality, and where you can take affordances. In Flipboard’s case, it’s from the print world, but it might be different for your organization.
Taking Inspiration from “Old Stuff”
Take the original Polaroid, which was a total hit. You could snap a picture, get a photograph, and share it with friends in a matter of minutes. It was instant. It was social. And it may have been the first real social photography product. Instagram took a cue from this invention by providing more than just great filters. Hipstamatic showed us that you can create great filters on an iPhone, but it was Instagram that realized that sharing photos with friends and then designing their product around that interaction is what’s really cool.
This same phenomenon is true with IntoNow, the “Shazam for TV shows,” which takes a lot of inspiration from old-school television. Every time the app processes audio in an attempt to figure out what you’re watching, it displays a fun screen that makes it feel like you’re not really waiting.
Being able to take inspiration from legacy products and creating a fun element around it is a key ingredient in the product development process. While some discount these small details, the best designers recognize how critical they are to a product experience that creates an emotional connection.
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Elle Luna is an artist and designer who lives and works in San Francisco. She worked with teams to design and build Mailbox, redesign Uber’s iPhone app, and scale the storytelling platform Medium. Before startups, Elle spent five years at IDEO where she worked across a variety of industries to develop multichannel, holistic experiences with massive impact. When she’s not painting, you can find her traveling to Bali for her new textile venture, Bulan Project, and inspiring people to follow their passion. Luna is social proof that finding your calling is a worthy pursuit, and this is how she did it.
Stop Dancing Around Criticism and Put It to Use with These Tips from Airbnb's Head of Experience Design
“Criticism may be based on opinion, but that’s what makes it valuable. It gives us a taste of why people will eventually love or hate our work.” This is Katie Dill, Airbnb's Head of Experience Design. Previously, she helped founders shape products and UX at Greenstart, and ascended from analyst to creative director at Frog Design. She also teaches graduate industrial design classes at CCA. Needless to say, she’s been on the giving and receiving end of design and product feedback countless times — but she thinks the process could almost always be much better. What’s better? Better results. Critique doesn’t exist so that people can air their unfounded opinions. It exists so you can accelerate the time it takes to get to the best possible product. That said, many have been burned by insulting or unfocused critiques, so they’ve stopped doing it — missing out on vital opportunities to improve. “If critique isn’t done right, it’s insulting. You’re not excited to go do more work or do it better,” Dill says. At First Round’s last Design+Startup Event, she shared insights from interviews with a number of designers and business leaders diving into the nuts and bolts of criticism, what makes it helpful, and how to offer criticism that actually yields game-changing results for users.
Rap Genius Explains Why Worse is Better
At 12:30 p.m. on August 19, 2009, Tom Lehman entered the first line of code that would eventually become Rap Genius. By 6:22 p.m. the same day, he finished the first version of the site. It took less than six hours to build something that now attracts 40 million new users a month, raised $17 million in VC funding, and very recently stirred up and survived an internet-wide controversy (which may only make it more popular). That first day, breaking down the meaning of “Killa Cam” by Cam’ron, Lehman designed and implemented what are still the site’s most-used features. So of course, we had to have him speak at First Round’s last Design+ Conference, where he shared the three words that made Rap Genius possible, then and now. “The first version of Rap Genius was really bad — it sucked, and I’m glad it sucked,” he says. “Only in its sucking could it have taught me the secret of how to build things on the internet, and that secret is ‘worse is better.’” What does this mean in practice? Lehman, like the website he co-founded five years ago, is only too happy to explain.