Design Lessons from Silicon Valley

April 14, 2013 Uberflip Hub

Silicon Valley is known worldwide as the hub for technological innovation and the place where some of the most well-known companies make their name. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few design lessons from three of the Valley’s most successful companies: Facebook, Pinterest, and Apple. Many of these lessons reflect trends that are growing in significance for online marketers and we’re seeing them pop up everywhere, from company websites to new product releases. As you read through these lessons, try to evaluate whether your brand is currently practicing these tried and tested strategies. Also consider how you can apply these lessons to further improve the design of your marketing assets and overall brand experience.

Photo-centric Design

Visual images are taking over the web and we can see this trend most predominantly in Facebook’s Timeline and Pinterest’s overall web design.

Let’s start with Timeline: essentially, the cover photo is the first thing you see when viewing someone’s Facebook page, followed by their profile picture. As you scroll through, you’ll quickly notice that text is secondary to pictures which are blown up and readily catch the viewer’s attention. Facebook’s newsfeed provides a similar experience with images taking center stage, followed by links, and then regular text.

Similarly, Pinterest’s strong visual focus is exactly what makes the site so appealing. Viewers are essentially bombarded with blocks of images on just about anything they’re interested in – it’s like a never-ending window shopping experience of all your favourite things! Text takes a backseat with Pinterest’s design and images are the ultimate focal point. Features such as pinning, commenting, and liking aren’t visible until the viewer hovers over a Pin with their mouse, thus creating minimal distraction and less noise around images.

The key takeaway here is that as people continue being bombarded with blog posts, social media, text messages, and ads, it’s getting more difficult to capture attention. As such, focus on creating visual content or complementing your text with visual images that draw people towards your piece. In addition, take a chapter from Pinterest and hide buttons or additional tools that aren’t necessary to display at all times. The key is to be visual but to also create an easy-to-digest experience for your audience.

The Never-Ending Scroll

The never-ending scroll is another feature that’s being widely adopted by major sites such as Pinterest and Facebook. The never-ending scroll provides the optimal engaging experience for your audience because there are no distractions – the viewer is more likely to continue engaging with content because there are no interruptions, such as clicking for the next page. This is a primary reason why Facebook and Pinterest are so addictive – something new always catches your eye.

It’s also worth mentioning that unlike Twitter or Facebook who emphasize the latest tweets or newsfeed updates from your community, Pinterest displays content that’s most relevant to you. In other words, Pinterest focuses on tailoring an individualized experience based on your preferences rather than showing you the latest Pins; this makes the experience even better because you see a never-ending scroll of content that you find interesting.

Customer Simplicity

It would be difficult to discuss design lessons without mentioning Apple or Steve Jobs. It’s no secret that Jobs was all about creating the most elegant yet simple experience for users right from the start. He believed that instead of providing users with too many choices that would ultimately confuse and complicate things, the core of design should be simple and intuitive with just the right amount of customizability and choice. The key for Apple is that instead of bombarding you all the information you need all at once, they provide it in short and simple pieces.

For example, consider the user guides for any Apple product you purchase: it’s 5 pages with no more than 1 sentence per page telling you the exact steps for setting up your device. Once you turn on your device, you’re prompted with a simple setup screen that tells you the second phase of info you need to know (i.e. setting up WiFi, naming your product, syncing with iTunes, etc). Basically, Apple is holding your hand and guiding you through their product in a way that’s very welcoming, friendly, and easy-to-digest. After you’ve set up your product, everything else is so intuitive that it doesn’t take much time to understand how to use it. Compare this with pretty much any other company where you’re given a thick manual that can quickly overwhelm even the most tech-savvy – that is, if you decide to read it.

The core of Jobs’ and Apple’s success in mastering the art of simplicity is to truly understand their customers. Mike Markkula, one of the first investors in Apple, explained that the company’s sense of empathy and connection with the feelings of the customer are core in product design. It’s no easy feat but in the words of Steve Jobs, “simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

What do you think about these lessons? Are you practicing any of them? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re interested in reading more, check out this piece about the evolution of web design.

About the Author

After graduating from the HBA program at the Richard Ivey School of Business, Aaliyah launched her career as Marketing Coordinator at Uberflip! Prior to her HBA, Aaliyah also completed a Bachelor in English at Western University.

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