Sadly this blog past has been in draft mode for over 6 months and since then it seems everyone is coming out of the woodwork to say the same thing – user interface (UI) design isn’t everything. Lately, it’s been a beauty pageant of sorts when a new product comes out, everyone says “wow, looks great and the interface is awesome” then the next question is “what the fuck does it do?” and that’s the problem.
Something might look beautiful but if it has no real purpose…who cares how great it looks. You’ve heard this same story before in the context of dating, “he is really good looking but talking to a door knob is more fun” or “she is a California dime but absolutely dumb as a rock.” Instead of focusing on the needs of a customer, many startups are spending way too much time on packaging (user interface, funding sources, PR, etc…). A great example of this is Color.com, it received a ton of press because it was funded by Sequioa for $41 million and when the application was released people were clueless about its usage. Since then they have gone back to the drawing board for version 2.
Some of the comments from the web that really got me to think about this user interface debate:
Ron Conway is a legend in the VC space and you can’t really argue with his track record but I disagree with his comments. Not only that, but I’m pretty sure you can’t have IP rights to the way something looks.
Design might be a competitive advantage if there are many players in the same space, but it really depends on the category. Facebook had a pathetic website when it launched in 2004 when compared to Friendster. But people gravitated towards Facebook because it served a social utility, gradually over time the Facebook interface got more polished.
An example of an interface that is absolutely horrible to look at is Tally – an accounting software for the Indian markets. Most people still use the MS-DOS version and it’s reported it has 90% of the market in India. Why does it dominate the market? Because it does one thing really well – calculate numbers.