Craigslist generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and still looks like it was built in the 1990s.
Let’s talk about why design isn’t critically important and why you should focus on experience more than anything.
For stories like these by email sign up at https://nxtstep.io/learn
Hey folks, Sean here.
And today what I want to talk to you
about is something I call the beauty trap.
And that’s where people prioritize the design of
their product over the function of the product.
Now, why I consider this to be a trap
is because if you make your product look great,
that can actually motivate people to gravitate towards it.
As in they’ll start using it because it looks
great, it’s attractive, but ultimately a lot of people
might stop using it because your product isn’t providing
them with kind of value that they need.
And that could be misleading in the beginning because
if people are using your product but ultimately stop
using your product, or worse, if you’re not paying
close attention to how consistently people are using your
product, you might not know that ultimately it’s not
performing all that well.
Even though people are using it, they’re
not getting value out of it.
And that’s what really matters.
That’s why we always prioritize the function over the
aesthetic, but that can be misleading in the beginning.
Let me talk about this in a little bit more
detail and compare the two and also share an example.
Now in the beginning, what I actually recommend people
do, especially with early stage products, is almost focus
on not making the product look great.
That sounds weird, but let me explain as in
not prioritize the design, but instead prioritize the function.
The reason why I recommend this is because prioritizing
the design can be tricky and can enable you
to fall into what I call this beauty trap.
As in if people are gravitating to your
product for the wrong reasons, that’s actually going
to be misleading for you, cause trouble.
Further down the road, we see this
strategy leveraged successfully in other industries.
For example, some logo design or web design companies
will present early stage designs but do so in
grayscale or not add photos so that they can
make it easier for their customers to focus on
basically the function that they’ve created first, the type
of experience that they’re going for.
Because if they put beautiful photos up
there, beautiful colors and all that type
of stuff, it can be misleading.
As if people can see it be like, oh this looks great.
But they might be only evaluating it from
the perspective of the design, not the experience.
And ultimately what matters most is the experience.
That’s how you really avoid
falling into the beauty trap.
So in the beginning when you’re creating the
early stage versions of your product, I would
actually recommend you stay further away from particularly
advanced or beautifully aesthetic design elements and instead
focused almost exclusively on the function.
As in instead of making it look great, just
make sure it does what it needs to do
and it’s okay if it’s rough around the edges.
In fact, in the beginning I would almost recommend
that you make it that way on purpose.
Why because if your customers are willing to
jump through extra hoops to use your product,
even if it doesn’t look great, that means
a whole lot for the longevity of your
product and ultimately how successful it can become.
Because that means your customers are willing to put up
with a little bit more trouble now, because that pain
that they need solved by your product is that important
for them, giving you really good long term indicators that
your product can reach really great success at scale as
you are trying to figure out product market fit.
Get our awesome product content delivered daily-ish to your inbox
So if you remove the design elements in the beginning,
that can prevent you from falling into the beauty trap.
It also enables you to be able to
ship a product faster, because you don’t need
to worry about it looking great.
You just need to make sure it does what
it needs to do in terms of whatever painful
problem your customer has, they need solved.
Make sure that the function for
your product ultimately solves that problem.
And it’s okay for it to be a little rough
around the edges, especially in the beginning, because, again, we
don’t want it to be misleading, and we don’t want
people using it for the wrong reasons.
We want them to have to jump through an
extra hoop if they need to in order to
get that problem solved and be able to measure
whether or not they’re actually doing that.
If they do, that’s a really good long term indicator.
Now, let me show you an example of a
really successful product that has, in my opinion, really
never looked great, giving you a little bit more
confidence that a strategy like this could be successful.
And the site that I’m going to use as my example,
which I’m also going to pick on but complement at the
same time as Craigslist, if you’re unfamiliar, it’s one of the
most successful ecommerce websites out there to date, and I’m going
to share with you some performance statistics for the site as
well, too, to back up my claim.
But have you ever seen craigslist or used it before?
There’s not a whole lot going on.
It’s pretty basic.
In fact, it almost looks like to me, a site
that was designed and built in the 1990s, but the
site still looks like that today, I promise you that.
But it’s very easy to use, and for its
hardware market customers, it solves their problem very effectively.
I’ve used it many times myself.
If you need to sell anything to anyone, and
relatively quickly, without needing to jump through a whole
lot of hoops in order to get that listing
online so that you can get down to business
relatively quickly, craigslist is undoubtedly your site.
So let’s talk a little bit more about the
performance statistics and success that craigslist has had.
So I can prove to you through the
numbers that they really haven’t needed at a
very beautiful design and really highly prioritized aesthetic
in order to achieve this level of success.
Now, according to statistics about Craigslist from similar web,
they generate hundreds of millions of visits each month,
at least hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue
every year, and are still considered to be one
of the most successful, if not the most successful,
ecommerce website of all time.
So despite the fact that this website still looks like
it was designed and built in the 1990s and really
does not have a lot going on from a design
and aesthetic perspective, it has been ridiculously successful and still
continues to do so to this date without having updated
to really change the design all that much.
Still very simple, still very basic, does what
its target market customers need to do and
because of that, it’s been hugely successful.
So let this be an example that your product does
not need to have a whole lot going on in
the design or aesthetic department, doesn’t need all to be
super fancy in order to be super successful.
Meaning that, especially in the beginning, you really don’t
need to invest a ton into the design elements
of your product because it could enable you to
fall into somewhat of that beauty trap.
So in order to avoid that and to get
as close as possible, as fast as possible to
validating that your value proposition is strong, really focus
on the function and solving those target market problems
for your target market customer.