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E73: Why Your Product Doesn’t Need To Look Great

by Sean Boyce

Craigslist generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and still looks like it was built in the 1990s.

Prioritizing design over function for your product can actually make it harder to validate your value proposition.

Let’s talk about why design isn’t critically important and why you should focus on experience more than anything.

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Episode Transcription
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.

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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.