Better designed products

In 2017 I wrote that soon we will see better designed products because companies which make design tools were getting big rounds of venture capital.

While this has been true, I am now seeing some very well designed products. But not because someone used better tool to make them, but because they were made more thoughtfully.

Until quite recently, the formula for a winning product was simple to articulate, if hard to execute. It was about getting users ‘hooked‘ to your app through variable rewards, getting them to ‘like’ content, getting them to ‘follow’ each other. You could gamify stuff through badges, experience points and such things. We were quite convinced that ‘social proof‘ was the core human motivation.

But now it seems that people are simply tired of all this. Already most young people I know are off Facebook, and quite a few older ones.

(People still use Instagram, but the user experience there is deteriorating too.)

Now it seems that people want more thoughtful products, tools with which they can learn and make. Or as Steve Jobs said, bicycles for the mind.

The human need for learning and growth is getting ahead of the need for being approved by others at least for a set humans (which I believe is growing).

Notion is one such tool I found recently. It’s simple, elegant and very powerful. You can make notes, to-do lists, and even spreadsheets. And you can link to code and even your framer or figma prototype. But it’s not about all the things, all the features it has. It’s about how they come together in one elegant tool.

Another one I discovered recently was are.na. They are quite clear with their positioning:

My first impression was – this is like Pinterest, but better. But after some playing around, it feels more than that. While Pinterest seems a loud and distracting, arena enables focus. It’s clean layout lets me just see the the content. And again, it has more power than Pinterest, in terms of things you can collect on arena boards.

Not surprisingly, arena won the Fast Company Innovation by Design award for ‘general excellence’.

The pricing of these products also reflects a change in philosophy. They are not based on ads, hence there is no incentive to capture user’s attention with all sorts of notifications. They are based on a freemium model, where a set amount of usage (both products call it ‘blocks’) is free, and if you want more, you pay for it. The model is closer to enterprise products.

I am quite pleased with this trend and look forward to exploring such products further.

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