Artificial Conversations: Undesigned Success

This week we discussed Amazon’s success despite their lack of overt design.

Ariane expressed some surprise at how websites with such little design effort could have so much success. Manjari brought up how many of these websites – from Alibaba to Booking.com, were born from a functionality-first approach. In the case of Amazon, this function was conversion, and the optimization is a design of sorts.

Designing for everyone means looking less designed.

Manjari mentioned that sites that target a specific user end up leaving many others behind, and of course this hurts conversion. Companies like Airbnb take a more design-oriented approach, and they end up feeling more exclusive and less for everyone.

Kamila brought up a recent struggle with the Ikea website. Perhaps because it was born of the store’s inspiration-first showroom approach rather than the user’s need to find a thing, it’s incredibly difficult to find products of a specific type or solutions for a specific problem. In the end, it was easiest for Kamila to search Amazon to get a list of options side-by-side.

And as Manjari pointed out, perhaps shopping has become more about convenience than leisure. When we want inspiration, we can visit stores like Ikea or websites like Pinterest. When we want to buy something, we have Amazon.

Just because it’s not polished, doesn’t mean it’s not designed.

While Amazon’s sites lack the polish of Apple’s, they are still designed. Natalia brought up a teacher who once told her, If the aesthetics aren’t good, at least make it consistent. This consistency is evident in the different vendor pages, which Amazon insists remain feeling like Amazon. The consistency of the experience helps the user understand that she doesn’t need to worry who is fulfilling his order - it will still feel like Amazon.

Ariane brought up how the consistency helps build trust. After two orders, the user knows what to expect. After more orders, she knows that Amazon is a better experience than most other retail experiences she’s had. While the website may lack polish, the design of the user’s experience of getting the perfect product certainly is.

Design is more than a website.

Natalia brought up that, while their site is not as beautiful as it might be, Amazon’s apps are more traditionally well designed. Downloading an app is a type of conversion, and this commitment helps Amazon know what sort of user they need to design the optimal experience for. Then the experience can get more specific and more designed.

Manjari brought up how Amazon has designed their entire organization in a way that builds great products. They believe in self-investment, and seek new ways to deliver great experiences to users. This sort of organizational design is often the most difficult (and has the greatest influence), and should not be overlooked just because a company’s website isn’t beautiful.

Did this conversation change anything for The Artificial? Mostly it reinforced what we already know. Great experiences encompass many touchpoints, and every touchpoint has its own demands an constraints. For companies that work at the scale of everyone, the lack of a defined user means the lack of an opinionated design, which is easily mistook for no design at all.

As designers, we spend a lot of time designing, empathizing, and making decisions for the user. Yet it can be difficult to truly put the user in control. Because giving the user more control means giving up some of our own.