PosterMyWall.Com Redesign – Lessons Learned

Yesterday I updated with the latest build, and with that went out the new visual design that Nida’s been working hard on. A side-by-side comparison of the home pages is below, with the new design on the right.

June 2010

old ui

November 2010

new ui

Although it’s still too early to know if the new design will do better than the previous one in terms of conversion rates and user experience, it is still interesting to compare our goals for the original design, the problems we faced, and how it changed over time.

Problem 1: Facebook Lookalike

Back when the original design was being crafted an important requirement was that it should visually look similar to Facebook. The main reason was that we envisioned tight integration with Facebook down the road. Part of that was having the user go back and forth between Facebook and PosterMyWall. Hence, to reduce the jarring effect of landing on a site very different from Facebook, we chose to look like Facebook. This eventually came back to bite us, for two reasons:

  • A prominent concern uncovered in user testing was that the site looks too much like Facebook. That gave the site an unreliable (and unoriginal) feel. A few reviewers even pointed out that some paranoid users might mistake it for a Facebook phishing scam. We certainly didn’t want that to happen. Lesson learned: Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but don’t go and copy the visual theme of a popular product. Go for originality.
  • Secondly, its really hard to do a social web product around an activity that is fundamentally not that social; poster making. We had originally envisioned that tight social integration with Facebook (providing social features such as comments, likes, and sharing via a user’s Facebook Wall) would help in maintaining a high coefficient of ‘virality’, thus bringing in lots of traffic and users via Facebook. Even with the presence of sharing and collaboration features that used the Facebook platform, and running a contest that promoted sharing on Facebook, we hit a dead end. Lesson learned: Unless your product or service offers something that’s innately social, don’t try too hard to give it a social twist. Or at least, don’t rely on social features to be the primary source of inbound traffic.

With the new design, the goal was to look dissimilar from Facebook and at the same time give the user a feeling of reliability and trustworthiness. That’s the main reason for going with a color palette with blues and grays in it. (ref: Color Theory for Designers)

Problem 2: Where’re the Posters?

Another noticeable difference between the two designs is the emphasis on poster content in the new design. There are a lot of a poster backgrounds visible to the user as soon as they land on the homepage. There are none in the old one. Visibility of content that the site provides does a better job of setting user expectations than textual descriptions of what the site has to offer.

We were always aware of the fact that our poster backgrounds were hard to get to, since they were hidden in a dialog in the Flash based poster maker; we just needed to invest some time in a solution that worked. Early on, we didn’t have a lot of poster backgrounds to offer the user in the first place, hence our focus was on explaining what the site did via slides and bullets.

Problem 3: Making Changes

When the original design was created, it didn’t take into account some of the features that would be added later on. That was because at that time, we were simply not sure what features would be demanded by users.

Because we had hired a UI consultant (a good friend) to do the Photoshop design work for us, it was sometimes time consuming to go back and forth on the design for newer features. Because of that, on many occasions we would just jimmy rig the UI of a new feature into the existing design without asking him to design it for us. That resulted in the design not aging gracefully. In the above screenshot, the list of blog posts, the ‘InstaCollage’ ad in the top right, and the footer are some examples of design elements that were added later on.

Hence we learned that for a fledgling startup, in which product evolution is inevitable, you need to have a designer with whom you can iterate designs with quickly and efficiently. The overhead of working remotely was just too much for us to properly harness the designer’s skills. This time around, we’ve got an in house designer, which is great.

Looking forward to seeing how the design does. Hoping to blog more about my experience of engineering PosterMyWall in the coming days.

Oh and if you have feedback on the design, I’d love to hear it!

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