Wednesday, January 11, 2006

MySpace Design

There's an excellent column by web user experience guru Jesse James Garrett in BusinessWeek that brings up some important points about myspace.com:

MySpace won't be winning any design awards. There's nothing cutting-edge about its look -- in fact, the best elements of the design would have fit right in among commercial sites around 1997. But some key contributors to its success can be found in the design choices MySpace has made.

GO FOR IT. The bulk of the site -- the millions of user profiles created by its community -- is unfettered design chaos. MySpace permits users to do almost anything to the look of their profile pages, and the prevailing aesthetic is decidedly "more is more": more color, more animation, more typefaces, more sound, more of everything makes a better profile page.

User pages on MySpace can look truly hideous (and many, many of them do), but the site's operators aren't trying to help users make their pages look better. If they were, they might offer some pre-built page design templates or color schemes, or even constrain the design choices users have.

Instead, the system allows users to do almost anything to the look of their pages, whether it's a good idea or not. Regardless of its aesthetic consequences, this customizability is one of the site's most attractive features, and the do-it-yourself sensibility of the site resonates with the audience's desire for self-expression.

BOUNDARY BREAKER. Even those areas that can't be customized show little more design sophistication than the user pages. If the default presentation and the common areas of MySpace had cleaner, more professional designs, users might hesitate to customize their spaces, feeling intimidated by having their amateur design work side-by-side with the professional-looking defaults. Instead, the unpolished style invites users to try things out, telling them they don't have to be professional designers to participate.

The unrefined look of MySpace sends another message to users: We're like you. You're not a designer, and neither are we. We're not here to show off our design skills, we're here to connect. When a user first joins, they will have at least one friend in their social network by default: Tom, the site's founder.


A good reminder that the coolest, best designed or most advanced offerings are NOT necessarily the most successful. While the author's explanation of why it works is a good plausible one, there are other explanations - how the site was marketed and rolled out. While he mentions the accessibility to bands in passing, I think this has been a much more critical component of the site's success. Also, the social networking component has been used as a launching pad for grassroots commerce and iTunesesque music purchasing oriented towards a younger audience.

Regardless, the point is that the principles behind what makes good design work are evident here, even if good design itself is not. User experience is about identifying a need and meeting it, and this site has done that very well, again and again.

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