For Apps To Be Successful, They Have To Be Weird

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Answers by Alexandre Roche, co-creator of RealTalk, entrepreneur and aspiring artist, on Quora.

A: It was fairly ad-hoc. There was a weekly product design meeting, but other than that the group was initially quite separate. We didn't sit together. Each designer was assigned to a few product initiatives and would work mostly with a PM on that project. As the design team expanded, this led to a lot of inconsistencies in the product, and so the team introduced more process and collaboration to address this. In 2008 we started sitting together as a team (though some time in 2009 or 2010 we split up again). I was young and inexperienced, so I fought (both consciously and subconsciously) against the increased amount of process and structure.


A: There's still a lot of room for growth. There's currently a sense that people aren't embracing new apps because there's no more room in the market. I don't think that's true. People aren't embracing new apps because they're not weird enough. They're not different enough. They're tired of the same old thing, so anything new has to be really weird to get their attention.

Snapchat was weird because everything disappears. Tinder was weird because it reduced romantic selection to a simple gesture. Facebook was weird because you could stalk the girl next to you in Chemistry. For something new to break out, both the premise of the app as well as the design and "vibe" have to be really, really weird. Because that makes it worth talking about.

The way we communicate with people changes over time. Social norms are changing. The same apps that have broken through and stolen marketshare have opened new doors because of the influence they've had over culture. Tinder made it okay to meet people online. Facebook made it okay to put your real identity online. Snapchat made it okay to send flirty photos to your crush.

At least in markets where smartphone penetration is already quite high, I believe we're entering a post-modern era of apps (as contrived as that sounds), where the breakout apps are self-aware of the ways the current app landscape annoys people. They're thoughtful in the way the communicate with and present themselves to users, but also really, really weird. Peach was a bit like this -- it nailed the different vibe and tone, but missed on creating a different enough paradigm. It's definitely a lot harder to break out, but to me there are a still a lot of massive opportunities for those who can think creatively.


A: So first off, I feel as though the hype around conversational interfaces may be unwarranted. How many people have actually used a conversational interface and had a good experience? I've found the experience of using personal assistant type apps like Operator, GoButler or Fin quite laborious, to the point where I've just stopped using them. It turns out typing out what you want is much more work than just tapping a few buttons. Talking to these apps feels like navigating a phone tree. They never seem to know exactly what I want. There is potential for sure, but I just don't think we're there yet.

Of course, as a designer I'm quite biased. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how products should be designed to guide the user towards a specific goal, the thought of a new paradigm that erases a lot of that knowledge is threatening.

As far as how the role of Product Designer will adapt (assuming we will in fact be forced to adapt) -- it's actually not that different. Though there's less visual design, there's still a lot of thought that goes into how the interface will react to what is inputed. How does it guide you towards a specific goal? What sort of affordances does the language provide that hints towards specific features? What can and can't it do? These are things that product designers already think about every day. We're coming up with a framework to decide what sort of tradeoffs are acceptable, what functionality to include, what sort of things to emphasize, etc. A conversational interface is still an interface, we're just interacting with it differently.

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