Joshua Platt

What UX Can Learn from Path

Path 2.0 has become one of my favorite iPhone apps, so much so that it made its way onto my home screen. There is much to love in Path. Every designer I know raves about the design, how it is original yet completely intuitive. I think there is a lesson on design to be learned.

I imagine the Path team started with a vision. Then they probably did the normal market research, use cases, and personas that have become status quo. I don’t doubt this produced a market requirements list which included the need for hyperlinks, importing friends from Facebook, web pages to see everything, and the like. But creators of Path made many bold design decisions and appear to have ignored the list.

You can’t import friends from other social networks. You can can’t add more than 150 friends, or post hyperlinks. While you can send posts out to Facebook & Twitter, you can not do the reverse. When I first encountered these features I admit I thought they were bugs. It did not take long for me to see how theses omissions made Path focused. It’s not where I post a link to yet another academic paper. It’s where I share my daughter ripping apart a pancake with my 5 dearest friends. Focusing the app on a purpose made it clear where it fit in my life.

I think the current state of design, especially when it comes to apps, has become wrapped up in features. We do research to define what users want and need. This produces a list often which then becomes the products identity. It becomes about what the product does, and how what it does fits into the market. The problem is there are so many apps that all do the same thing. It is just white noise.

Claude Debussy said, “Music is the space between the notes.” I think this is a beautiful concept that applies to the design of apps. Without space between notes you have white noise. It’s the space that brings focus to each note. The genius of Path is that it is less defined by what it does, and more by what it doesn’t. Each time they removed a feature they created space and brought greater focus to what remained. In the end it was the removal of features that brought about something new. It’s not Facebook or Twitter. It’s different.

I think this is the lesson for us designers. The days of adding more to make something cool and different have past us. To many apps are just white noise. They lack focus. We need to recognize that removing features is beginning to have more impact than adding them. Giving greater attention to what should be removed ultimately leads to greater focus on what remains. We need to master the art of removing to create something new.

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