A Long Interview with Path CEO Dave Morin

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think through that fact. That it’s with you every hour of the day and there’s different reasons you might be opening it at different times. We know that people’s close friends and family mean a lot to them, and so, given the choice of what information to consume, or navigating their life every day, having information that helps them make those decision and helps them understand what experiences their friends are having in the world, these things are really important. But I guess what we try to do is kind of map the design to that, and we try to delight the user in ways that you only can with a touch interface. So we do a lot of things with animations and the way the app interacts when you touch the device. You just couldn’t achieve that kind of delight using a keyboard and a mouse.

X: So, this radial menu—whatever you call this thing. I’ve seen plenty of examples of radical user interface experiments out in the world and usually they are more for show or for novelty. This is one of the first examples I’ve come across where it actually makes sense. From an ergonomic perspective, even, because you’ve placed the thing in a corner of the screen where you can actually use it with your thumb. So, that, plus the really cool clock here that scrolls with your posts. Were those cases where you started with a design concept and tried to find an application, or were you thinking about the application and decided, hey, this would be the perfect solution for it?

DM: I think that, well, they are two slightly different cases. The first version of Path was entirely focused on photos. And the reason we chose photos was that people were taking a lot of photos with their phones, and those photos describe experiences in their lives, and if you were to ask someone “What do you do with all of those photos?” they would say, “Well, I put one or two up on Facebook, but I don’t really do anything with the rest of them.” And if ask people why, they would say, “Well, because they’re way too personal.” So we said, wow, there are these thousands of photos on people’s phones, what if they had a place to go? What if they had a place to live?

So we started with photos, but what we found was people were actually uploading more than photos. They were screenshotting different applications that they really loved, that described experiences in their lives. They would screenshot a running application with a map that showed where their run was. They would screenshot an application which showed their sleep pattern. They would screenshot the iPod app to put album art into their Path. They would screenshot book covers. Or take a photo of the menu at a restaurant. So we began to realize there were some core things that people really wanted to contribute to their Path, which we were kind of getting in the way of.

We knew we wanted to provide very simple interfaces for these key things that people were doing all the time. And we wanted to make them one button. And so, really, the endeavor of creating the radial menu was sort of an endeavor in reduction and simplicity.

If you think about it, if I were to say to you, let’s make a new app that has the ability for you to capture five different types of posts and post them to a feed, your initial thought would be, let’s put them in a grid. Right? Let’s have a menu on the top that slides down and let’s have an icon for each one and let’s put a title next to each one of them, so that people understand what they are. And we did all that. We actually did like 20 different versions of that interface. And we kept using it and thinking that every time you’d hit the button, the cognitive load would increase on your brain, every time you’d hit the button. And it just felt like we were getting in the user’s way. We kept going after, how do we reduce this down to something that’s more simple, more ergonomic, more sensible from a touch perspective, that doesn’t get in the user’s way and in fact delights the user and leads them into posting rather than getting in their way. So we just spent a ton of time on that. So that is how we ended up with this.

We also learned some pretty interesting lessons about touch and animation in trying to do this. For example you will notice that when the menu moves, it actually moves backward before it moves forward. So when you watch the, when I click it to go on, they will actually go out before they come in.

X: They bounce a little bit, then they start spinning.

DM: So they move in a very human way. And you see this used in animation and cartoons all the way back to Disney and the Road Runner. We actually got some cues from people we know at Pixar on how to do this. And so, you know, the point being that we wanted to make the interaction as human as possible, and also get out of the user’s way, in such a way that all that it is, is really enabling the contribution rather than being in the user’s way. That is kind of the idea here.

The other thing is that we wanted to reduce it down to one button, rather than the whole menu on the bottom. So that was our other goal. We wanted a single button. We found that giving users multiple buttons, it just doesn’t work—I think it’s probably kind of the same reason Apple does a single button for going back Home on the iPhone.

The clock was a different but similar question. We found that in our first version, the feed was very simple. It was all photos. And we had a really awesome animation which I’m kind of bummed that we don’t use anymore. We would fold up the photos into a row, and they would open up. There was a pretty great animation. But we found, again, it was one of those things where the animation was great, but the form wasn’t doing the function of just getting the user the photo information. So we went down this road of okay, we want to do larger photos. We are going to do different types of content now. How do you design this screen so that when you’re doing differnet kinds of posts, they all sort of fit together. How do we design a feedback unit?

In social systems feedback is incredibly important—the feedback that you’re getting, the conversation around each post. These things are really important. And so, how do we design feedback so when you’re looking at a screen like this, you have a photo, you have some feedback, you have another post, all of these things fit together really nicely. And the button here doesn’t get in the way. One of the things we found was that time stamps were this thing that was constantly in the way of simplifying the design.

If you look at any social system, not even social but e-mail, chat, time stamps are this thing that exist universally. And it’s really funny—when you take them out, your brain really starts to freak out. You lose where you are. You don’t understand where you are in time. For us, since Path is a completely real time system, when you open path you are … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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