Of all the arts, perhaps the one most important to business is design: any company bringing a new product to the marketplace will at some point engage in the art of design. And most likely that will include no small amount of Web design, especially for an Internet product.
But what exactly is a product versus just a website?
Randy J. Hunt, creative director of the online marketplace Etsy, will speak on Wednesday, March 4, at 3:15 p.m. at the College of New Jersey in Ewing as part of the college’s visiting artists lecture series. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.tcnj.edu or call 609-771-2065.
Etsy is a popular website where craftspeople can sell their hand-made wares (no reselling or manufactured goods are allowed.) Hunt, who couldn’t be interviewed for this story because he was enjoying his honeymoon last week, is the founder of design studio Citizen Scholar Inc., and the co-founder of the design firm Supermarket. He’s also a user of Etsy, where he sells screen prints. He has an MFA in design from the School of Visual Arts.
Hunt, in his 2013 book “Product Design for the Web: principles of designing and releasing web products,” explores the intricacies of web design. He believes there are several key differences between websites and products.
Below is an excerpt from the book, published by Pearson Education Inc. and New Riders:
What are all of those bookmarks in your browser? What are all of those apps on your phone? So many websites, mobile apps, services, and tool are already available on the Web — and yet, you have an idea for a new product. You imagine an experience that’s yet to be designed. You have a problem that needs to be solved, along with a vision of the web product that solves it. You identified unmet needs shared by a group of people, and you know how a product can help meet those needs.
How do you create an app that is noticed and a service that keeps people coming back again and again? Furthermore, how do you devise a way of working that allows you, your collaborators, and your product to keep up with changes in your audience, your marketplace, and the world at large?
First, let’s ask what is a web product? What makes a product a product?
A Website is not a Product. Imagine a fabulous restaurant called Bella’s. It’s known for its delicious New York-style pizza pies. They’re so good, in fact, that you end up ordering from Bella’s once a week. Fantastico!
Bella’s has a website, and you go there from time to time to get their phone number, see how late they’ll deliver, find out about the daily special, or copy the address to send a friend who’s meeting you for dinner. For you, Bella’s website works like a brochure.
But a “brochure site” isn’t really a product. It’s mostly static content — and your interaction is largely limited to browsing that content. Other than signing you up for an E-mail newsletter, Bella’s “brochure site” doesn’t offer you much in the way of visitor input, content contribution, or interactive participation. It’s pretty easy to recognize two things about Bella’s website:
It’s a good fit for Bella’s business needs. It’s a brochure, not a product.
So Bella’s website is not a product — but it might be using a product.
Imagine you’re the owner of Bella’s. Each morning you arrive at the restaurant two hours before lunch. Some of your staff is already there, delivery trucks have been dropping off the day’s orders, and you start your daily duties.
You learn that some extra mushrooms were delivered, and you haven’t enough room to store them for the week. “Ah ha!” you think, “We’ll run a funghi pizza special today so we can sell those mushrooms while they’re still delicious.” Wow, you’re good at the restaurant business!
You sit down in your office, start your laptop, and open the admin dashboard of Bella’s website. Here you can see all of the pages you have on Bella’s site: homepage, menu, reservations, history, and blog.
In the blog section, you click the “New Post” button and start a new entry to list the special: two-for-one funghi pizzas featuring four varieties of delicious mushrooms, available today only, delivery or dine-in. Before saving, you choose the “Daily Special” category for your post. When you click Save, the post appears on Bella’s site.
Upon saving, the system also automatically posts an update to Twitter, creating a link to the blog post, so that all of Bella’s Twitter followers are alerted to the news of the funghi special.
Just as we thought! Behind the scenes, Bella’s “brochure website” uses a product. As the owner of Bella’s you’ve been using a web product every day to manage how you present your business online, how you communicate specials, and how you build your business’s reputation and relationship with customers.
The management, promotion, and communication of your business are facilitated by something that’s much more than a website. The web product you use may look like a website on the surface; but upon further inspection, you’ll find that its features, functionality, intent, and design are very different. You might be using the same web-browsing devices — computer, tablet, or cell phone — to access a website and a web product, but there are profound differences that should influence how you design.
Attributes of a Product. Let’s take a look and see what makes a product a product and how that differs from a website. Following are some general areas where we can start to distinguish a product from a website.
Frequency of Use. While users may visit a website occasionally (perhaps the most frequent use would be visiting a news site), a user may visit a web product over and over again.
Direction of Data and Content. Whereas a website typically passes content (text, photos, video, or audio) in only one direction — from site to visitor — a web product will both deliver and receive content. In other words, a website is often a consumption-only experience, whereas a Web product is a creative or participative experience. A website may read from a database. A product reads from and writes to a database.
Navigation vs. Participation. A website interface is tailored for the consumption of content. A product interface includes more complex and multi-state interface elements that enable user input. Website navigation solicits user interaction only to browse media. Product navigation solicits browsing interaction, but also encourages users to add content, vote, enter ratings, connect to other users, group content, and use other products and services.