One of my favorite designers working today, Khoi Vinh from NYTimes.com, and two of his colleagues were invited by Wired to redesign Craigslist.org in the recent article “Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess.”
He has posted a unique document that rarely is seen outside final deliverables: the design direction brief. It’s a document that can be called many things, but is at its simplest, a method to visualize the rationale behind the design itself. I would read through his blog post, as it provides some interesting context to the redesign itself, but I’d like to point out one thing in particular…
“Craigslist isn’t broken. We don’t want to overhaul it, we want to enhance it. Think of Craigslist as an application, not just a series of pages[.]”
I think he got the direction all wrong. Craigslist is content. Pure content sourced from users. That’s about as opposite of an “application” in my mental model as I can think of. If I were Craig, I might have dismissed this entire design (very nice, I might add) out-of-hand simply because of this single slide.
And that’s why having window into a design brief is so interesting. Khoi Ving didn’t even seem to follow his own direction. Where in the redesign are the “application” design decisions? To me, it looks like he reinforces the idea of “a series of pages” just by the organization of the IA (as he aptly points out as Craigslist own powerful folksonomy). He retains the location as a pivot point for the content. In an application, or at least my mental model of an application, the pivot point of the content could be anywhere.
For example, if I am looking for an apartment it makes perfect sense to view by the location hierarchy. But if I am looking for a piece of furniture (original Eames furniture make frequent appearances) I may want to search multi-city. Sure you can (sorta) do that in the global search offered on the homepage of the redesign, but where is that global search in a regional site? Regardless of that precise UI issue, having any attribute for the pivot would be a great enhancement and very app-like to me. Having faceted search would be even better.
On the other hand, he really nails the brand direction…
It really does look better but not different.