The New Path Update: Did a UI Redesign Cultivate New Users?

January 3, 2012

I've been on the Path app since the startup launched the iPhone app about 10 months ago. All of the sudden, I received email notifications from my people requesting to be my friend. I was curious what happened.The mobile app released a new update with a competely redesigned User Interface. Could this be the reason Path was able to cultivate thousands of new users? The conensus seems to be "yes" that it did play a factor. Here is what Matt, an avid social networker and iPhone owner said about it.

"I initially signed up last year when they initially released the app. It was a poor user experience and had no incentive to use it on a regular basis, so I forgot about it quickly. After the update was released, I downloaded it and remembered that I had an account. I don't use it as often as Twitter and Facebook, but the UI and UX in the new version is incredible. It is a pleasure to use for the most part, my gripes are trivial. Just goes to show how critical user experience and design are."

According to Tech Crunch, the user base of Path jumped from 10k to 300k users in the two and a half weeks of the update. Can usability and user experience increase your user base that much? The answer is yes. Criticism of the app prior to the UI refresh was that it seemed like a lesser version of Facebook or Instagram. With experiences shifting more to real time and timeline-based experiences, Path re-focused their product to personal stories (paths) shared with close friends.So what exactly did they change in the user experience and user interface? Let's take a look at some of the new elements that were introduced.Unified ContentPerhaps following the way of the new Facebook timeline, Path's new user interface introduces unified content: music, thoughts, photos, video, location-based checkin, and yes, even when you are going to bed. The shift seems to be going away from widgets/sections and unifying content. We see this in Sparrow, Gmail, Facebook and Twitter.No Tab InterfaceThe first thing that jumps out of Path's new UI is probably the red call to action, which is a red plus button on the bottom-left of the UI—always fixed there. When a user taps on it, the interface reveals the different type of media he or she can post. One reason for this is Path has multiple types of media to post. When you use the Twitter app, you tweet. When you use Instagram, it's a photograph. When you use Foursquare, it's a checkin.This is one of the first apps I've seen in a while where there is no tab interface.Horizonal SwipingThis interaction became famous with Facebook's iPhone app as well as the Twitter iPad app, where horizonal swiping would reveal different views versus only utilizing the tab interface.ConsiderationsWe've highlighted on the elements that have been working well, but let's cover some things that could be different. It's not to say what was done is wrong, but raises questions on UI best practices—what works and what may be evolving:

  • Is the experience potentially troublesome for left-handed users? Typical primary call to action (CTA)_ buttons are traditionally in the middle, but Path's single CTA resides on the bottom-left. However, it is possible they may have considered that less than 10% of Americans are left-handed and they possibly could be accustomed to using right-handed products.
  • When user is in the "home" view, the CTA appears, allowing him or her to post content. However, when the user visits his or her own path, the CTA is not accessible. Could this consideration be for "view purposes" only?

While I still use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and other content sharing social media sites, Path has become one of my favorites because of the user experience. I want to feel like I am sharing with my close friends and viewing their content, and that is what I am doing/receiving. The Path redesign is a great example of how user experience considerations can cultivate new users and really enable your products success.Path's website

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