By Bruce Sachs
The October “Design Issue” of Fast Company features outstanding companies, products and creative pioneers that are out in front because of design. The cover story features Pinterest founder Ben Silbermann.
Pinterest is a runaway success — because the design strategy is closely linked to an understanding of audience and aesthetics. Silbermann and co-founder Evan Sharp have created a novel and beautiful way to discover things on the web.
It’s a social scrapbook or mood board providing an opportunity to share beautiful things you find, such as photos of places you want to visit, recipes that you want to make or clothes that you would like to buy. While Instagram asks you to take an interesting photograph and Twitter asks you write something clever in 140 characters, Pinterest establishes you as the curator of your own collection instead of the creator. What you see when you visit your Pinterest page are images based on your interests or pinned by your friends. This curation of content has created a new way of browsing that shows images personalized to your taste.
The beauty of Pinterest is in the 192 pixel wide grid, the neutral gray that allows the pinned items to stand out, and the never-ending stream of pins that continuously populate the page as you scroll down. It’s a collection of windows into attractive places. Silbermann says, “From the beginning, we were aware that if we were going to get somebody to spend all this time putting together a collection, at the very least, the collection had to be beautiful. The grid was everything.”
That grid is filled with stunning images because Silbermann initially limited invitations to users with good taste. By setting this tone and aesthetic, Pinterest attracted a user base that is 79% female. The number of users continue to grow rapidly — visits have quadrupled in the last year and currently average around 20,000,000 visitors per month.
Without displaying a single ad, this briskly growing site of visually-pleasing images is setting the tone for the future of e-commerce. While Pinterest itself does not make any money, Pinterest users spend an average of $180 when following a pinned image back to its original source and purchasing the item. As a matter of fact, twelve of the top fifteen Pinterest categories are commerce-related.
Hand Picked For You
The reason users are spending so much time and money on Pinterest is that the site has changed how users discover things on the web. When researching or shopping for a gift on sites like Google or Amazon, you need to know what you are looking for. If not, the search results can include a lot of items that you aren’t interested in. In contrast, when you search for a gift on Pinterest, you see a wall of attractive images related only to things that you like. It helps to identify that perfect gift that you didn’t actually know you were looking for.
The images you see on Pinterest are curated by your friends. You are approving their good taste. Silbermann says, “When you open up Pinterest you should feel like you’ve walked into a building full of stuff that only you are interested in. Everything should feel hand-picked for you.”
Pinterest has sparked a monumental shift in the way we search for things and use the web. Since the site launched in 2011, its format has inspired numerous imitators and creative sites: Dribbble, Trippy, Hunuku, Houzz, StylePin, Fab, hipswap, One’s King Lane. Pinterest is a great example of how a breakthrough idea and smart design strategy can partner to build a successful business and inspire others.