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Eric Johnson

Oculus VR's Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right. At center, AllThingsD's Lauren Goode tries out the Oculus Rift at CES 2013.

Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey, left, and Nate Mitchell, right. At center, AllThingsD’s Lauren Goode tries out the Oculus Rift at CES 2013.

This is the second part of our two-part Q&A with Palmer Luckey and Nate Mitchell, the co-founders of virtual-reality gaming company Oculus VR. In Part One, Luckey and Mitchell discussed controlling expectations, what they want from developers, and the challenges of trying to make games do something radically different.

AllThingsD: What do you guys think about Google Glass? They’ve got their dev kits out right now, too, and –

Palmer Luckey: — What’s Google Glass? [laughs]

No, seriously, they’re doing something sort of similar with getting this wearable computing device to developers. Does the early buzz about Glass worry you?

Luckey: No. They’re not a gaming device, and they’re not a VR device, and they’re not an immersive device, and they’re five times more expensive than us.

Nate Mitchell: It’s just a completely different product. Wearable computing is super-interesting, and we’d love to see more wearable computing projects in the market. At Oculus, especially, we’re excited about the possibilities of Google Glass. We’ve seen it, we’ve checked it out, it’s very cool. But if you bring them together –

Luckey: Our image size is like 15 times larger than theirs. It’s like the difference between looking at a watch screen and a 60-inch monitor. It’s just an enormous difference.

snlglass

Mitchell: With the Rift, you’re in there. You’re totally immersed in the world. I think one of the things people keep bringing up (with Glass) is the awkward, the social aspect. For the Rift, you strap into this thing, and you’re gone.

Luckey: It’s about being inside the virtual world, not caring about the real one.

Mitchell: You could put your Glass on in the virtual space.

Luckey: We could do that! We could simulate Glass. … It’s not that hard. You just have a tiny heads-up display floating there. A really tiny one.

Mitchell: I like it.

“Okay, Rift, take a picture. Okay, Rift, record a video …”

Luckey: There’s actually Second Life mods like that. People sell heads-up displays that you can buy.

Mitchell: Really?

Luckey: And they put information in there like distance to waypoints and stuff.

Mitchell: Oh, that’s cool!

Luckey: Yeah, they overlay it on the screen when your character’s wearing it.

I never really “got” Second Life. Minecraft, I can wrap my head around quickly. But Second Life …

Luckey: It’s very difficult to get into. There’s a steep learning curve. The last time I went into Second Life was to buy bitcoins from a crazy guy who was selling them below market value, but you had to go into Second Life to meet with him.

Mitchell: The underbelly of the Internet.

Luckey: They’re actually working on Oculus Rift support, though. The kind of people who make games like Second Life definitely see the potential for virtual reality — being able to step into your virtual life.

And if you’re completely immersed in the game, I guess that wherever you’re playing, you need to trust whoever’s around you.

Mitchell: Absolutely. There’s already some sneaking up on people happening in the office. Someone’s developing, they’re testing the latest integration, and then Palmer comes up and puts his hands on their shoulders: “Heyyyy, Andrew! What’s going on?” There’s a trust factor.

Luckey: Have you seen the Guillotine Simulator? (video below) Some people are showing that without even telling the person what it is: “Here, check this out!” “Whoa, what’s going on?” And then — [guillotine sound effect]

Mitchell: One thing that that does lead into is, we’re exploring ways to just improve the usability of the device. When you put on the Rift, especially with the dev kit, you’re shut off from the outside world. What we’re looking at doing is how can we make it easy to pull it off. Right now, you have to slip it over your head like ski goggles. The dev kit was designed to be this functional tool, not the perfect play-for-10-hours device. With the consumer version, we’re going for that polished user experience.

What about motion sickness? Is it possible to overcome the current need for people to only play for a short period of time on their first go?

Luckey: The better we make the hardware, the easier it’ll be for people to just pick up and play. Right now, the hardware isn’t perfect. That’s one of the innate problems of VR: You’re trying to make something that tricks your brain into thinking it’s real. Your brain is very sensitive at telling you things are wrong. The better you can make it, the more realistic you can make it, the more easily your brain’s gonna accept the illusion and not be throwing warning bells.

You mentioned in one of your recent speeches that the Scout in Team Fortress 2 –

Luckey: — he’s running at like 40 miles per hour. But it’s not just, “Oh, I’m running fast.” It’s the physics of the whole thing. In real life, if you are driving at 40mph, you can’t instantly start moving backward. You can’t instantly start strafing sideways. You have inertia. And that’s something that, right now, games are not designed to have. You’re reacting in these impossible ways.

Mitchell: In that same vein, just as Palmer’s saying the hardware’s not perfect yet, a huge part of it is the content.

Luckey: You could make perfect hardware. Pretend we have the Matrix. Now you take someone and put them in a fighter jet and have them spinning in circles. That’s going to make someone sick no matter how good it is, because that actually does make people sick. If you make perfect hardware, and then you do things that make people sick in real life, you’re gonna make them sick in VR, too. Right now, there’s lots of things going on in games that don’t make people sick only because they’re looking at them on a screen. Or, in so many games, they’ll have cutscenes where they take control of the camera and shake it around. You don’t want to do that in VR because you’re not actually shaking around in real life.

You’re changing the experience that you have previously established within VR.

Mitchell: It breaks the immersion.

Luckey: And that’s why it’s so hard to instantly transfer. In the original version of Half Life 2, when you’d go into a new space for the first time, the whole game would just freeze for a second while it loads. It’s just a short freeze, but players were running along or driving along and all of a sudden, jjt! Now it looks like the whole world’s dragging along with you, and a lot of people feel very queasy when that happens.

Mitchell: It comes back to content. My talk at GDC was very specifically about how developing for VR is different from a 2-D monitor. All those things like cutscenes, storytelling, scale of the world — if the player is at four feet on the 2-D monitor and you put them in there, they immediately notice. They look down and they have the stereo cues: “I’m a midget!” So you make them taller, and now they don’t fit through doors. We really do believe that, at first, you’re going to see these ports of existing games, but the best “killer app” experiences are going to come from those made-for-VR games.

Luckey: And that’s not even to say it has to be new franchises. It doesn’t have to be a new type of game. But you want the content to be designed specifically for the hardware.

Mitchell: It’s just like the iPhone. The best games come from developers pairing hardware and software.

 Dive Into Media.

Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe testing out the Rift at D: Dive Into Media.

And that’s the 10,000-foot view: Does VR change game design in a fundamental way?

Mitchell: Yes. Fundamentally. Absolutely. I think, right now, there’s this great renaissance in the indie community. Indie developers are doing awesome things. If you look at games like The Walking Dead, you’ve got the mainstream genres here. You’re going to have a lot of these indie games start to feel more natural in virtual reality, because that’s almost, like, the intended experience.

Luckey: And not to invent a whole new genre on the fly, but you don’t see many first-person card games or something. There’s a lot of card game videogames, but there’s not many that are first-person because it wouldn’t make any sense to do.

Like a poker game where you could look around the table and read people’s reactions?

Mitchell: Exactly.

Luckey: And you could have all kinds of things integrated into it. I guess that would fit into the first-person-shooter genre, but not really, because you’re not moving and you’re not shooting. You’re just playing cards.

Mitchell: And if you look at the research that’s been done on virtual characters, it’s the type of thing where, if you smile at me in VR, even if you’re an NPC (non-playable character), I’m much more likely to smile back. Your brain is tricked into believing you’re there.

Luckey: There’s also fascinating research on confidence levels in VR, even tiny things. There was a study where a bunch of people performed tasks in real life, in a control group, and then performed them in VR. And the only difference is that one group in VR was about six inches taller than the other group. So, one was shorter than the NPC they were interacting with, one was taller. Universally, all of the “taller” people exhibited better negotiation with the NPCs. Then, they took them out (of the VR simulation) and they redid the (real-world) study, putting everyone back in another trial with a physical person. The people who’d been tall in VR and negotiated as a taller person did better when they went back into the real negotiation as well. It’s ridiculous.

Mitchell: That’s the sort of thing we’re super-excited about. That’s the dream.

And do you have a timeline for when –

Mitchell: When the dream comes to fruition?

Luckey: It’s a dream, man! Come on! [laughs]

Not when it comes to fruition. Are there milestones for specific accomplishments along the way?

Luckey: Sure, we have them, internally. [laughs]

Mitchell: We have a road map, but like we keep saying, a huge part of this is content. Without the content, it’s just a pair of ski goggles.

Luckey: And we don’t even know, necessarily, what a road map needs to look like. We’re getting this feedback, and if a lot of people need a certain feature — well, that means it’s going to take a little longer.

Mitchell: But we have a rough road map planned, and a lot of exciting stuff planned that I think you’ll see over the course of the next year.

And is there a timeline for when the first consumer version comes out?

Mitchell: It’s TBD. But what we can say is, Microsoft and Sony release their dev kits years in advance before they get up onstage and say, “The Xbox One is coming.” We went for the same strategy, just open and publicly.

Luckey: And we don’t want to wait many years before doing it.

Mitchell: Right. So, right now, we’re giving developers the chance to build content, but they’re also co-developing the consumer version of the Rift with us. Once everyone’s really happy with it, that’s when you’ll see us come to market.

Luckey: And not sooner. We don’t want to announce something and then push for that date, even though we know we can make it better.

IMG_4929

And what about the company, Oculus VR? Is this dream you’re talking about something you have to realize on your own? Do you want to someday get acquired?

Luckey: Our No. 1 goal is doing it on our own. We’re not looking to get acquired, we’re not looking to flip the company or anything. I mean, partnering with someone? Sure, we’re totally open to discussions. We’re not, like, we want to do this with no help.

But you wouldn’t want to be absorbed into a bigger company that’s doing more than just VR.

Mitchell: The goal has been to build great consumer VR, specifically for gaming. We all believe VR is going to be one of the most important technologies of –

Luckey: — ever!

Mitchell: Basically.

Not to be too hyperbolic or anything.

Luckey: It’s hard not to be. It’s like every other technological advance could practically be moot if you could do all of it in the virtual world. Why would you even need to advance those things in the real world?

Mitchell: Sooo …

Luckey: [laughs]

Mitchell: With that in mind, we have to figure out how we get there. But right now, we’re doing it on our own.

Luckey: And we think we can deliver a good consumer VR experience without having to partner with anyone. We’re open to partnering, but we don’t think we have to. We’re not banking on it.

And how does being based in southern California compare to being closer to a more conventional tech hub like Silicon Valley?

Mitchell: Recruiting is a little harder for us. But overall, we’ve been able to attract incredible talent.

Luckey: And if you’re in Silicon Valley, it’s probably one of the easiest places to start a company in terms of hiring people. But VR is such a tiny field, it’s not like all of a sudden we’re going to go to Silicon Valley and there’s, like, thousands of VR experts. Now, if I’m a Web company or a mobile company –

Mitchell: — that’s where I’d want to be.

Luckey: But in this case, these people aren’t necessarily all up in Silicon Valley. We’ve hired a bunch of people from Texas and Virginia and all these other places. It’s a niche industry. We actually have the biggest concentration of people working in consumer VR right now. And a lot of the top talent we get, they don’t care where we are, as long as it’s not, like, Alaska. They just really want to work on virtual reality, and there’s no one else doing it like we are.

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Venture investors still have a healthy appetite for early-stage consumer Internet companies, but those startups are having a harder time raising follow-on financing.

Overall the amount invested in consumer information services was off 42% in the first nine months as the difficulties of newly public Internet companies such as Facebook and Zynga cast doubt on the business models and valuations of social media companies.

Read the rest of this post on the original site

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FOCUS 100, Investors, VCs

Investors take a big financial risk each time they invest in a startup, so they're pretty careful about who they back. You may have the best product in the world, but it's no guarantee that investors will shell out for you.

Earlier this month, startup founders from around the country gathered at Ogilvy in New York for the first annual FOCUS 100 Symposium. We attended a session called "Why We Invest," where angel investors and VCs shared what they're looking for in entrepreneurial talent. Here's what we found out:

Who they invest in:

Lauren Maillian Bias, Founding Partner and Director of Operations, Strategy and Investor Relations at Gen Y Capital, says her firm looks for entrepreneurs who have the ability to adapt and evolve. "Many times you'll meet a team in the beginning stages of the company and they'll morph into something else later," she says. "You have to have that ability within you to not take it personally either, in saying, 'this isn't working for the market,' and your business has to work for the market. It can't just work for you."

Deborah Jackson, Founder of Women Innovate Mobile (WIM), likes to see founders with big visions. She looks for "an entrepreneur that sees where they want to go, that has a vision. You need an entrepreneur that sees it."

What they invest in:

"Number one," says Jackson, "I really have to understand what the company does. And that's not always easy to do, particularly if you have a new kind of technology or you're trying to break into a market that's really not been proven. Second of all, I look for very big markets. So if it's a good product, is it a niche, or can it go big? Usually to have a big return you need to have a big market."

Eghosa Omoigui, General Partner at EchoVC Partners, disagrees. "[I] don't get lured by big markets, because you don't always have to have a big market to invest in a company. I look at DailyCandy as a classic example of an interesting company that didn't need five or ten million users. It just needed a million users to each spend 16 dollars, and that's a 16 million dollar a year business. It wasn't 10 or 20 or 30 million users, which everyone's so quick to think that's what you need. You just want super-engaged, super-attentive customers and users who... don't want to leave you."

How to nail the pitch:

"I'm a big believer of the six slide deck," says Brian Watson, Investment Team Member at Union Square Ventures. "In six slides you can get your vision across really quickly and succinctly, and create a conversation you can talk about at the end [of the pitch]." He also warns startup founders that "investors don't want to see all the small details and every single number about how you're going to do your business. We'd rather see you give the vision or let us use our imaginations to see how big things could really be... Investors want to be wowed, we want to think of the bigger business and imagine this to be much larger, because we're putting money in this and we want to see growth."

Maillian Bias reminds founders not to leave out information about who is advising your business. "People don't really give a lot of attention to advisory boards or actually formalize them before they go out [and pitch]. It's really important because in the early stages we can't actually pick who our winners are going to be, and that's okay, nothing has to be a done deal. But who has their social capital? Who do you have at your disposal who's supporting you that you can call and ask that has relevant expertise to what is is you're doing? If you already have them, I'd like to know about them."

All four agree that investors don't usually read your business plan. It's great to have one, but investors prefer seeing a one-page summary of your startup, clean and simple.

Watson also adds, "If you can include a demo of your product, we would much rather see a live product on the web than just mock-ups. The cost of starting a web company has gone down tremendously in the past few years and so there's almost no excuse not to have a working product when you're at a VC session."

How often you should communicate with your investors, once you get funding:

Monthly, says Maillian Bias. "Everyone has a different idea of what the ideal cadence is, but monthly updates to your investors on how you guys are growing, everything from your social media 'likes' and engagement to users on your platform to dollars to trends, the goods and the bads, very clearly outlined." These kinds of updates tell investors where their help is needed, and creates the "strong ongoing relationships" that investors like to see.

NOW READ: What Are The Odds Of Your Startup Succeeding?

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flickr-ktoine-surprise

I don’t know if Highlight, Glancee, Banjo, or any one of those other startups you’re now officially sick to death of hearing about are going to make it, but I know that for the first time in a long time, we’re starting to move in the right direction in terms of mobile innovation. And no, I don’t mean we need more people-stalking apps, I mean we need more passive use of our mobile phones.

Less life lived looking down means more life actually lived.

The trend that strikes me here as being important is not necessarily “ambient location” or even “people finders” – that’s just all we’re capable of today. The real end game is engineering serendipity.

Each of the new contenders, oddly, has decided to go after the same vertical: people tracking. Perhaps this is the more easy and obvious market to first attack, given the apps’ abilities to run on top of existing social structures like Facebook or Foursquare. But arranging serendipitous encounters isn’t always a function of who you know, it should also be a function of who you want to know. Or who you should want to know, even if you don’t realize you should want to know them. That’s a bigger challenge than any of the new socializing apps can address.

Consider this, instead, a giant alpha test in preparation of taking that next step.

To move forward, the metrics these startups should be obsessed with should not just be how many users signed up, how many downloads they have, or how many pings they sent out, but how many real connections between people are actually being made. This is the Holy Grail for engineering serendipitous people discovery: alerting users immediately that somebody is nearby, but also making sure that’s a connection the person actually wanted to make. (It’s too bad all smartphones don’t have a nifty proximity sensor in them that can detect when you’re rapidly closing the distance between you and a fellow app user, for example. That would indicate a real connection! There are ways around this, but they’re far more complex than tapping into a provided sensor like the GPS).

Case in point of what a poor serendipitous experience feels like: one of the top apps alerts me that Steve Wozniak is at the airport, and he’s even in my terminal! He’s having a bite at a nearby restaurant. I rush to the other side of the terminal (which was a hell of a lot bigger than I thought), and scope out the restaurant, but no Woz. I scope out the nearby gates, still no Woz. What happened? A little manual people-stalking of my own and I find his flight took off over an hour ago. Fail, fail, fail, fail. (True story, sadly.)

A good app wouldn’t have even mentioned he was there. A good app would wait until it could say, Steve Wozniak is at the airport…and HE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

So yes, all these apps still have a way to go before they even work correctly at their primary function.

While I know that it’s one step at a time, I worry that the market will see these apps as tools that do only one thing – merely alerting us to nearby people of interest – and will later give up on them when the trendiness wears off. That concerns me because we’ll then lose sight of other, bigger challenges companies operating in this space could one day solve. Challenges that take time. Not months, but years: engineering serendipity is not just about the who, but also the what, where, how and why.

A little history: a couple of years ago, Google’s then CEO, now Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt spoke of a world where our phones alerted us to nearby shops and deals and discounts as we walked down the street, all personalized to our own interests. Serendipitous discovery of the world around us.

Now forgive me for saying so, but a world where Google knows what I want to do before I do it, gives me a chill. Can’t someone else build this first, please? And build it on top of data that comes from everywhere, not just one big Google-owned database?

Apps could start by telling you who’s nearby, then slowly grow, until they could alert you about all sorts of things, and do so just as spontaneously.

One company already doing this, to some extent, is Foursquare. With its Radar feature, Foursquare is branching out from check-ins to become a tool for exploring by suggesting nearby places and alerting you to nearby friends. In terms of engineering discovery of the world, not just people, it’s already ahead of the trendy background location apps. As CEO Dennis Crowley explained, “what we have been doing with Radar is finding a way for people to use the app really without having to actually use it.” BINGO. But this is all such a new game; anyone can still win.

Engineering discovery is a complicated one to solve. For example, it’s a combination of knowing not just where you say you like to shop, but where you’ve actually shopped; not just where you say you like to dine, but where you actually dine. It also needs to know what sort of activities you would want to attend (Concerts? Games? Family friendly outdoor festivals? Dog shows? Plays?), then ping you accordingly. It needs to tell you of a concert only when there are still tickets left. It needs to know personal details like your shoe size, shirt size, dress size, and then check the in-store inventory levels before it ever bothers you about a nearby sale. And so on. It needs intelligence. Otherwise, the damn thing will be way too annoying.

And yes, some of this may not even be possible yet. But it will be, so plan ahead.

Oh, and here’s another tricky part: for any app to be able to truly be capable of serendipitous discovery, it would also have to surprise you from time to time with something that’s just outside your typical interests, but where historical, aggregate data from a wide user base indicates that hey, you just might like this, too.

So how would any app be able to know all these things? Well, APIs, for starters. Many web companies provide them, but apps tend to build on top of only the social three (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare).

How interesting would it be for apps to build on top of your preferred food-sharing and wine-tasting apps, your travel logs, your Amazon purchases, your credit card statements, your daily deal buys, your past check-ins, your Eventbrite ticket purchases, your Meetup groups, your Kindle e-book collection, your favorite shops at Fab and Etsy, etc., etc.? Oh, and all those your friends like too, of course?

Scenario: That guy browsing cookbooks at the bookstore knows your friend Julie and is currently reading the Steve Jobs bio (he’s got it on his Kindle, actually). PING!

Scenario: When you were in N.Y., you went to a restaurant your friend Joe recommended and loved it. This local restaurant is owned by the same folks and your friend Jim ate the ribs here two weeks ago and thought they were crazy good. PING!

Scenario: That little black dress that’s been sitting in your Amazon cart for 2 days looks a lot like the one this store is selling. And it’s half off. And they have your size in stock. PING!

Does any of that sound crazy? Then you’re not dreaming hard enough yet.

Or maybe it just sounds terrifying. Well, sorry (old fart?), but the machines are coming and they want to get to know you better.

Unfortunately, not all the data to build a (creepy) understanding of you and your behavior is available via API just yet, but by the time anyone could get around to expanding into all these verticals, that may change.

To be clear, the end result is not a scenario where every store you walk by blasts you with a geo-targeted deal, just one store does, and the result is incredibly, almost disturbingly, relevant. The apps don’t tell you about every possible dinner recommendation, only if the restaurant you’re considering now is any good. They don’t tell you about every person you’re somehow connected to nearby, only the ones you really want to know.

Or in other words: serendipity means you don’t have to manually launch apps all the time to know what’s going on. The apps launch you.

They don’t constantly ping you, and bother you with every little thing. Every time the phone buzzes, it would feel random, but would be meaningful and important to address.

Looking at what we have now, well, let’s just say we’re far, far away from that vision. But in the people trackers, we see the first baby steps.

That’s why they’re interesting.

And, who knows, at the end of the day, maybe such a thing won’t even be an app, but an extension of the handset itself. Maybe that’s what Siri and its VPA brethren will become. A smarter Siri who doesn’t just wake when you need something, but who, like a real-life assistant, would tap you on your shoulder and whisper, Pssst….Did you know?

Image credit: Flickr user ktoine

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Design is on a roll. Client services are experiencing a major uptick in demand, seasoned design professionals are abandoning client work in favor of entrepreneurship, and designer-co-founded startups such as Kickstarter and Airbnb are taking center stage. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that design has a massive role to play in the evolution of the web and the next generation of web products. The result, says Cameron Koczon, is that designers have now been given a blank check—one that lets web designers band together as a community to change the way design is perceived; change the way products are built; and quite possibly change the world.

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Many e-commerce sites these days tend to be loaded down with too much information on their landing pages. The reasoning for cluttered e-commerce sites is simple: the more information you can cram on the page, the more the user will buy. Unfortunately, web buyers are a finicky bunch.

Jacob Nielsen reports that web users are becoming much more impatient while shopping and browsing online. Instead of spending their time going to a site’s homepage and finding the content by categories or other product recommendations, most shopping is done by quick Google searches. If the user can’t find what she’s looking for right away, she’s gone.

It’s crucial to have simple web designs to allow the user to quickly find the information they need, especially if you are selling a product. If the page is cluttered with useless text, widgets or unrelated products, the site becomes meaningless.

However, it’s become a common practice to do just the opposite. e-commerce sites have taken this “scatter shot” approach of trying to slap the potential buyer with as many options as possible. Instead of making the landing page solely about one product, sites usually clutter the page with unnecessary information, ads and related products.

Less Products Mean More Focus

Many web companies forget the cardinal rule of e-commerce: Web shoppers want as little hassle as possible. Instead of hopping in the car and driving to the store to buy a DVD, it’s much easier to go online and snag it from Amazon in a few clicks. The customer is even willing to wait longer and spend more money if the shopping experience is simple and fast.

Apple

Apple has mastered the art of minimal homepage design. If you go to their homepage, they’ll only show you three things:

  • A simple header navigation
  • One product in the body of the page
  • A few informational links about the featured product with images below the fold

Aside from the standard footer navigation, the homepage consists only of three parts. Here’s what you see if you click on a product link (like the iPhone).

iPhone homepage

Even on the product page, you immediately see what the page is about: the iPhone. The product itself dominates the bulk of the page, and the surrounding information are apps and features of the new iPhone. But more importantly, notice what’s not on the iPhone page:

  • Unrelated products
  • Unrelated sidebar ads
  • Lots of copy
  • Clutter

Apple has effectively shown just enough information in a very pleasing manner. There’s nothing wrong with showing lots of information, as long as it doesn’t feel like a lot of information. You’ll also notice that all of the information, links and pictures are all centered around the iPhone and what it offers. There are no distracting ads or unneeded information about other products.

There are a couple of tried-and-true methods that any designer or web developer can take to ensure that the site layout doesn’t drive customers away with clutter.

  1. Only what you need.
    The biggest aspect of simple web design is only showing what’s needed to make the sale, and nothing more. This doesn’t mean that you can’t give the user lots of information. Just make sure they want to see more information. Apple uses “Learn more” links throughout the page to accomplish this.
  2. Reduce clicks. The less clicks it takes for a customer to buy a product, the higher returns. Don’t make them jump through hoops to buy your product.
  3. The “Grandma” rule. If your grandma (or any elderly person) can figure out how to buy a product for your site, odds are it’s put together pretty well. Unneeded information will turn Grandma away quickly.
  4. Reduce the number of columns. Each time you add a column to a page, the content is pushed into a smaller and smaller space. This puts less emphasis on the main product, and more on extra stuff the buyer isn’t really looking for.
  5. Give less options. There is an added stress put on web shoppers to make decisions. Ultimately, the buyer wants to think as little as possible when making the purchase. Displaying products in a way that eliminates extra thinking and decisions will streamline the buying process and give the customer more peace of mind.
  6. Keep it clean. A clean design keeps visitors happy. By taking the time to ensure that the layout of the site is aesthetically pleasing keeps the customer returning to the site.

Intuitive web design means thinking like a potential customer. Would you shop at your site?

Other Great Examples of Simple e-commerce Design

Bell.ca

Bell.ca uses only a few colors to indicate the branding and offers visitors only the main navigation options. Notice how well the design manages to present a number of different options — shop navigation, support as well as personal and business areas. The design isn’t cluttered but clean and simple and provides the visitors with a broad overview of available options without forcing users to actually go through all of them. Also notice how clever the product navigation is designed at the top of the site. There is just nothing users can do incorrectly.

Shoeguru.ca

Shoeguru.ca present a very user-centric and product-centric design. The product seems to be on the stage just in front of the visitors. The design presents only the product, and nothing else; even only few navigation options are available.

Etsy

Etsy is a great example of how to place a lot of information on a page without it being cluttered. Etsy has a wide catalog of products to sell from, yet Etsy’s design has an earthy, relaxing quality. Creating a useful homepage that doesn’t distract is no small feat.

crupress

Crupress is an elegant book site without many distractions. The homepage manages to present a lot of text without agitating the user. The header navigation is prominent, but doesn’t demand attention. All the design elements flow together smoothly.

tokyocube

Tokyocube is a fun, trendy little site that sells Japanese products. Instead taking precious space explaining what the site sells, the products are put right in front of you. Also, the heavy use of white space allows the products to almost jump right off the page at you. You can’t help but click on one of the toys to learn more about them.

furious tees

While Furious Tees is a tad busier in graphics than the previous sites, it helps do two things:

  1. Show the playfulness of the site
  2. Make it very clear that all shirts are only $19.99

You aren’t lost trying to figure out what Furious Tees is selling, the products are all in front of you. Having all the products on the homepage is especially beneficial for novelty sites that have merchandise people normally wouldn’t be looking for.

But sites with lots of products on the homepage run the risk of becoming cluttered very quickly. Furious Tees doesn’t have this problem. They don’t use any extra sidebars or ads taking attention away from the T-Shirts. The focus is solely on the shirts and the hilarious design.

37 Signals

Basecamp (37 Signals)

Look no further than 37 Signal’s project management tool Basecamp for an incredible example of mixing different types of information to sell a product. Yet there’s just enough information to make an effective sales copy. Every word, every image has to be weighed in a design. If there’s not enough information, the user won’t spend time trying to figure out what the product does. Too much information and the user becomes overwhelmed.

The tasteful use of heading backgrounds and company logos makes every bit of information stand out on it’s own. And they somehow made all of the different types of media blend together, with plenty of space so that the user isn’t bombarded by lots of text or images at one time.

You Only Have a Few Seconds

Every website is going to require a different type of layout, design and copy to sell products. But designers can strive to do more with less by:

  • weighing every word
  • removing unneeded elements
  • using tasteful colors and whitespace
  • and limiting the amount of overall information the shopper sees at one time

Remember, online shoppers are a fickle bunch. They don’t “window shop”. They use search engines to limit their searches to a very narrow field. If they don’t like what they see, they leave. Site owners only have a very small window of time to capture the attention of the prospective shopper. A tasteful, clutter-free design that places the focus on the product (and nowhere else) will allow the shopper to find what she wants faster.

Glen Stansberry is a web developer and blogger. You can read more of his articles on smart web development at Web Jackalope.

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