Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Love it or hate it, today eBay is supposed to roll out the v1 features of “the new eBay.” Below is a screen grab of their new feed, allowing users to quickly browse a Pinterest-like personalized feed of items based on categories/items/etc they’ve subscribed to.

Though Mashable reported it’s live, I’ve logged in but it doesn’t seem to be available to me just yet. However, I really only need to see the images to realize “right, I get it.”

The idea here is pretty sound – it’s shopping. Isn’t this more or less how humans have shopped for the last century? We are browsing the “baking” category right here.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Whether that’s a legitimate insight or not, I highly doubt eBay is suddenly adopting Apple’s skeuomorphism philosophy of software design (think leather-bound iCal). What I think is really going on here is the cresting of a massive trend inspired by all the buzz with Pinterest and it’s faster-growth-than-facebook phase.

However, my skepticism doesn’t concern the image grid-view system as a whole – I think it’s excellent when used appropriately. So what’s inappropriate here?

1. Listing sizes and their effect on readability 

Pinterest, as well as the new eBay, does not have standard sizes for its’ listings – making the grid scrambled horizontally.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Look at eye-tracking heat-maps of Pinterest and you’ll see some interesting results. People almost always focus first (and the majority of their attention) on the front and center image. We live in a read from left-to-right world (us Westerners) but without the construct of a familiar system, the eyes seems to jump to what’s right in front of our face. After that, attention kind of skips around willy nilly. That’s ok though because Pinterest is really just interested in showing you pretty pictures to like, re-pin, or share. The non-image information is wholly secondary.

But alas, eBay is a different animal with different business goals.

2. Hierarchy and emphasis of metadata

If I was architecting a listing in an eBay feed, I would probably design to answer these questions topically:

  • Is it what I’m looking for/is this something I might want?
  • Is it a price I want to pay?
  • Can I buy it now/how soon does it end?
  • How much is shipping/where from?

Here’s what we get.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

I think they are trying to recreate the moment where people “fall in love” with a piece of merch before they look at the price tag. Last weekend a friend tried on a leather jacket in J.Crew and started glowing. As if bracing for impact, he turned over the price tag: $1280. He didn’t make the purchase but went on for the next half hour working out how to justify it. As for eBay, people will not fall in love that way with a 230×300 homemade jpeg. Show the prices! Tantalizingly low starting prices are what triggers the bargain hunter instinct. gets the excitement going

But George, you havn’t even used it yet. How can you be so against it? Fair point, I think coming off the tail of the MySpace redesign video I am somewhat overwhelmed.  Here we have a horizontally scrolling feed of staggered boxes of miscellaneous content. Looks beautiful but also complete with 15 different actions (at least one proprietary) and little to no order or relevance between them.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Ok now some examples I like

Svpply offers a “shop” section that switches to grid-view as depicted (as opposed to the single listing feed). Here we have the structure to read across rows and down to the next complete with a buffet of images to dive into if we just want to jump around. All of the crucial information Svpply offers is clear and scannable. Remember the neatly aligned prices from our baking isle in the supermarket? The mouseover also uses some nice progressive disclosure by revealing the finder and brand.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

Yes, to be a bit biased, Krrb does an excellent job with grid-view as well. Whereas  Svpply does not address image sizing, Krrb does an excellent job of standardizing its’ list items inline. We have easily readable rows, an image buffet, and a nice array of easily scannable, essential information.

Is the onslaught of grid-view feeds destroying user experience as we know it?

So for any future grid-view feed makers out there with ecommerce/editorial business goals, some things to consider:

  • Am I giving the user what they want out of a browsing experience?
  • What topical meta data is essential [to the user] to  click / potentially purchase?
  • Are the layout/proportions creating a confusing and disorienting experience?
Am I being too hard on loose gids? Is this just reflecting on the nature of our fragmented attention spans? I think attention can easily fall victim to gridlock. That was a pun.