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The Pinterest Layout Will Not Save You

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Pinterest is wildly successful, but the ubiquitous Pinterest layout is a textbook example of over-attribution of success bias. Not much credit is given to their bookmarklet, sign up flow, email notifications, target market, Facebook integration, timing, etc., all of which worked together to launch Pinterest into the Alexa top 100.

The recent trend of emphasizing visual content in a Pinterest-like layout is influencing redesigns across the web. For example, this trend is seen with the recent high-profile redesigns of the new Digg and Myspace. Both redesigns seem to be falling victim to this Pinterest layout over-attribution of success bias by overemphasizing their relatively uninteresting visual content in a Pinterest-inspired layout.

Pinterest-style layout would not work well for animated gifs.

After the Twitter stream and Facebook newsfeed, the Pinterest tile layout (and the Instagram mobile flow) is one of the most influential. There's a whole Quora thread on the sites that resemble Pinterest that I crowd-sourced. The train has left the station, but it's working for a site like

I don't get the impression that it is working well for Chill any more.

Questions to ask before adopting a Pinterest-inspired layout:

  1. Is the content primarily images?

  2. If so, are the images interesting and worth emphasizing?

  3. Do images have variable sizes?

  4. Is cropping a no-go?

  5. Are you Pinterest? :)

Ultimately, it was a poor choice to use it for the new Digg and MySpace.

Agreed. It's really only a good choice if your #1 goal is to emphasize the image hunter-gatherer experience, and you don't really care whether people are adding personal context to their finds (apart from the act of sucking it in to their own collection), and you want the fundamental "social object" to be (at most) an image + a brief comment.

If you want more commentary, more personal color per post, and a community based more on sharing and interacting than on collecting, the Tumblr design is far better. Putting the porn use case aside, Tumblr is similar to Pinterest in that it skews towards image-based, feminine content (though Tumblr is younger), but the methods of consumption and sharing are so different that user behavior, and ultimately the content itself, diverges widely.

For example, on Tumblr the basic unit of collection is a blog (instead of a pinboard) and even though many people have more than one blog, each blog tends to have more diverse content than a typical pinboard, which usually have narrow themes like "cupcakes" and "#thinspiration." Also, Tumblr posts can be far richer than Pinterest posts, both in the fact that they may contain multiple images (and some text) and in that people often add a comment when reblogging. Sometimes the best part of a post is the reblog comment history -- something you don't get on Pinterest. And Pinterest's design fundamentally precludes it from ever doing richer types of posts. It's gotta just be 1 image and (maybe) a brief comment, or the layout breaks.

The graphic below is infuriating for several reasons, but it's good for one thing.

It illustrates that Tumblr is for creating and sharing, whereas Pinterest is only for sharing.

Tumblr vs Pinterest

Pinterest might be the flavor of the moment, but Tumblr is much more useful and flexible.

HackerNews thread on Pinterest layout:

If I may self-plagiarize^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H-syndicate my comment from HN:

To my eye the Pinterest masonry grid is a trick for creating 'false excitement' around the content. In that way, it's like rapid edits or a shaky camera in video.

This works for a while, in certain domains, for people in certain leisurely modes of operation... but can also eventually lead to frustration and distrust. ("Why is this page making it hard for me to do a thoughtful review of what's new or important?")


The Pinterest misaligned-quilt is not a pattern I recognize as recurring/dominant in other more evolved publishing/graphic design areas. (Even the cacophony of a magazine-stand has more standard-sized items in neater rows and columns with groupings by topic.) I think its effectiveness for Pinterest may be a very time/novelty/audience-specific thing -- a fad -- that even its biggest fans will tire of, as they realize their attention is limited and valuable.

Nice syndication, Gordon.

I do think Pulse has a great variation on this theme where a user can scroll a row horizontally and scroll the whole page vertically. Particularly good for tablets:


And I agree that the Pinterest layout will exhaust even its biggest fans over time,

The Pulse variant (which I think is also similar to Netflix in some UIs, right?) is much better. It retains the sense of abundance and variety, but each dimension has more meaning: alike items in rows, time consistently in one direction. You have the sense you could *get back* to someplace over time.

Yes. And yes, Netflix is similar.

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