Humbling Designer’s High

It’s one of the most humbling experience when I spend hours obsessing and iterating to finally have that aha moment of realizing an optimized design solution. It almost feels too obvious to have required so many iterations.

It’s my designer’s high!

An example of thoughtful design: HotelTonight’s Snap Your Stay

HotelTonight is one of my favorite apps. I consider it to be really well designed and built.

Its latest update includes a feature called ‘Snap Your Stay’. You can read a detailed review of the feature on GigaOm. The attention to detail in building this feature could be easily missed, but it is simply brilliant.


The obvious point here is the fact that it’s pictures based reviews. However, think of it; a picture based review could had been done in the following adhoc manner,

  1. Ask user to take a picture
  2. Let user assign a name/tag (free form text description) to the picture
  3. Let user add and submit as many (or little) pictures as they might like

The above would had been too much cognitive work for the users. It would also generate random sets of images (and text), which would had been too complicated to structure in any suitable format to be presentable in a comprehensive way to other users.

So instead of doing the above, HotelTonight has come up with a genius design that is simple and fast for the users and at the same time adds some structure to the user generated content to make it useful for other users. Some of the key ways the app achieves these goals are:

  1. Pre-assigned placeholders for each picture. This solves multiple issues,
    • user doesn’t have to think about what kind of pictures to submit
    • user also doesn’t have to come up with a description (and type it) for every picture
    • it will allow (automatically) combining pictures from all the users under pre-assigned categories and hence easily present it to other users
  2. The app shows a progress bar to motivate user to take all the pictures before they submit. Again, this is subtle, but the combination of #1 and #2 here, makes it very powerful to motivate users to submit a review
  3. Another simple, but effective way to encourage users to submit good content is hinting them with comments like ‘Take a pic while the bed’s still made’

The above is a classic example of high quality work that goes into building well designed features. It seems very obvious after we see it designed and implemented. But such subtle simplicity requires careful attention to detail and results in significantly improved user experience. We should all strive to achieve this kind of simplicity and high touch!

Disclosure: I had the opportunity to work on the HotelTonight app for a couple of months in late 2010 (pre-launch).