A Pinterest Way To Success




Pinterest has grown from zero page views a day to billions per month within three years.  According to measurement site ComScore; Pinterest reached 25 million unique visitors in July 2013. Today, Pinterest is valued at $2.5 billion following a $200 million financing round earlier this year. So what make this social bookmarking site stands out from hundreds of other social sites? Here you might get a bit of a clue.

Design Patterns:

Like most of the successful social media sites, Pinterest uses well-established design patterns. This partly explains why so many users around the world are engaged with this social bookmarking site. I will list some of the design patterns that Pinterest uses.

  1. You’re invited

When you first entered the Pinterest.com, you will find the following screen.


You can either sign up with your existing Facebook account or Sign up with email, which is also quite convenient in the next screen. Only very basic information like email address is required then you are ready to explore in this site.

However, at the very beginning of Pinterest’s launch, only 5,000 users were invited to join the site. Now, anyone with an email account is welcomed to explore the site.


2. Deliberately leave things incomplete

One of the key differences between designing a social environment online and designing a traditional media-style, broadcast-oriented content site is that the design of a social site cannot be entirely predetermined. Pinterest followed this rule, as a user should decide which content she/he will get.

In the following screenshot, it shows a first time user’s home page is almost empty, and the user would be guided by an online tour to decide what kinds of content Pinterest would provide.


3. Self-Deprecating Error Messages

Error messages should always put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the site’s owners and not on those of the visitor. For example, if the visitor entered broken link, Pinterest will response as the following screenshot shows.


The message “Whoops! We couldn’t find that page.” is a conversational tone and also takes the responsibility for the mistake instead of blaming the visitor.

4. Tools for sharing

Some conventions have emerged on the Web for providing readers with tools for sharing whatever they are currently experiencing. Pinterest offers various tools for visitors and developers to make sharing an easier task. For Pinterest visitors, they have choices such as  “send“ and “like“ to share content. On the other side, for the developers, Pinterest provides an open environment for them to participate in the development of the whole Pinterest ecosystem. It provides “IOS pin it SDK”, “Android pin it SDK, “Pin it button” for all the app developers as well as website developers. Thus, making the whole internet based content could be shared to the users of Pinterest platform.

However, besides the design patterns that I have listed above, Pinterest doesn’t use the traditional web building blocks like Facebook and Twitter do, which I believe it is most important reason for its success.

In Pinterest, an image/url is a pin and each collection of images/urls is a board. A Pinterest board is a group of images/urls  that you “pin” in order to save the images/pins to your homepage and to share with other people. A Pinterest board is similar to a traditional online photo album, but it has been converted into a social experience through the addition of features like the ability for other users to “repin”, “like” and  comment on  “pins”.  The “repin“ function lets you to repin other users’ pin to your own Pinterest boards so that you can share the pins with more people. This is the same strategy as Twitter’s retweet, which enables the images sharing flow goes smoothly and rapidly among all the users. Pinterest flattens the information hierarchy by putting web content into sticky-note sized blocks, which users can organize onto boards that fill the entire browser screen. Outside Pinterest, reverse chronology is the dominant strategy for organization; as Khoi Vinh, the former design director for NYTimes.com, says, “I almost thought it was the default way to organize information on the web.”

Business Model:

Like all the popular social media sites, Pinterest is trying to establish a business model to utilize the large traffic that it generates. However, they are still experimenting with different approaches. The cooperation with massive business companies and the release of Pinterest’s “rich pin“ this May 2013 should help Pinterest in a meaningful way.

The “rich pin“ provides retail brands the opportunity to post more useful information than just an image. There are three distinct types of rich pins: product pins, recipe pins and movie pins. If you click on a food pin, it will display the ingredient list and relevant information below the photo, auto-generated from the original site. Product photos will show where you can find the item for sale, and the movie pins will show information about the movie such as its rating, cast and release date. Such information makes it easier to click through links to purchase items. The move could be the start of a change in consumer perception of the site from a place for wishful thinking, towards a site where one can purchase those wishes.


1. Pinterest Blog. “Introducing More Useful Pins“


2. Leslie Walker. “Pinterest Board: Guide to Creating, Managing and Navigating Image Boards“


3. Jefferson Graham. 2013. “Pinterest pins a plan for growth “


4. Justin Smith. 2013. “Facebook vs. Pinterest: You’re Investing, But What Are Your Goals?”


5. Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone. 2009. Designing Social Interfaces. Canada: O’Reilly.

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