The other day I got a lot of attention for “bashing” Posterous, a Y Combinator company, for having in my view poorer design than its main competitor Tumblr, which is 4 times bigger according to Compete.com, and for saying that it’s because Tumblr is better designed that it is more popular. There was a lot of back and forth related to that post (for those keeping score, Paul Graham disagrees with me, John Gruber agrees), most of it interesting. I used this example to highlight two trends that I still believe are very much real:
- today and increasingly for consumer web apps, design (not just how it looks, but also how it works) matters more than “raw” technology ;
- New York is coming into its own as a hub for startups that care about design and produce great design, something which is often overlooked by Silicon Valley engineer-centric companies and a certain Silicon Valley engineer-centric mindset.
That being said, I never meant to imply, as some took me to mean, that nobody in Silicon Valley understands design, that there aren’t web startups with great design in Silicon Valley or, even more absurd, that Silicon Valley is not a tremendous startup hub. These are all ridiculously false propositions.
So today I want to give back to Cesar what belongs to Cesar and laud thesixtyone, a Palo Alto, Y Combinator company. The company started as a (not really well designed) “Digg for indie music” that helps indie musicians get discovered and make money. Their newest version, however, is a tremendous example of wonderful design.
First of all, as you can see above, it is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. And unless I’m mistaken, they get this beautiful look through HTML5 and not Flash, so big kudos there.
And second of all, in the design-is-how-it-works category, they refined their mechanics away from simple Digg-like up-or-down voting to Foursquare-like game dynamics, where you get a limited number of “hearts” to hand out to bands and artists and are incentivized do things on the site to earn rewards.
It’s a great discovery system for new music. I’ve been using it for the past couple of days instead of the Hype Machine and Spotify and it is truly a great service (there are a couple of annoying UX kinks but I’m sure they’ll work them out).
So there. Of course there are Silicon Valley startups that understand great design, and thesixtyone is one of them. Now check them out and tell me what you think in the comments.