Why Great Product Design Wins Long-Term

Messaging apps have now overtaken text-messages by sheer volume of communications sent. And yet most of the large-scale native messaging apps downright suck from a design perspective.

Globally, people use tools like WhatsApp now way more than SMS. The carrier cash cow of charging for text messages is dying, and it is time for big communication companies like Verizon to wake up and smell the data coffee. It’s also time for tech startups to seriously think about communication apps as an area for disruption through design. Because while WhatsApp is one of the biggest messaging platforms on the planet, it’s also failing to evolve.

Chat via Apps Overtake SMS by Message Volume

Informa has reported that almost 19 billion messages were sent per day on chat apps in 2012, compared with 17.6 billion SMS texts. And it has projected that nearly 50 billion messages will be sent per day via apps by 2014, compared with just over 21 billion traditional SMSs. Effectively, SMS in developed countries is dead.

Some more recent stats collected from TC articles shows Messages Sent Per Day, by app (2013):

Meanwhile, Messaging App Design Sucks

WhatsApp, Viber, KakaoTalk… these are some of the most-used mobile apps in the world (just recently, WhatsApp overtook Twitter in MAUs), but take a look at them from a design perspective:

  1. They all share the same functional design elements.
  2. There are no unique interfaces or features that stand out.
  3. Their UI and design aesthetics are easily replicated.


So, these apps have scaled up, but their designs are basic. I think this fits a general trend with physical technology and software products we’ve seen long-term: the big successes that are first to market help define the opportunity and potential scale of the product. They establish a base-line of a product from a functional standpoint. But they fail from a design and experience standpoint, and so products and companies that are later to market tend to capitalize on this. Later products can improve on the competition, learn from where they’ve fallen short, and then differentiate through breakthrough UX, branding, and overal product design quality.

Life lesson: First to market defines the market, but great design wins long-term.