UX Critique of Path 2

Path has gotten a lot of well deserved praise for the release of Path 2. It’s a beautiful app, that really pushes the envelope when it comes to mobile experiences. Their whole team should be congratulated in created something that stands out in a sea of endless apps.

I think it’s a great app, but I do have a few critiques. While mentioning some of my thoughts to a friend yesterday, she encouraged me to capture them somewhere. So, here’s a quick summary about the things that I love, as well as the things that I think need some improvement.

 

Delightful Details

Path is filled with little nuggets of joy. Here are my favorites, in no particular order.

1. The “Cover”


We are constantly asked to represent ourselves with an avatar, which is usually a headshot. A few months ago, when Facebook started rolling out Timeline, they added the ability to add a “Cover”, which they describe as:

We’ve found that people have a better experience viewing your timeline when they see a cover that is as unique and individualized as you are. This helps people learn more about you.

Path was inspired by this, because they’ve added it to Path 2, and it’s effective. It has a similar effect as it does on Facebook, where it makes the page feel a lot more personal. When you view a user’s path, you are greeted by a nice image that’s different for every user. The pull down interaction is also nice, revealing more of the cover.

2. The Navigation


Path 2 joins other apps following a fairly recent trend in replacing the traditional iOS navigation at the bottom of the screen with a button in the upper left that slides the whole page of content to the right, revealing a navigation list below. This also must have been inspired by Facebook’s latest app (which I’m told in turn was inspired by Twitter’s original iPad app) because it’s nearly identical. Regardless, it’s great, and I’ve already started using it in several upcoming projects. It saves room on the screen and gives you more room for detailed navigation.

3. The + (Add) Button


This is a great, inventive way of simplifying the addition of content for a user. Originally, Path was just a place to post photos and videos. In Path 2, the users can additionally post where they are, what music they’re listening to, who they’re With, if they’re going to be/waking up, or just what they’re thinking. To simplify this, Path uses a simple + button in the lower left, which pops open a bunch of options of things to add. It’s simple and delightful.

4. The + (Add) Button Animation

A delightful detail of the + Button is the way the icons appear and disappear. The Path team could easily have had the icons fade in, but instead they have them fly out from the +. But pay attention to HOW they fly out. They all don’t come out at the exact time and at the same angle. There is momentum for how they come out and a different speed for each depending on what order they are in the list. When they find their position, there’s a bit of a bounce. When they retreat back into the +, they spin and accelerate home. It’s delightful, surprising, and elegant. Huge fan of this small detail that really makes the app feel alive.

5. The Scrolling Clock


Another small detail is the scrolling clock that appears on the right side of the screen as you scroll through the information. Not only does it keep track of the time numerically, but there’s a small analog clock with minute and hour hands that spin as you scroll.

Why is this brilliant? Because it allowed the team to leave out timestamps for all the updates (besides the asleep/awake ones). This means the whole interface is less cluttered and the really meaningful content is prioritized. I really love this detail.

6. The animation when a moment is added


When you add anything, it appears on your path. There are a few different ways the Path team could have done this. The easiest would have been to just refresh the path and suddenly the new item was at the top. To make it sexier they made it slide down, which feels a little less less jarring. Still, that’s not that unique, so they added a tiny detail that I love.

Under the user avatar, there’s a small white dot. When you add an item, the text part of your new moment is added to the path in a slideDown animation, but the icon that represents it (if there is one) pops out of that white dot and joins the text of the moment below. It’s subtle, but a really nice way of highlighting the icon and again, just makes the app feel more alive.

Improvement Opportunities

There are actually a lot more little details I love, but let’s get to things I think could be improved. Instead of just bitching, I made sure to at least include a suggestion with each criticism.

CAVEAT: I know that most of these comments can be challenged by “You’ll get used to it.” While I understand that, I think initial user experience is incredibly important. If people feel confused at first, they might not give it enough time to get used to it. Apple’s new operating system has reverse scroll, which some people hate, but you get used to it. But that’s an operating system. People can’t just close and delete the operating system. They’re stuck with it. Mobile apps are different.
 

1. Remove Swipe Left/Right on Path Gesture


In most apps, when you swipe left/right, it brings up the opportunity to delete the item you swipe (try this in Mail, Voicemail, Evernote). In my mind, that’s a standard behavior, and it’s hard to mess with standard behaviors. But in Path 2, it’s different. If you swipe on an item in a Path (let’s sat you want to delete something you’ve written), it shifts the whole screen to the left or right, showing you the friends/navigation menus. This is weird. 

My suggestion: I’d rather swipe have no response on the path that move the entire Path out of the way. I’d just leave the way to access the friends list and navigation at the top.
 

2. Pull Foursquare Checkins

Even though I wasn’t a big Path user, I’m willing to give Path 2 another chance. But the more it can integrate into my existing behavior the better. I use Foursquare. So do 15 million other people. We’re already used to checking in using Foursquare, and although I know Path would love if we all changed our behavior to use Path as our checkin app of choice, until we get there, Path should pull our Foursquare checkins. That way, even if the user isn’t using Path actively, their content is still shared with their friends in this network. I checked into 5 places last night alone with Foursquare, but didn’t open Path until I got home. If there was a connection, the people who did open Path would have seen my activity.

Over time, maybe Path can change their behavior and we will push to Foursquare from Path as default, but I think it’s a bad idea to expect all these users to change their behavior right away.

My suggestion: Give me a toggle to let Path pull Foursquare checkins and then over time show me why I should use Path instead.

3. Explain to me what Friend Requests mean


Path is known for its 150 friends limit. So that means accepting friend requests is a bit different than on Facebook where there is no limit. When I opened the app, I see that I have a bunch of friend requests of people “who would like to share”. But I don’t know what accepting these requests means.

When I click Add, am I saying “They can share their path with me” or “I would like to share my path with them”? What if I want to see their path but don’t want them to see mine (because I’ve reached my limit)? If I click the X, does that mean I’m not going to show them my path, or I don’t want to see their path?

Overall, the friend limit is confusing. But helping the user understand exactly what’s going on is important, and I think there’s some missing info here about exactly what a friend request is. Especially when people consider their Path information more private than other services.

My suggestion: Add more explanation in the text at the bottom of the list, and potentially move it to the top depending on user feedback.
 

4. The avatars are really small

It seems like for whatever reason, a lot of my friends use different avatars on Path than they do in other social networks. This is awesome, but has led to a lot of confusion. Why? Because the avatars are tiny. For the past 3 days, I’ve had two friends completely confused because their photos aren’t close up. I’m finding that I need to click on avatars a lot more often in this app than any other to understand who these updates are from. Yes, over time this will probably get easier, but it’s an issue I immediately noticed and in Day 5 am still confused by constantly.

My suggestion: I’m not sure. This is such a big design decision that it’s not an easy thing to resolve. 
 

5. My updates look like my friends updates

(I’m the 4th one down)

Somewhat related to #4 is how my updates appear compared to my friends’ updates. In a lot of apps, the logged in user’s activity is slightly different than everyone else. In iMessage/GroupMe, when I send a message, my avatar is on the right, while everyone else’s is on the left. In apps where this isn’t the case, such as Facebook Messenger or Twitter, my name is clearly written above the update.

In Path, it just shows the avatar of the person and then puts an action statement next to it. For the first few days, I thought this statement was describing me, and the object of the statement was the avatar. For example, if the statement said “Friends with Steve” next to an avatar, I interpreted that as “You are not friends with Steve, whose photo is to the left”. But it doesn’t mean that. It means “the person in the photo is now friends with Steve.” I think this is confusing. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but I think it’s an odd way to represent this information, especially when I don’t recognize the person in the photo because of what I brought up in #4.

My suggestion: I wish it either had my updates in a slightly different color/format, or just said “Alexia is now friends with Steve”. I know that would clutter the interface a lot, but might feel more personal and would definitely be more clear.


6. The Smiles


I know Path’s smiles are a signature design piece, but they still confuse me. What’s the difference between a smiley face, and an open mouth smiley face with a wink. I wouldn’t be confused if the mouth was the same in both, but I honestly still don’t know which means “more happy”. Although maybe it’s not about more happy. Maybe the winking one means “I’m laughing, but also scandalous”. Last night at dinner, some friends mentioned they heard the face with the circular open mouth meant “laughing” where I always thought it meant “Oh no!”.

And then there’s the heart, which is clearly the biggest happy, but it’s over next to the frown. Why isn’t it on the left?  Again, another small detail, but it’s confusing. I’ve heard more than a few people mention this, especially people seeing the app for the first time.

My suggestion: I’d just reorder them. Heart, Smile, Wink, etc… Give some kind of order to them for people who dont get it. Or see if there’s a way to explain this somewhere.
 

7. The Count

On the Path, it shows a smile and a number (see photo in #6). Most people would think this means “This moment has 12 smiles”. But it doesn’t. It means “This moment has been seen 12 times. Click here to choose a smile”. To me, those things should be separated in some way.

My suggestion: Just show the count, and when the user clicks, they can choose a smile.
 

8. Add an Alarm to the Sleep action

The whole “I’m going to sleep” and “I just woke up” updates are very cute. And I think they’re actually really novel and useful. I’ve seen people using them over the past few days, but I’m pretty confident that without some kind of automation, this behavior will start to disappear. Why? It’s just a really weird behavior to tell an app when you’re going to sleep and waking up. 

But Path has an opportunity here. If they were to add an alarm in their app, I’d probably replace the Alarm Clock on my phone with Path. Why not? If it performs the same function, then I’d at least try it out. It wouldn’t ask me to take any more steps in my routine, and if it was just as easier, it’d change my behavior, especially if there was a benefit to sharing with this with my friends (which is yet to be seen).

What’s another reason this would be useful? When it goes off in the morning, I wouldn’t have to post that I’m awake. Path would know that.

But the biggest win of all here? I’d literally start my day IN Path. I wouldn’t need to launch the app. I’m already there. Of course if I’m already there, I’ll probably scroll through the updates. Most people start their day catching up with information on their phone. Path could by default be the start of my day.

My suggestion: Add an alarm clock. And don’t delay this so it can be spectacular. Just make it useful and start simple. Launch this as quickly as possible.
 

9. At least add “Auto Awake Updates” with the accelerometer.

If I’m not in the app, asking me to launch it and click “I’m Awake” in the morning is a bit much. Instead, I think Path could do that automatically. Note: I have no idea if iOS allows this.

My suggestion: Use the motion of the phone to post an update when I wake up. The phone knows what timezone I’m in, and can make a general assumption if they phone has been sitting still for more than 5 hours, and suddenly it moves between the hours of 5 AM and 10AM, that this would most likely mean the person has woken up. I’d totally turn on a toggle that would post “I’m awake” to Path when this happens. But of course, #8 would be a much stronger way to go.

[ADDED] 10. Hidden Comments

Jeffrey mentioned something else in the comments that reminded me of something that was confusing to me as well. Comments. It’s not immediately clear that to make a comment, you need to click the smily face/count. Not sure what the best interaction would be here, but somehow showing that that area is also for comments would be helpful.

 

Okay, that’s probably enough for now. Again, I love the direction of the app. The team did a phenomenal job. This is just some initial feedback from a really nerdy entrepreneur who really cares about how a user initially experiences a set of interactions. Hopefully it was at least interesting to read. Post any additional feedback in the comments.

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