Oskope is a visual browsing interface for books. It’s a bit like the interfaces we have seen at Etsy. The great thing about visual search is that the interface makes you want to touch the items for no reason. Just play with them and organize it a bit.
A good thing about books is that the cover is designed to appeal and stand out from all the other covers. It also has to give you passive information about the book. Without reading a word or headline you can usually tell by the photo, colors and style if this is a book you would like to know more about or not.
Books are perfect for visual search or cluttering. In the design of an online bookshop we usually focus on other values. Mostly usability values. Can a person find what he wants within a few clicks and can we add value to a book a physic bookstore can not? Compare books, keep a long tail stock (warehouse shelve-space is cheap), suggest books, show infinite reviews.
The Oskope interface has a function to show the same books (items) arranged in different ways. When playing with it I found that the stack is the most attractive one to use. I immediately started to drag some covers around and move apart what I might like. Think about the way your computer desktop looks (or at least how mine looks).
This made me think about the online store interface for books, and products in general. We design the websites in a way we can find what we are looking for. This is a great service and very important. Since we can measure indefinitely, usability driven development is the new design. What we don’t design when we’re building an online store is a website that works as a big pile of cluttered information waiting for you to sort or just wander through (we usually call this bad design). Why design an interface where you can’t easily find what you want?
But what if bad design is actually good design in some scenarios? We know from Nielsen that visitors are more likely to read or click an ad on a bad designed or cluttered website. People are more responsive to the content of the website if there is no focus. The website urges us to actually look what’s on the page.
What if you end up in a website and don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, just go there for browsing books? It happens to us in stores all the time. I think the cluttered interface could be very successful for clothing, paintings, music and DVDs. For those objects we select because how they visually appeal or are designed to have a strong visual appeal.
The only thing I would like it to do is that I can drag the items I like from the stack and that it shows me items I might also like based on my small selection. You can start the selection by giving a few terms about things you like. For example I would ask to show me a stack with books about ‘architecture, design, organizing information, economics, classic literature, changing of things and new media’. I’m sure I’ll find something interesting on this virtual pile. And next I would drag a few books from the stack and group those books visually, immediately the application should suggest other books I might like based on the content. In this way you could combine the best of both worlds.