There was a time not too long ago when Unsplash wasn’t much more than a feed of beautiful photos you’d scroll through and download. We didn’t have things like search, profiles, likes, or collections (well, we did, but not the collections you know—I’ll get to that in a minute).
As a designer, Unsplash’s signature simplicity is something I try to maintain in every new feature we add.
Which is hard.
‘Adding features’ and ‘staying simple’ are two phrases that don’t normally work together. Which is why when it came time to expand our Collections it wasn’t as easy as just throwing a new feature onto the homepage.
Today, I want to run you through the thought process behind building our latest feature, Unsplash Collections.
The Problem: the Unsplash flow
First, let’s go once more back into the early days of Unsplash. Way back to the Tumblr days when our users were primarily freelance designers, developers, and bloggers who would come to find beautiful, high-resolution photos for their projects.
Back then, the typical user flow would consist of:
- Visiting unsplash.com
- Scrolling through the feed
- Downloading the photos that fit your needs
This was great. But the problem was that as the site grew and more and more photos were added, you’d have to go back, scroll some more, try to find that one photo you really liked, and then download it again.
At some point I ended up creating a folder with my favourite Unsplash photos and the next thing I knew, my hard drive was filled with project-based folders full of photos. Not exactly the experience we wanted for our users.
Solution 1: Likes
We knew we needed a way to keep track of the photos you’d used already so you could find them without scrolling through the entire feed. And so our first thought was to add ‘likes’.
Want to be able to return to a certain photo quickly? Click the heart and it’ll be added to your profile under the ‘Likes’ section. Great.
But there was a problem. Even though this allowed users to effectively ‘save’ photos for later, it wasn’t really ‘liking’ in the traditional sense. We wanted the motivation to like a photo to be, well, because you like it. Not just because you’re saving it for later.
We wanted this to be about community, not just utility.
‘Likes’ were a great win, but they weren’t exactly what we were after.
Solution 2: Work with what we’ve already got
The experience of building likes made us think about what we were really after. We wanted the flexibility to categorize images and create your own reserve of photos whether that meant African wildlife, symmetrical buildings, or photos of dogs. This is when the idea of collections came about.
Unsplash has always had collections, just not in the way that we’d originally thought about them.
The site started with the simple tagline ’10 photos every 10 days’ where we’d release a batch of photos every 10 days that had been curated by one of us (we were a team of 7 at the time and so it was basically whoever had a minute to spare).
And while to the user, it would just look like more photos had been added to the page, we kept track of these batches. After 46 of them (which were published under ‘Crew’, our parent company), we got the big idea to bring in outside curators.
Using our great circle of freelance contacts, we started seeing if people would be interested in ‘curating’ a batch of photos. Some didn’t bother answering, but a few had their curiosity sparked and our first few guest curated batches of photos came from people like Dave Gamache, Paul Jarvis and Eric Anderson.
Since then, our list of amazing curators has expanded beyond the tech/startup industry: Lawrence Lessig, the Creative Commons team, James Allworth, Brit Morin, Guy Kawasaki, Kirby Ferguson, Tobias van Schneider, Lauren Bath, and many more.
People were actually excited about curating photos and the requests started pouring in.
It was the perfect storm for a new feature. Here we were with a need to allow users to create their own collections of photos for later use, and a clear sign that ‘curating batches’ was the way to do it. Just like that, the idea for Collections became clear.
How collections work
With collections, anyone has the ability to save a selection of Unsplash photos and create their own collection (public or private). We even feature some of the best collections on the main page, giving more exposure to the photographers and our community.
It’s as easy as clicking on the [ + ] button associated to every photo. Then, you’ll have the option to add the photo to an existing collection, or create a new one. By default, collections are public but you have the option to make a collection private (accessible and shareable via your secret url).
One of our main goals last year was to give more exposure to ‘non-curated’ photos (aka what’s under the ‘new‘ tab, not just the featured photos).
Since launching collections, the number of non-curated photo downloads has tripled.
And, since the feature’s launch, we now have more than 375,000 photos in over 400 featured collections in themes such as:
The goal of any product is to make its users’ lives easier, and for us, we think Collections did just that. Instead of Unsplash being just a repository for photos, it’s now your own gallery—a place where you can select photos based on project, theme, color, whatever, and have them ready for you every time you log in.
Collections is just a small part of us trying to make Unsplash a better resource for everyone in the creative community, so if you have any suggestions of new features, please let me know!