Funnels, Tubes, & Spaces
By Joe Edelman
September 15, 2022
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Joe00:00

Imagine you're making an educational platform. Are students there to pass the test or get a certification or they're there to follow their curiosity, to face open questions, to celebrate together the beauty and complexity of the world on top are things your customers wanna get done or get over with on the bottom.

The things that make their lives worth living. Call the things on the top are goals. We're intricately aware of them. They form a kind of super structure, small goals fit into larger ones. And we're dimly aware of the whole tree call what's in the bottom are sources of meaning. I often call them our values.

We're much less articulate about them and we don't see the same kind of patterns that we see in our goals. This difference in articulacy makes things challenging for entrepreneurs. Say, you interview your customers for pain points or customer needs, but what's top of mind for both you and your customers are goals, not sources of meaning.

Then you'll only collect the goals and you'll design for goals. This puts you in a certain kind of design mentality, focused on goals. You'll think of yourself as building what I'll call a funnel or a tube, not a space funnels and tubes are goal driven. I call something a funnel. If it gets everybody to do the same thing to work on the same goal.

By this definition, the checkout area in a supermarket is a funnel. So are many organizations. There's one goal for everyone. Similarly, I'll call something a tube. If it gets people from where they are towards their own goal. So Amazon and all marketplaces are tubes. So are Google searches, tubes accelerate everyone to their own goal.

Both of these are goal driven things that everyone involved would accelerate. If they could to get the goal accomplished more quickly. Many entrepreneurs see all designed tasks as funnels and tubes, but that's a big mistake. Some things aren't designed around goals at all. Instead they're about values or exploration.

According to values, I'll call those exploratory spaces. There are spaces for exploratory thinking like your whiteboard, your journal, or a research lab spaces for creativity like jam sessions and brainstorm and creative tools, spaces for chilling. Like your living room spaces for vulnerability, like talks around a campfire or a confession booth spaces for celebration like dance clubs, street riots, and festivals.

These are not goal driven. You know, something's a space. If you don't want it to be over quickly, you'd accelerate an Amazon purchase if you could, or an Uber ride or an organizational goal. But the things that you do in a space are things that you would not accelerate. Most design tasks involve a mix of these three parts.

Imagine you're making a messaging app like telegram or messenger. Sometimes you open the app and search for who you want to send a message to and send it in that case. The app is a tube, getting you to your goal of sending a message, but the messaging app is also a kind of exploratory space, a space for thinking about who you wanna stay in touch with about which kind of correspondence you want with who and which kind of rhythm a space for being thoughtful about your correspondence for being vulnerable or more generally for expressing whatever values you have about keeping in touch.

In this sense, the messaging app is a space. So a messenger app can be thought of as a tube, or it can be thought of as a space. And there are many, many things like this. Let's go back to that educational platform. I mentioned before, if you focused on your user's goals, you'd think of it as a funnel or tube, but if you focused on their sources of meaning it's a space, this is even true with something very businessy, like advertising analytics.

It may seem that your customer has a straightforward goal to have the most people see their promoted tweets, but you could also design an advertising analytics tool as a space, a space to explore your audience, to find audiences who meet you in certain ways to build up a certain kind of meaningful rapport within your community.

So designers can often decide whether to make a funnel, a tube or a space, or as with the messaging app. They might make a mix of all three where each screen or UI component participates in one or more funnels, tubes or spaces. So let's go back to the intro where I talked about a long term trend away from togetherness and meaning.

Here's another way to say. Spaces are experiencing a weird decline. You see a transition away from spaces in so many fields. Democratic spaces got replaced by funnels to make voters angry schools got converted into career funnels. Research labs got converted into citation funnels.