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What Amazon would’ve looked like in the 1980s

Jeff Bezos, you need to watch this.

What Amazon would’ve looked like in the 1980s
[Image: Squirrel Monkey]

I love Amazon’s convenience, but hate its interface. The overload of options and links everywhere, the tiny buttons, the product pages that go on forever, the dumb search–why does it suggest to search for gaming laptops in “All Departments” vs. “Computers”? Does the company sell gaming laptops that grate cheese in “Home & Kitchen”? But I digress. My point is that I just watched this parody of what Amazon might have looked like in the ’80s, and it seems a lot more user-friendly than the real thing.

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I’m not kidding. If you take aside the slow modem loading times or the intentionally garish character-based UI design, the entire experience feels a lot calmer and more human.

Take the modal step-by-step interaction, for example. After you go through the seasonal splash screen–I want jerseys knitted with the winter and Halloween designs–’80s Amazon greets you with a skeuomorphic building door that leads into an elevator. Inside, each floor is a category, imitating the way a department store works versus the real Amazon’s endless pulldown menu that makes my head explode every time I click on it.

[Image: Squirrel Monkey]

The elevator takes you to the product category, making you wait as it goes through the floors. It’s a pre-shopping breathing pause! A welcomed touch to me because, while I shop online, I need as many breathing pauses as possible to overcome the anxiety caused by the seemingly infinite amount of products and the avalanche of reviews I will need to peruse.

When you get to the virtual floor, another screen allows you to select a category, and then a smiling virtual assistant asks you questions so you get the product you are actually looking for. Contrast that to the real Amazon, which has a left-side search refinement menu for checking any of the 2 billion parameters available for every search.

[Image: Squirrel Monkey]

The parody makes me long for an actual shopping assistant that could be smart enough to have a brief conversation with you and present you with the very best choices available for you. Why Amazon, at this stage of AI evolution, is still presenting you with 44 pages of flatscreen TVs is beyond me.

Which brings me to the last part of the parody, making fun of Alexa: a phone line with an actual human assistant on the other side. Personally, I hate talking to people on the phone, but I do wish I could lift the phone and get an (AI) assistant to take care of things for me, like the services of some high-end credit cards but smarter and ultra-fast, analyzing options, product data, and reviews to make a better purchase decision than I would ever make. Alexa just isn’t that smart, for now.

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If you take out all the jokes and exaggeration, the parody is actually a powerful, if unintentional, critique of Amazon’s current UI design: a bloated, overwhelming interface that results in a shopping experience that is time-consuming and actually quite inconvenient (though not everyone agrees). At the end, to make online shopping easier, much faster, and truly convenient we need simplicity, advanced artificial intelligence, and perhaps even a spark of skeuomorphism.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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