Birth of a new concept

How does a new concept get created and become widely adopted? At what point does it become a concept that is no longer novel?

The example that comes to my mind is swiping UI cards for yes and no, with the first main use being Tindr. Since then, the concept of swiping left and right has started to catch on in other apps. This makes sense as it is ergonomically easier to do a large gesture on a touch screen than to press a button of defined size and location, but I wouldn’t say that the concept has complete adoption yet.

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Welcome to the forum, J-Z! I suppose one answer is that a concept is no longer novel once it gets used in a second app…

If multiple dating apps use left/right swiping of user cards, that seems to be a pretty well established concept. Widespread adoption in my view wouldn’t mean that every single app uses the same concept for a particular piece of functionality—there will always be some outliers that do things differently.

As to how new concepts get created and adopted: they get created in the course of designing an app, and then they get adopted because they work so well other designers copy them. This is what I assume happened with the Upvote concept, for example. Some concepts get refined over many years, and only reach a fixed and universal form after a long time. The Password concept (with the ability to reset etc) may be an example of that.

Sometimes users invent concepts—this is how the hashtag concept came about (through Twitter users realizing they could introduce a special string as a way to identify messages from a group of people).

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Another good one on mobile is pull-down to refresh which even has its own Wikipedia entry!

It was invented by one, talented, app developer in 2009 and is now almost ubiquitous. By 2016 it was so well-established he was asked to give a lecture at CMU.

Nick Babich’s article is a great detailed walkthrough from a designer’s perspective.

Welcome to the forum, Andy!

Thinking about pull-to-refresh, there seem to be two separate things going on. One is the physical gesture, which seems to be the core of the novelty. I’d view that a design idea at the physical level (see the picture in EOS, page 23) rather than at the conceptual level. The other is the idea of refresh itself. That seems like a good contender for a concept (and one that is very widely used, always in composition with other concepts).

To check whether something’s a concept, I often start with the operational principle to check that there is some richness in the dynamic behavior. In the case of the Refresh concept, the OP might say something like

  1. user A creates an item I with content C*
  2. user B views item I and sees content C*
  3. user A updates I with content C’*
  4. user B refreshes item I and sees content C’*

Exercise for the reader: fix the error in this OP. Confession: I’m not sure how to fix it myself. The problem is straightforward: in a typical distributed system only eventual consistency is guaranteed, so action (4) will only behave like that after some time passes. Butler Lampson has a long discussion of how to spec this kind of behavior in his textbook on system design, and it’s pretty tricky.