Path hopes that a renewed focus on design will make 3.0 the charm

Path launched its third version on Wednesday, and this time, it’s all about the messages — and the stickers.

In the new version, Path messages take advantage of the fact that as our phones have become capable of much more than transmitting voice and text, traditional SMS has become fairly outmoded. People are looking for ways to communicate with richer features than just the letters of the alphabet. So the company focused on creating a private social network is introducing a much more full-featured messaging option along with the third version, and pretty much everything you’d want is there.

For a company that’s known for its design, some of the features will look different from what users are used to. But in meetings in San Francisco last week ahead of Wednesday’s launch, Path designers said they view the addition of large emojis they’re calling “stickers” as a new kind of digital art — a kind that hopefully, users will pay for.

There’s text, of course, but it’s the other features that kick it over the top: the large emojis called stickers, the ability to quickly insert a pin on a map to show where you are or want to go, voice recording features, the ability to import or snap photos, music, movies, and a few others. They’re the type of features you might ordinarily screenshot or explain with words, but they’re now available at the tap of a button.

“I think it’s a typical Path swiss army knife,” said Nate Johnson, Path’s VP of marketing. “You can do a lot of different things with it. And it helps that we have the list of your closest friends sitting right there.”

Path to success?

The question for Path is whether a robust messaging feature will add to the network’s appeal and either draw in new users or bring back those who have lapsed.

Path 3.0 sticker packetThe company recently hit 6 million registered users, and Johnson said that for most people, once they get past the initial hurdle of understanding how to use the app, adoption is quick. Path raised a $30 million Series B led by Redpoint Ventures in April of 2012 and $8.5 million back in April of 2011.

Path’s decision to focus on stickers is interesting. Not only does it infuse the app with a new set of aesthetics and graphic artists who might not necessarily work for the company, it gives a hint at where the company’s monetization strategy is headed.

Users will receive two “packs” of stickers for free. Each pack includes somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 18 images, depending on the pack, and the free sets take the classic Path smiley face (named Jack, apparently) and gives him a whole set of new updates. There’s party Jack, with a beer mug; developer Jack, with a 5 o’clock shadow and Red Bull; sleepy Jack with a robe and coffee mug, and more than 30 other images.

Path is betting that emoji-like images are the kinds of things that consumers will want to pay for under a freemium model. The stickers are basically emojis on steroids, maybe. At first glance they don’t really fit with Path’s carefully orchestrated red and yellow aesthetic. The stickers come in a variety of styles, and most are goofy in nature and garish in color.

“The philosophy here is to build things that people want to pay for,” Johnson said. “It’s not to put in advertising. The spirit of this is that we think there’s a better way to make money. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Design uber alles

Path is known for its design — the company has worked hard to create a strong feeling in the app through attention to detail and careful consideration of all elements. From the shading on the buttons to the way certain features fade out when you look at a photo, it’s the way that small things come together that makes Path an attractive app. But with the addition of large emojis, or stickers, the company is detouring a little from its established look, and banking on consumer delight to promote a new kind of design.

Path 3.0 messaging

“I feel like in this day and age, anyone can be self-taught and design something that looks good. But there’s so much thinking behind our product,” said Jenny Ji, design director at Path.

Key designers at Path said that they’re persuaded the new stickers will not only provide some revenue for the company, but will provide greater joy to the consumers and change how we consider digital art.

The company worked with external artists to create each of the sticker sets or “packs,” and when users tap on a sticker pack to purchase, they’ll see the designers name and bio, making it seem like you’re purchasing a gallery of hand-crafted pieces of art, rather than smiling dog images.

“Each of these packs, there’s a theme around it,” said Dustin Mierau, co-founder and head of design. “So we’re really asking is, ‘What do you want the pack to allow you to communicate? Like this one is about friendship and love, so my wife and I send these back and forth quite a bit.”

“We don’t want people to have to type,” Mierau said. “Typing is probably the worst part of messaging today. Usually it’s typing to coordinate or do things, so we want to bring in the tools that make it easier. With one tap, I’m saying something more meaningful. It’s a whole phrase. That’s how we see stickers, it’s entire phrases wrapped up in one tap. It’s like the map of saying where I am. It’s this whole giant interaction wrapped up in one Path moment.”