Craigslist Research

Thinking out of the box

Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Challenge

OK, let’s try a different case study from the ones you’re probably used to reading.
I’m going to illustrate a situation that happens sometimes. At the end of the case study I will state my personal opinion.
As I was just saying, this time the challenge has a different set of rules. I will analyze and assess the possibility of redesigning the Craigslist’s home page from a User Experience point of view.
First off, this is the current look of the original Craigslist page operating in San Francisco, US.

Craigslist's home pageCraigslist’s home page

Understanding and researching

The first thing I will do is analyze the problem to deeply understand what I am trying to solve and/or improve.
Although I’m familiar with the name Craigslist, I don’t think I know enough about its purpose and activity. I’m going to write down the things I know about Craigslist and then I’ll check how biased my ideas are. It’s actually a trick I use to start the HCD (Human Centered Design) process and empathize with the problem I am facing.

What I think I know about Craigslist:

  • It’s a classified ad site that operates in the United States.
  • It reminds me of the look of 90s’ websites. Similar to the old Yahoo.
  • I’m not sure about its popularity and use today. Is it still relevant?

I need to get some Netnography to learn more about Craigslist. I’ll check out the following resources:

  1. Craiglist’s Wikipedia:
    – Craigslist is an American classifieds website.

    – Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark.
    – Craig wanted to help newcomers to San Francisco.
    – It started as an email distribution list for friends in the San Francisco Bay Area.
    – In 1996 it becomes a web service and adds other classified categories.
    – By 2006, it had been established in 310 cities around the world. It currently operates with a staff of 28 people.
    – In 2008, it adds support for European languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese.
    – Craigslist’s main source of income is paid employment advertising.
    – 20 billion hits a month. It’s 72nd in the world, 11th in the United States in 2016.
    – It’s the number one classified ad service in any medium.
    – One of the best online job boards in the world.
    – He leads the rental housing market in the United States.
    – In December 2019, Craigslist launched an iOS platform and an Android beta.
    – It became a popular online destination for dating and sex, but they had to close it down in the United States after complaints from state attorneys general.
    – They have a user labelling system to quickly identify illegal and inappropriate publications. Users can tag publications that they feel break Craigslist guidelines.
    – In 2001, the Craigslist Foundation was created, a non-profit organization that offers free events and online resources “to help organizations get off the ground and bring real value to the community.

  2. iOS and Android Apps:

    – iOS: 3.5 out of 5 rating. With a total of 338 votes. The ratings are mostly positive. There are many extreme ratings (5 or 1).
    – Android: Unofficial. 4 out of 5 in the rankings. With a total of 151,897 votes. Mainly positive ratings. Less extreme ratings than iOS. There’s an official App, but it’s in beta.

  3. Article from The Verge: this is an article written in December 2019. I will extract more data and opinions that will give me a better idea of what Craigslist is and how it works.

    – More than a decade after apps “became a thing” with the launch of the App Store, Craigslist finally has its own, available for iOS and in beta version for Android.
    – The iOS application follows the principles of the Craigslist web offering, closely replicating its clean and unpretentious functionality.
    – The company has fallen behind the new rivals.

  4. an interview with founder Craig Newmark. I look for revealing phrases, but above all the founder’s motivations and his way of thinking to understand what led him to create Craigslist.

    – One of the most important and profitable internet companies of all time.
    – He threw all the design principles out the window.
    – It became one of the enduring icons of the early Web.
    – It’s incredibly profitable.
    – Craig defines himself as follows: “I was a complete nerd… My definition has to do with the lack of social instinct for people, the lack of learned and ingrained social skills”.
    – He spent almost 20 years at IBM.
    – People were already paying too much for less effective ads, so we could provide a simple platform where ads would be more effective and people would pay less. That made sense at the time and it worked quite well.
    – Word of mouth is what really worked.
    – I didn’t know how to design with style. People were constantly telling us that they didn’t want fancy things; they wanted something simple, direct and fast.
    – I didn’t expect my hobby to become a successful business, and also a very successful way for people to help each other.
    – Craig was 42 when Craigslist started.
    – When I built Craigslist, I was building something that people really wanted and there wasn’t much else.
    – I didn’t understand the value of media and communications, identity and brand. I wish I had known about them 30 years ago, but those things are never taught in the computer curriculum.

And this concludes the investigation phase. I’ve gained a lot of very interesting insights to empathize with the motivations, desires, personalities, shortcomings, and frustrations that led Craig Newmark to build a site like Craigslist.



– It’s a mature project (brand) and people, in general, seem to trust Craigslist.
– It is a business that relies on simplicity for its success because they know exactly what their users demand.
– The company has remained small in terms of employees, maximizing profits, productivity and efficiency.


– The web version is anchored in the past. The biggest problem this causes is the lack of compatibility with some new devices.
– The home page is too packed with information for the current usage standards.


– The way to monetize their business does not seem to be the most effective at this time. Craig acknowledges that he is not a good manager for this type of business.


– Perhaps competitors (Apple or Google, for example) could catch up in terms of price and adaptability.


Some competitors to check out:
I will not add more here and in the next section you will know why.

Redesigning Craiglist?

 To start this phase I need to have taken in all the information obtained in the phases of understanding, research and benchmarking. I am aware that I have assimilated the necessary information when a certain type of abstract image has been generated in my head that I only have to implement. For this I usually start using pencil and paper. This is the fastest way. I generate enough sketches that I stack on the table by turning them over, so that I don’t get too caught up in what I’ve done in the previous sketch. Then I spread them on the table or the wall in case there are many. I analyse which elements of the interface and the layout have remained. I usually keep the remaining ones for possible future iterations. Sometimes I check them and sometimes I discard them completely.
For this particular case, having analyzed all the information and having obtained a series of very precise and revealing insights (especially through the interview with founder Craig Newmark), I believe that I do NOT have sufficient grounds on which to support a possible redesign of the home page.


– The interview with Craig makes it very clear that Craigslist users have always been comfortable with its design, which in fact remains to this day.
– For a business of such scope, size and success, I would see no reason to generate a new design on my own that started “from scratch” or that could be arbitrarily based on systems like Material Design, Apple Human Interface Guidelines or whatever.
– Assuming a redesign at your own risk, without just cause, would be a waste of time.

User testing

I move on to the user testing phase to validate conclusions and insights and to find out if I need to iterate on any of the points described above.
I have created a simple test that I have passed on to some colleagues who live in the States Americans and some other friends of mine, mainly from the UK. A total of 10 people, all of them were Craigslist users at some point. The age range goes from 33 to 45 years old.

This is the user test:

  1. When did you meet Craigslist?
    100% knew it at least 10 years ago.
  2. What did you use it for?
    Everyone used it at some point to look for lodging or rent. 30% used it to buy/sell. 50% used it to search for a job.
  3. Do you find it a useful tool?
    Everyone, without exception, says it’s a very useful tool.
  4. What do you like best about Craigslist?
    70% praise the speed with which they can access what they are looking for, without hassle. 60% consider it a very reliable site. 70% accept the current design.
  5. Are you missing anything on Craigslist?
    Only 30% use it today and none of them miss anything.
  6. Would you use Craigslist again in the future?
    50% would use it again.

Final thoughts

After working on research, user testing, etc. this is what I learnt:

– The current design (or lack thereof) of Craigslist has a very strong reason and weight in what this business is still today. Trying to update that design to today’s standards unilaterally, without consensus, without a roadmap, and without the approval of those responsible, would be a wrong move.
– Craig himself, while admitting that he would have liked to know something about branding, identity, etc. is aware that the main objective of his website was (“to have a business that helps people help each other”) was fulfilled, despite or perhaps precisely because of its basic and old design. In Craig’s interview, he literally says: “People were constantly telling us that they didn’t want fancy things; they wanted something simple, direct and fast”.
– What I would propose is to improve the responsiveness of the site. This change would be almost “invisible” to regular and old users, ensuring that they would not feel uncomfortable with the update. As a benefit, on small screens or tablets the site would be more usable at a minimal cost.
– The mobile version is displayed on the phone. The old look has been largely retained, improving only the essential usability aspects on these devices. The typography is kept sufficiently legible. The use of the user interface element “accordion” seems to solve the main problem of the desktop version, which displays too much information (columns) at once. As I say, the mobile version reinforces my conclusion to stay true to the principles that made this company great.

Homepage Craiglist - Mobile

Homepage Craiglist – MobileThe same goes for the Android “Craigslist Postings” application. After 24 years, this App appears following the same austere design criteria.

Craiglist's App

* Notice to Juniors and newcomers to Bootcamps

So you’re telling me Craigslist shouldn’t be improved? You’re saying that crappy design is the best option?
NO. I say there’s no point in pulling a design out of your sleeve just because you want to show off. That’s NOT UX.
If we force the results of the research to come out with what we are interested in, that is NOT UX.
If we do not understand the REAL needs of the people who are going to use a product or the companies who want to take advantage of it as the focus of our research, that is NOT UX.

Thank you for coming this far!

© 2024 Oscar Manzano