As a result I have become a food app snob. Not a food snob, mind you. I'll still eat anything.
I have checked out dishes on Foodspotting, checked in through Foursquare, bought deals on Groupon, found discounts on (Seattle Weekly) Happy Hours, and largely ignored (Yellow Pages) YPmobile. (Hey I'm honest.)
In my own user research, I have found that people really like having options. While they say they like simplicity, simplify until you lack features and your user base will disappear. They will return to the other app that is not designed nearly as swanky but has all of the filters, categories, content, and deals they are looking for. Complexity is necessary in a be-all end-all app. There is no cross-referencing of other apps to find the best burger or the best deal, within walking distance, that is open now, in this hungry world of impulsiveness.
Complexity is the essence of what is to be human. Don Norman's book, Living with Complexity, perfectly answers why the imperfect app has been the perennial purveyor of reporting reviews and leading customers to cuisines.
The apps Foursquare and Foodspotting are nicely minimal and accomplish their respective tasks of linking you to your friends and offering up the best crowd sourced dishes, but come up short because of minor elements that are missing including "Open Now", price range, and a clunky map. If the user says they want an app to be simple, they are lying. "If we build simple devices, people won't buy them," says Don Norman.
Saying that Yelp has messy desk syndrome is actually a form of compliment...
I am a fan of Al Gore, and look at his messy desk. Mr. Gore is an organized person and/but/therefore his desk reflects the complexity of his life.
I couldn't resist, but politics aside...
Norman leads us to understand that like Al Gore's desk, technology is complex as well and for good reason. People are asking for it. They want things that do more. The app I am building needs to do as much or more of the vital functions than its predecessors. One vital omission and it is toast.
Apple is famous for leaving off lots of features that others have included. But where others have launched MP3 players, smart phones, and tablets and failed, Apple has prevailed well after those products first hit the market and died. The difference lies within A) what was chosen to be added-- the complexity, and B) what was chosen to be subtracted-- we shall call it design. To spell it out, the complexity added was iTunes and the app store. The design is the simple hardware design ethos that only shows the minimal number of buttons needed. All other UI lives on the screen.
An important distinction-- what is complex is often confused with being complicated. It can be true that something can be both, but it is not the general rule. Something complex can also be incredibly enjoyable to use. It can even be simple. The inner workings, whether they be gears or algorithms, need not be exposed to the end user.
A great example Don Norman shows off in his talk at Stanford is the difference between 3 espresso machines. One is truly an influence to steam punk. It has brass valves that have to be skillfully worked to produce a cup of espresso. The second machine needs to be filled with water and coffee, a press of the button, and periodic cleaning. The third is the easiest with loading a module in and pushing the button. The complexities are the same. The complexity is just loaded differently. The easiest machine for the user is the hardest (read: most complex) for the manufacturer.
I'd say that Yelp was most like the second machine before their latest app release. They are a lot easier and even more useful now. They could still push to be more like Machine 3. But for now, that's where I am aiming...
I am still wrestling with changing the paradigm of how people think of what they will eat next. Typically the first thought when hungry is?-- What do I want to eat? Should I go out to eat? Then thought by category-- Mexican, burgers, Thai, Pizza? Arrive at the restaurant and read the menu. Transfer thoughts from your left brain to your right brain to picture the dish. If there are other considerations like specials, price, ingredients to watch out for, then process those and order. Still not sure? Ask what's popular or recommended. Quite a process-- one we take for granted.
If the process is reversed-- Apply filters for price, specials, ingredients. Look at pictures of food closest to your location that are recommended by others. Spot something tasty. Go to the restaurant and eat it.
Much like choosing your very own next meal, it can be either as simple as walking to the cafeteria and eating the same sandwich every day, or there can happily be many factors influencing the decision, especially for a foodie. Perhaps now both can take the same amount of effort.
Allow me to demonstrate the power of pictures:
I rest my case.