How our apps follow the Ugly Delicious formula
Almost exactly a year ago and in the dawn of the first lockdown I was aimlessly scrolling through Netflix looking for inspiration when I stumbled on the series Ugly Delicious. Now I’m not normally a food show kinda person, but for some reason I decided to give it a watch.
A couple of days later I’d blasted through series one and two. And I was very, very hungry.
If you haven’t watched it (and I’d recommend you do) the McGuffin behind the show is that food doesn’t have to look great or be artfully presented to taste incredible. A great burrito or pizza isn’t going to necessarily win any awards gastronomic awards or Michelin stars. But damn do they taste great.
The presenter of the show, David Chang got into the habit of taking photos of #UglyDelicious food and posting it up on Instagram and the show is sort of an homage to the incredible foods that taste divine but would look out of place in a fine dining establishment. From pizza to bbq, home cooking to kebabs Chang tours the world seeing how our comfort staples have evolved and changed — and how they have been adapted and tweaked by other cultures.
The concept of Ugly Delicious food really resonated with me. Partly because I enjoy spending time cooking at home, but I don’t enjoy washing up… so a lot of my cooking revolves around one-pot meals. Dinners packed with flavour and made with care and attention… but not necessarily meals that would look at home in a fine dining restaurant.
But there was something else that appealed to me about Ugly Delicious. Over the last seven years my agency has frequently taken an Ugly Delicious approach to app development. We’ve worked with clients to deliver products that work perfectly, but won’t win any awards for visual appeal.
And there are a couple of reasons why we’ve done this.
Budget vs Function
The first is a budgetary one. Building a beautiful app is more expensive than building a functional one. If your app needs to really appeal to a mass market audience you’re going to want to have a designer (or team of designers) working on it. You need to agonise over your UI and polish, tweak and test how customers will use your app. It takes time. And time costs money. When our customers are building apps for their own internal teams, or for very specific B2B purposes the look and feel of the app is secondary to the functionality the app provides. They’d rather have an app that does what they want and looks a bit rough and ready than pay over the odds for an apps that will deliver the same functionality, but costs twices as much.
Form vs function has always fascinated me. In fact I used to revel in discovering ‘hidden’ areas on websites and in apps where the original MVP had survived whilst the rest of the site moved on. Amazon, Facebook and Ebay in particular used to be a rich source of these sorts of pages. Those pages were built for a very specific purpose but which were probably not visited all that often. So no-one bothered to update them. They’d often be rocking a retro font. Or look a bit shonky. But they worked. They did what they needed to. Over the years they’ve got rarer and harder to find, but if you look hard enough you’ll probably stumble across them here and there.
I kind of miss stumbling across these sort of pages, because they embody the concept of a MVP. It’s pared back but it works. It doesn’t damage the experience. It’s the antithesis of the trendy MLP (yuk.) It isn’t loveable because it is forgettable. Forgettable because you don’t need to remember it. A couple of clicks and the task you need to complete is done and dusted.
Built for an audience, not the crowd
The second reason we’ve adopted the Ugly Delicious method when building our apps is that we’ve focused our efforts on building apps that are proudly un-sexy because our clients don’t actually need to break that mass appeal barrier. I’ve written about this in the past. I’ve dissected the iceberg of the app store and how we’ve carved out our own special niche building apps for specific purposes, small audiences and individual businesses. Apps that don’t need the excessive shine to seduce in millions of users. Apps that are pared back to the essential basics and that are designed to do a couple of tasks perfectly. We take inspiration from those hidden functional pages that used to be dotted round the web. Our niche apps are designed for one-off tasks and specific user sets.
And we break down the UX and UI of our apps to ensure that they meet those very specific requirements. Even if that means that the end results look downright ugly to the average mobile app consumer. An example. Say you’ve built an internal business app for your company. But your staff tend to be out in all weathers — the cold, rain, glaring sunshine. A pretty app, with tasteful buttons, minimal UI interfaces and subtle colours is going to get washed out. Nope. If you’re employees are stuck in the freezing cold then fucking massive buttons that will suit cold fingers are the way to go. Drop in strong primary colours or pare it back to black and white and then issues with glare will be reduced. If the app will be used at night or in dark rooms then build a design that won’t leave them blinded when they look away from the app.
We don’t care if it looks stupid. If it makes the app easier to use for the very specific use cases… we’ll build it that way.
Similarly, if we’re building an app to replace an existing business function the last thing we want to do is introduce a completely unfamiliar environment. If you’re building an app to replace a paperwork nightmare then matching the style and layouts of the app to the original paperwork will make it easier for your existing users. It won’t win any design awards. It’s not even necessarily making the most of the feature sets that smartphones have over paperwork. It means that our client doesn’t need to spend time (and money) in training, creating how-to-guides or tutorial videos. Instead they can provide a similar experience with the added benefits of real-time updates, push notifications and the ability to save and send the paperwork on the fly.
Sure we could spend weeks reinventing the wheel. Or we could deliver perfectly formed, deliciously simple apps that will put a massive smile on the faces of our clients.
I know what we prefer to do. I know what our clients prefer for us to do.
And when a client does need an app that looks great and appeals to a mass audience we turn to our usual design experts. They can whip up a damn sexy design for us to work off. And we can build a brilliantly executed, lovingly crafted, award winning app. After all pizza and tacos are great. But every now and then, as a special treat, there’s nothing like a glorious fine-dining experience. Even if we do need to hit Maccies on the way home cos we’re still a little peckish.
Thom Gibbons is CEO of app development agency Apptaura. His agency specializes in building apps for businesses, particularly apps designed to replace or improve time consuming internal tasks. From building food safety apps to help takeaways and restaurants keep on top of their food standards paperwork and inspections to virtual survey video apps for a major removals firm Apptaura are the leading business app developer in Hampshire, UK.