Helping our users make the most of every city

Thrillist is a men’s lifestyle site that recommends the best, newest and most under-appreciated places and ways to eat, drink and travel. When I joined Thrillist in 2013, the product team was working on version 2.0, a completely rebuilt and redesigned app for iOS 6. I assisted the team with product design and research leading up to the launch of 2.0, then became the lead product designer on the app and iterated on each version up to v. 2.5.1. 

Read about it on Digiday or download the press release.

Goal

Increase user engagement, average session duration, and sign-ups, and decrease bounce rate for new users.

 

The old Thrillist app (Pre-Version 2.0) was a "dumping ground" for repurposed content from the Thrillist website.

The old Thrillist app (Pre-Version 2.0) was a "dumping ground" for repurposed content from the Thrillist website.

Challenges

The old Thrillist iPhone App "used to be an afterthought, a dumping ground for repurposed content from the Thrillist website. You’d be able to read the articles, but the content didn’t make sense for the guy who’s out-and-about town, looking for a nearby sushi joint or dive bar" (Digiday). It had too many features, which were causing users to become confused and overwhelmed.

The app was plagued by confusing icons and labels, poor readability and information hierarchy, and too much irrelevant content. Users struggled to find nearby places and once they did, they had a hard time filtering the information down to something useable. There were multiple navigation and tab bars and a lot of important actions were hidden behind confusing labels. The app also required users to create an account before they could access any of the content, which caused a lot of users to abandon it before even trying it out.

“Awful UI, great content" - AppStore Review

For Version 2.0, we worked on a cleaner interface with a focus on the content, rather than bogging users down with extra UI.

For Version 2.0, we worked on a cleaner interface with a focus on the content, rather than bogging users down with extra UI.

Version 2.0 Redesign

For Version 2.0, we worked on a cleaner interface with a focus on the content, rather than bogging users down with extra UI. We removed a lot of extra content and features, focusing only on providing bar and restaurant recommendations. The app also better adhered to Apple’s Human Interface guidelines than previous versions.

After the launch of 2.0, we saw over 35,000 new downloads and upgrades  and we were featured by Apple in the App Store.

While Version 2.0 was a big improvement over 1.9, we knew that there were usability issues that we needed to address. 

 


 

Iterative Improvements

We looked at Google Analytics and iTunes data, customer service feedback, app store reviews, and watched users actually using the app to figure out what we should tackle first.

Since we didn’t have a lot of time between sprints, I sketched and whiteboarded flows and interactions in lieu of more formal wireframes. This also made it easier to collaborate with developers and try out ideas without spending too much time on design. After we settled on a layout that we wanted to test, I quickly moved to visual design, where I mocked up a number of concepts and experimentations.

 
 

We saw in both the data and from users that people weren’t opening the side drawer menu and were missing a lot of crucial informational and navigational elements. Personally, I think that if you find yourself using a side drawer for navigation, it might be a good time to re-evaluate whether you can cut elements from the drawer and/or re-organize the information in a better way. I decided to replace the hamburger menu with a tab bar so that (1) it would be more obvious what the app did and (2) so that users could more easily navigate between views.

Additionally, since we didn’t have a tab bar in version 2.0, we used a weird floating circular button to take the user to a nearby map. Unfortunately, a lot of users didn’t understand what this button did! I made it a lot easier to get to the map by adding a “Nearby” tab to the tab bar.

 
thrillist-tab.jpg
 

We used geolocation to find the user’s closest city (instead of making them choose from a list). Now, all that the user has to do to change their city is tap on the city name, which brings up the native UI picker, making it easier for users who are traveling to find places to eat and drink in their new City.

 
thrillist-pick.jpg
 

 Based on user feedback, I simplified the Nearby map by combining the map and list view. You can scroll up to see the full list or tap on the map to make it full screen and explore the neighborhood. By putting the map and list in the same view, it gave the user a much better idea of what was available nearby. I also added venue thumbnails, which really helped give the user an idea of what type of venue they were looking at.

 
 

Venue pages in previous versions were cluttered and filled with confusing icons (without labels). Additionally, they didn’t really give that much useful information about the venue. We used the foursquare API to show hours, menu, and price range, and reorganized the information to make it much cleaner and easier to read.

 

 

Retrospective

As a result of the design improvements that I made to the Thrillist app, users became much more engaged. We saw more than a 200% increase in average session duration, the bounce rate greatly decreased, and the sign-up rate more than doubled. 

If I had more time, I would have liked to incorporate more user research and usability testing into our process. Since we were pressed for time and resources, I experimented with some scrappier user research methods and we relied heavily on data and user feedback. 

 
 

APP STORE REVIEWS

“Simply elegant! Very easy and light on the eyes”

“Everything we love about Thrillist, now in a FLUID, ORGANIZED, and INTELLIGENT design”

“It’s never been easier to navigate”

"I've been using this app to find awesome new date spots with the wife, and she doesn't even know. Thanks, Thrillist, for making me look like a hero!"

"My go-to for finding the good stuff."

"Great for when I travel. I don't live in an international city, but when I visit one I know where to go. It's never let me down."

 
 

Redesigning a leading men's shopping app

Jackthreads is a men's online shopping destination that curates top-tier fashion brands and provides users with access to exclusive offers, limited-edition collaborations, seasonally themed shops, and the best from today’s up-and-coming designers. In 2013, I redesigned the JackThreads iPhone and iPad apps for iOS7, then iterated on the designs to improve the user experience and dramatically increase engagement, conversion rate, cart size, and sign-ups. We later combined our iPhone and iPad apps to create a universal app, so I made some significant design changes to prepare for that too.

As of September 2014, the current version of the JackThreads iOS app had an average 5 star rating in the App Store, over 20,000 reviews, and almost 5 million downloads. Apple has featured JackThreads in the AppStore a number of times.

 

Read about it on Fast Company and Venture Beat.


 

App Store Reviews

“I have never written a review for any app but I am for this one because it's so good.”

"I LOVE this app!!! It really blows the competition out of the water with its easy to use, stylish, and simply flawless design. Gentlemen, I truly love this app. Because it's friggin handy. Everything is laid out simply and it's easy to find exactly what you are looking for."

“This is such a well-done app. It offers great sales and deals. It is also very well-organized. Go jackthreads!!!!!”

"One of the best apps I've ever used."

"The app design and navigation is great"

"honestly, one of my cleaner shopping apps and works just as well as the desktop site. plus its hella pretty."

"PHENOM-A-NOM"

"This is by far the best app I've ever used for shopping."

 

Some love from Apple <3

 

Connecting coworkers

I designed a fun app to help coworkers grab coffee/lunch/drinks together as part of Thrillist Media Group's Hacker Friday project! Read about it in Business Insider.

 


More products I've worked on

 

Building trust and credibility with our diners 

GrubHub is the nation's leading online and mobile food ordering company dedicated to connecting hungry diners with local takeout restaurants. The company’s online and mobile ordering platforms allow diners to order directly from approximately 35,000 takeout restaurants in more than 900 U.S. cities and London. In 2014/15, I led the redesign of GrubHub's ratings & reviews system for both GrubHub and Seamless brands.

Goal

Increase diner engagement, perceived credibility, and usefulness of Ratings and Reviews on GrubHub and Seamless. 

 

 

Challenges

When I joined GrubHub in 2014, the ratings systems on both GrubHub and Seamless were severely lacking. In order to identify challenges and set goals for this project, I conducted stakeholder interviews, analyzed existing data, and reviewed user research and customer feedback.

The following patterns emerged: (1) Diners didn’t feel like there was a high enough volume of ratings and reviews on GrubHub or Seamless, which caused them to look for review content on Yelp and Google before ordering. (2) Diners did not find our ratings and reviews credible or trustworthy (and we experienced a number of issues with rating fraud). (3) An extremely low percentage of our diners were rating and reviewing restaurants. (4) Diners were struggling to find information relevant to them in our ratings and reviews.

 
Previous versions of the site showed the Yelp rating next to the GrubHub rating. This wasn't ideal, since it caused diners to click to Yelp to read reviews, breaking the order flow. Additionally, many Yelp reviews focused on ambiance and service - characteristics&nbsp;that our diners didn't care about for take out or delivery.

Previous versions of the site showed the Yelp rating next to the GrubHub rating. This wasn't ideal, since it caused diners to click to Yelp to read reviews, breaking the order flow. Additionally, many Yelp reviews focused on ambiance and service - characteristics that our diners didn't care about for take out or delivery.

"...the ratings on seamless are absolutely useless and probably the most important part of your selection process. Whether they're doctored or "cleaned" for a fee by the restaurants themselves or seamless is just not interested in preserving the integrity of the rating system, I definitely see 4 star overall rated restaurants with an abundance of 1 star reviews when I click into the reviews detail.”- AppStore Review
"Reviews could also use tweaking, such as separate options for delivery time and food review. I think this would be a better system, instead of people who post negative reviews for orders being late as opposed to the food being good.” - AppStore Review
“...One minus - inaccurate restaurant ratings. Have to open the restaurant’s profile, click on their rating, only then to see the actual rating history (sometimes not matching the posted rating, or not having any ratings at all.” - AppStore Review
"GrubHub Seamless needs to fix its awful ratings system, because there's no way this Chinese delivery joint has the best food in NYC" - Business Insider

 

User Research

I worked with one of our fabulous user researchers to put together a more in-depth research study that ran in parallel to a lot of the other exploratory work that we were doing. The primary goal of this study was to learn more about what makes content (like ratings and reviews) feel trustworthy to users.

We ran a three-day study with 30 participants, where we had them log onto a discussion board twice per day to respond to our prompts about the role of online ratings and reviews, why they have/haven't rated or reviewed anything before, trust and transparency, and ratings and reviews in the context of online delivery.

The discussion board format worked really well for us - we had 100% participation from all 30 participants and generated over 1,000 posts. The participants wrote candidly about their own experiences, posted screenshots and photos, and replied to each others posts. Not only did this study help us get our heads around how people feel about ratings and reviews, it also helped us generate a lot of ideas about how to solve the trust problem.

 

 

Ideation

In order to help generate concepts and hypotheses, I facilitated sketching workshops with members of the Design and Discovery teams. The resulting sketches were a good jumping off point for me to start creating some early prototypes for usability testing. 

 
 

As our ideas began to take form (and after we gained some insights from usability testing), I mapped the proposed user flow and created storyboards to help convey our ideas to team members and stakeholders. 

 

 

Prototyping & Usability Testing

In order to better understand how users would interpret alternate approaches to restaurant ratings and reviews, we conducted a series of 45 min usability sessions with existing NYC Seamless and GrubHub diners. I created clickable prototypes so that we could test several design concepts, including (1) faceted ratings, (2) an improved review layout and “expert” designations, and (3) a rating/review input flow based on binary and multiple choice questions.

We also ran a series of SMS tests with several thousand current diners, with the goal of determining what types of questions diners would be most likely to answer. 

 

 

Testing Our Hypotheses

Concept 1: Faceted Ratings

Our first hypothesis was that displaying ratings in a more meaningful way by faceting (i.e.: breaking out an overall rating by Food Quality, Delivery Speed, and Order Accuracy) would make diners’ decision-making process easier by surfacing the content they care about. 

The faceted approach was well-received in usability testing because it broke down key aspects that the participants cared about (Is the food good? Did it arrive on time? Was my order correct?); they felt this approach would help them make a decision faster and easier.

"Delivery speed would jump up in priority for me at lunch time or if I was really hungry or pressed for time.” - Participant
 
grubscore.jpg
Visual Iterations on the Faceted Rating&nbsp;

Visual Iterations on the Faceted Rating 


Concept 2: Improved review layout and "expert" designations

Our second hypothesis was that diners would feel that reviews were more trustworthy if we more clearly attributed them to a person (name and avatar). Additionally, we thought that some diners may trust a review more if they see that it comes from an “expert” (a reviewer who has ordered and/or reviewed a lot of restaurants of a particular cuisine). Assigning a color coded thumbs up or down to each review allowed participants to quickly scan the reviews and understand the sentiment at a glance. The binary approach felt easier than stars for both consuming and submitting ratings. The impact of Expert reviews was mixed; however, some participants gauged trustworthiness by the number of reviews by a reviewer.

"I give more credit to reviewers who've been around longer...trusted, long-standing reviewers are the most helpful.” - Participant

Concept 3: Rating/Review Input Flow

Our third hypothesis was that diners would be more likely to rate or review an order if we asked them direct (possibly binary) questions about their experience (as opposed to asking them to rate it out of 5 stars). The input prompts felt “easy” and “quick” for participants to cycle through and answer questions. Many whizzed right through the prompts and felt this approach would make them rate more.

“A quick one word or reply is easiest. I could see myself clicking through and rating a few restaurants I’ve ordered from while waiting for my food to be delivered.” - Participant
“I wouldn't say I 40% liked a restaurant. This makes it easy to make snap-judgements. It’s easier than rating everything on a scale from 1 to 5.” - Participant

SMS Tests

We sent approximately twenty SMS message variants to diners 40 minutes after the end of their order window. Each message variant was sent to 1,000 diners selected from restaurants that received more than 60 orders in the past 30 days. We focused on specific aspects of the dining experience and tested three types of questions: binary, multiple-choice, and open-ended.

We discovered that the more straightforward the question, the more responses we received. Our best response rates (over 50%!) came from binary questions that didn't require much interpretation from the diner, such as "Was your delivery on time?", "Was the food good?", and "Was your order correct?".


 

Results

GrubHub unveiled the new ratings & reviews system in July 2016. Each day, the new system collects, on average, 70,000 data points from its customers. Between December and July, while it was in a limited beta test, the new system already collected more data than Grubhub's previous system had collected in 10 years. The data from these responses is then aggregated into an overall star rating as well as a score for each facet of the ordering experience, providing benefits for diners and restaurant owners.

Read about the new ratings & reviews system in Motherboard and the Chicago Tribune.

"At Chopt we're focused on providing our diners with great local ingredients and a top of the line experience whether they order in one of our many locations or online. The new ratings and reviews process provides us with feedback on each level of the delivery experience -- time, accuracy and taste -- so that we are able to maintain our high quality standards for new and existing customers."
- Tom Kelleher, SVP of Operations for Chopt Salad Company. 
 

 

Bringing Ratings to the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch was released in April 2015, and our new ratings input system seemed like the perfect use case for the watch. It's was simple, binary, and requires minimal user interaction. Additionally, we knew from usability testing that rating past orders was something fun that users might like to do when they had some downtime - like waiting for their order to arrive. 

I designed the ratings flow for Version 1.0 of the Seamless Apple Watch app. I also designed the Nearby feature, the Home screen, and assisted with the overall visual design and user experience.

 

Facebook Messenger Concept

We were really excited about the release of custom layouts for business on Facebook Messenger, so I mocked up a concept of how we might like to use the platform to feed our new ratings system.

This concept would be similar to the ratings input flow that we are planning on using on the site, in the apps, and via SMS, but Messenger would allow us to collect this information from our diners in a conversational and rich way, which we think could help us gather more honest responses about their delivery or takeout experience.

 

The personal fitness app that evolves with you, so you never plateau

I started working on Vitogo with a few friends in 2011 and designed the iPhone app that became one of the top 3 paid health apps in Ireland (top 50 in the US). In 2015, I also designed the companion Apple Watch App.

With Vitogo, you’ll get the same quality workout from a personal trainer…without actually hiring one. All you need is access to a gym (or gym equipment) and your phone. Every fitness plan evolves with you, so as you progress, so will your workout. The Huffington Post named Vitogo as one of the "Top Fitness Apps of 2012." Read about it on Thrillist, the Huffington Post, Greatist, ComplexPalm Beach Illustrated, and Mashable.

Goal

Help people achieve their fitness goals by taking the guess work and confusion out of the gym.

 

 

The Problem

It’s no secret that strength training is a crucial component of a fit and healthy lifestyle. Whether your goal is to build muscle, lose weight, firm and tone, or just get healthy, strength training (along with proper nutrition and cardiovascular exercise) will help you achieve it. The problem is that starting a strength training program can be confusing and intimidating, and many programs only last a few workouts, a few weeks, or a few months, leaving people wondering what to do next.

 

 

Competitive Analysis

In 2011, there were already hundreds of strength training apps, websites, and books available, but none of these resources provided a simple path for regular people to quickly and easily begin strength training on their own. Many of these products provided essentially the same service: a database of a simple list of exercises that the user could choose from and in-app recording of exercises completed and amount of weight lifted. 

 
 

These products required users to already have a training program of their own that they wanted to record or forced them to choose from a list of programs organized by muscle group. None provided much guidance toward achieving fitness goals, especially for people who didn't know where to start. Additionally, none of these products moved users onto a new program periodically, which is essential if the user wants to see continual progression toward their goal. 

 

 

User Research

Since this was a side project with limited resources, we followed a Lean UX approach to user research. Our main goal was to get a minimum viable product out in front of users as quickly as possible so that we could measure, learn, and iterate on our solution.

observation

What people say is very different than what they do, especially when it comes to their health and fitness. We spent a lot of time observing gym-goers in order to discover new insights and directions to explore, and to give a better behavioral balance to the rest of our work. I even took a part-time job at a high-end gym in Boston for a few months in order to better understand our users' behavior and goals.

Proto-personas

Instead of spending months in the field interviewing people, we created proto-personas - our best guess as to who is using (or will use) our product and why. This exercise helped capture our assumptions and gave us a baseline to adjust as we learned more about our users and target audience.

 

 

Content Strategy

Our service doesn't work without great content (specifically, exercise programs). We worked with exercise scientists, kinesiologists, coaches, and personal trainers to develop the exercise programs behind Vitogo. Additionally, we shot all our own photos and videos for the app with the help of our friends at Scott P Yates Photography

 

 

Minimum Viable Product

We shipped Version 1.0 of the Vitogo iPhone App in January, 2012. It was a basic version, and there were a lot of bugs, but it was a good proof of concept and it allowed us to start gaining more insights into our users' behavior and goals.

 

 

Refining and Iterating

Based on customer feedback and continued research, we continued to iterate on the app, releasing twelve more updates. I focused on streamlining the onboarding and registration flows, which is where we saw the greatest number of users dropping off.

 

 

User Onboarding

Vitogo requires users to create an account using either an email and password or Facebook Connect. In earlier versions, we saw a lot of drop off as a result of this registration wall. In order to help users better understand the benefits of creating an account, I designed a short tutorial that lists Vitogo's key benefits. The tutorial is completely optional and users can sign in or create an account from any screen. 

 

 

Log In/Registration Flow

Since we wanted to make creating an account as quick and easy as possible, I decided to go with a unified log in/registration flow. If a user taps "Connect with Facebook," we will either log them in (if they already have an account) or start the registration process if they are a new user. If they tab "Connect with Email," we check to see if they already have an account, in which case we then ask them to enter their password to sign in. If they don't have an account, we ask them to create a password and push them into the rest of the registration flow. By only asking for one piece of information at a time, I hoped that this would lessen the initial knee-jerk reaction that some users had when they were first asked to create an account. This "one thing at a time" principle was something that I carried throughout the design of the entire app.

 

 

Program Personalization

We need to know a few things before we can build a user's workout plan - including gender, goal, and experience. We initially also asked for a user's weight in order to accurately calculate calories burned, but we removed this step since users seemed to find it a bit too personal of a question at this stage. The goal here was to get users through this flow as quickly and painlessly as possible. Again, I used the "one thing at a time" pattern and only asked one question per screen. I also added in a progress bar to (1) give users an idea of how long the personalization process was, and (2) encourage them to complete this process.

 

 

Workout Flow

The workout flow includes (1) the program overview, which shows what workouts are scheduled on which days, (2) the workout overview, which shows the exercises in a particular workout, and (3) the exercise view, which shows the recommended weight and repetitions for each set of a particular exercise. Inspired by the satisfying feeling you get from crossing off an item from your to-do list, I created a strikethrough and checkmark pattern for completed workouts, exercises, and sets. I also added a progress bar and some vanity metrics (like total pounds lifted) to the workout overview to help our users stay motivated.

 

 

Alternate Approaches

I explored a lot of alternate approaches to every view of the app, but ended up going with other implementations because of usability concerns, technical constraints, consistency, or sometimes just because I came up with a better option. Here are a few examples of alternate approaches that I tried.

 

 

Vitogo for Apple Watch

When Apple announced the Apple Watch, we knew right away that we wanted to make a watch app for Vitogo. Constantly having to pull out your phone in gym to see what exercises are up next and how much rest time between sets is left has always been a pain point. We also thought it would be great if users who didn't need to edit the amount of weight or reps from last time could mark their sets as complete with one tap on the watch.

I started by reading through the Apple Watch Human Interface Guidelines and then started sketching some concepts. We wanted to make sure that the watch app didn't just duplicate all the functionality of the iPhone app; rather, we wanted to focus on quick, lightweight interactions that provided some extra value to the user. Since I had to start designing before the Apple Watch was actually released, I printed out my mockups to scale so that we could test for legibility and 'glancability.'

 

Retrospective

I learned a lot from working on this project - and we still have a long way to go. If I could start over, I think we would have scoped our MVP even more than we did. We thought that we were only building the features that we absolutely needed, but I think we probably could have been more ruthless in our feature cutting and released something much simpler in the beginning. 

One thing that I think we did really well was actually shipping the MVP and iterating on subsequent versions. Especially since this was a side project, we could have obsessed about getting everything perfect and never actually launched anything. This was tough, but it allowed us to validate whether this was something that people would actually use. I often worked closely with the engineers to tweak designs to make them easier to implement.

Users responded well to the concept, user flow, and features of our MVP and the paid app has been downloaded thousands of times. However, many users were initially frustrated by bugs and crashes. We also received a lot of feedback around users wanting to customize their programs, skip certain days, or skip exercises. We've taken all this feedback in stride, and each version of the app has been better than the last. 

App Store Reviews

"Love this app. I've been working out for years and Vitogo helps tremendously to keep me on a schedule and increase my activity. I love the fact that it remembers how much I lifted previously, cause sometimes I forget."
"I've been using Vitogo for a few weeks and I must say that I'm very impressed. It brings workouts into the 21st century. Really terrific customer support with amazingly fast replies to questions. A must have."
"I am just adding weights to my workouts, and this app makes it super easy - do these on those days. I DO wish there was a way to look into the future, as you can only see the current week's workout, and I wish there was a way to "start over" a week, but I think it is a great app for people who are looking to use weights but have no clue where to start."

 

Vitogo for Apple Watch

Vitogo is like having your own world-class personal trainer available anytime and anywhere. I co-founded Vitogo with a few friends in 2011, launched the iPhone app in 2012, and the Apple Watch app in 2015.