I don’t need to know every restaurant in town. What I need to know is: what are the select few that are doing something that I might be interested in. Cutting through the clutter is the problem we are trying to solve. – Steve Mangano, CurEat Founder
CurEat was the brainchild of local entrepreneur Steven Mangano, who had a vision for a different sort of dining app. He wanted an app that could serve the role of a local “in the know” friend — someone who could cut out all the noise and send you to the best local places. No chains, no reviews, just great food.
Raleigh-based Oak City Labs had developed an algorithm for weighting data from national publications and awards, and Steve had recruited a group of trusted “CurEaters” — local chefs, bloggers, and other food enthusiasts.
His strategy was to launch local CurEater networks in major metro areas and use both big data and personal recommendations to craft curated lists of the “can’t miss” dining experiences in each area.
With that data as the backbone of the experience, he reached out to us to create a logo and brand, define the product, design the workflows and interactions, and create high-fidelity screens for the iOS application.
Product definition workshop
User experience design
User interface design
Mobile app design (iOS)
Approach – Build Shared Understanding
We started with a collaborative workshop with Steve, his marketing and product team, and the Oak City developers. We sketched out a high-level view of what success looked like for the product, which key user demographics we expected to target, and what the key design principles were for the app.
A key part of creating CurEater networks was building buy-in with restaurateurs. In our research, we found restaurants spending too much energy responding to negative reviews and we needed to make sure CurEat wasn’t yet another platform they needed to maintain.
Logo and Brand
Emotion and Aesthetic
We assembled a mood board of images, text, colors, and other concepts that carried across the “idea” of CurEat. We wanted an elegant yet approachable tone, a calming and tasteful color palette, and a clean, appealing look.
In three rounds of concepts and revisions, we settled on a napkin and plate motif, the triangular napkin fold evoking both a fine dining experience and reinforcing the initial “C” of the brand. Our pastel green-and-blue palette was chosen to differentiate from the reds and yellows of competitors and give a calm focus to the app.
Finding the “Right Amount” of Social
One challenge was defining how many social features were important for CurEat. We wanted the experience to be compelling, but we didn’t expect users to abandon their Instagram accounts for CurEat (at least not immediately).
We advocated for a lean approach to social features for the first version. At heart, the value we provided was trusted, reliable recommendations, so list-building features for all users were a must. CurEaters would need a more robust feature-set to build their credibility and personal brands — posting pictures, videos, and text.
The Home Experience
We wanted an inviting home page, one that gave a window into what makes CurEat special. A carousel of featured local restaurants and associated mouth-watering images provided a “discover” experience so people could see what was around them. Below, a similar carousel added a human touch and allowed the user to see who was providing these lists and recommendations.
Location info at the top of the screen was also critical from our user research. We knew that many of our target users were already well-acquainted with their local food scene and primarily saw CurEat as a valuable tool for traveling to other places. Location can be pulled directly from the device or set manually, and can be accessed from either home or the search screen.
Location-based search is one of the key workflows in CurEat. Whether through local restaurants, CurEaters, or lists, this is where we expect people to go when trying to find special dining experiences.
Everyone has a default list for “bookmarked” restaurants. For more experienced users who create multiple lists, a swipe action reveals a quick way to add to another list (or create one on the fly).
Giving Immediate Value
As a new social-based app, one large challenge is providing immediate value to users. Even though the curated set of local restaurants would provide value, we worried that without an established network, users would not find the experience compelling enough at first.
Therefore, the sign-in process encourages users to follow all the CurEaters in their area. Users can unfollow whoever they want, but this way, they have an established network of local personalities and can see their lists and recommendations right away. This guarantees they don’t wind up in an “empty app” and can immediately see the value.
When you start looking at ratings and reviews, it doesn’t make sense the way we’ve now been trained, as consumers, to rate places… Everyone is not using the same scale and even an individual person is scaling things differently. – Steve Mangano, CurEat Founder
Large, colorful buttons explore the full range of the color palette and give easy access to the most common actions — calling, viewing a menu, adding to a list, seeing the location, or giving feedback. A lack of public reviews is one of the key aspects of the CurEat experience, but we wanted to give people a way to express their feelings and be heard, as well as a way for restaurateurs to hear from their customers. The feedback form is sent directly to the owner, who can respond if they choose.
With a series of strong reviews in local foodie publications and newspapers (including Food and Wine), CurEat has established itself in the southeastern US and has expanded to over 60 cities. The iOS app launched in January 2017, with Android launching September 2017.
We’re proud to have been part of the creation of a new type of dining app — next time you’re looking for the best local places to eat, try a recommendation from the CurEaters!