Cookpad, the Japanese online recipe platform, is largely recognized as a “user first” service. The Cookpad app recently surpassed 20 million downloads, and their latest data shows nearly 70% of access to the service comes from smartphones.
This past February, the company built a mobile-first team. Among the company’s 70 engineers, about 10% joined the team. Aside from app development and operations, the company is pushing towards a mobile-first policy, encouraging web engineers to focus on mobile-related work.
I spoke with Toshihiro Yagi and Kentaro Takiguchi, who have just joined this mobile-first team. Both have experience developing Android apps, and both came to Cookpad less than a year ago.
The development of the Android app started within the device division of the media department, which later turned into the mobile-first team. The project started in October of last year, and after half a year of development, the Android app officially launched this past March.
The mobile version of Cookpad originally started as a website formatted for smartphones. At that time, even though the division had dozens of web engineers, it had only one Android engineer. To adapt to the increasing number of users on smartphones, it was decided to offer Cookpad as a native app.
The team of four (three Android engineers and one designer) worked together to develop the Android app. They collaborated on the app’s UI and usability, using the engineer’s knowledge of things like OS guidelines. Based on the mockup created by the designer, they worked towards creating the best app they could.
The iOS app for Cookpad had been already released, so the team had to be careful that the Android app design would not be influenced too much by that. To ensure that the app was easy to use, the team continued releasing small, incremental updates. One such update, for example, had the menu icon located in the left-top corner. The team learned that some users don’t recognize that the icon can be tapped to display a menu, and so they they implemented a tutorial message a the initial log-in to address the issue.
Takiguchi: It took much time to figure out to what extent the usability and UI of our iOS and Android apps should be unified. Many people say there should be a consistent user experience for iOS and Android, and the UI should be designed differently. But that’s a very difficult thing to do.
Through these small improvements, eventually the amount of time users spent on the Android app increased 30% more than they had seen with the previous version, which looked more like the service’s web interface. Swifter movement through content inside the app and improved tab display (such as today’s recipe and top recipe) also contributed much to this success. Yagi explained that one of the most important things to keep in mind during this kind of development is to keep asking if a feature is really necessary, and if it is easy to use.
Results that get attention
Cookpad has an internal blog where members share ideas. Since last November the company has also organized a meeting called Potechi where engineers outside and inside the company get together to share technical tips. Potechi takes place every week within the company, and every month for the external meet. Each iOS or Android engineer is given five minutes to present their tips.
Yagi: Engineers at Cookpad are all highly motivated and have great technical skills. When we find a problem, we all do our best to solve it.
Takiguchi: Our CEO often says that each member has to keep a career goal in our mind when we work. He says we should create results that will attract headhunters’ attention.
Cookpad currently look for mobile engineers. To work on the mobile-first team, the most important thing is to have strong passion for app development rather than technical skills and experiences.
Yagi: We look to see if the candidate codes at home or outside the work place. We look for someone who looks like they cannot help but code at any occasion.
The value of female engineers
At present, all members of mobile-first team are men. Even in the company as a whole, female engineers amount to only 10% of the total. Engineers are expected to see things from the user’s perspective in order to find the best usability and UI by working with designers. Therefore, they hope they can add a force of female engineers as well.
Yagi: We interview users and hear their opinion. But when we reflect on app design, we might need to filter out perspectives that come from the male point of view. I believe that if the engineer is a woman, then it can effect the app design a lot. So we really hope female engineers can join our team.
It is not going to far to say that a major service like Cookpad could set the standard for app usability and UI. If you are passionate about creating apps, you might want to join their Potechi meeting. The next one takes place on May 14th.