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Epicurious Case Study

Epicurious App Case Study

Epicurious: An Almost-Great App Gets 1-½ Stars

Epicurious is the most award-winning food site on the web. More importantly, it keeps making me look good at family dinners. How could they go from that to an app with a 1-½ star App Store rating? Is Epicurious the victim of Status Quo Bias? Did they change too much too quickly? (ask Ebay)

An updated prototype of the Epicurious app

An updated prototype of the Epicurious app

Many of the user reviews gave the impression that Epicurious' users may have had an aversion to change. A few reviews hinted that that there could be some actual issues, though. Then again, there were quite a number of reviewers that loved the app. There was little middle ground.  Maybe the app is great for new users while existing users simply hated change?

1 - Research


Equator Coffee gift certificates.

I'll run a scripted guerrilla usability test on the app, evaluate pain points, propose remedies, and prototype a solution. Testing was done in the open area by Equator Coffee at Folsom and 2nd Streets in San Francisco. 7 users were interviewed. Some say this is plenty but there's debate.

Let's Meet Our Users

Footwear, too often ignored as a key demographic indicator. (I didn't make these up! These are exact or very close)

Footwear, too often ignored as a key demographic indicator. (I didn't make these up! These are exact or very close)


• 3 women, 4 men
• Ages ranged from late 20s to 50s
• Only one user had ever used the app before
• 2 were cooking enthusiasts.

You're Going to a Potluck!

To put the users in the right frame of mind, they were told they'd been invited to a potluck where there's a dietary restriction involved. Tasks were phrased as non-leading, open-ended situations. Users were allowed to struggle without being helped. If a user gave up or used a non-app solution for the task they would eventually be told that such a feature existed within the app to see if they could then find it.

Test Tasks

1. Find a recipe suitable for their vegan potluck.
2. Share that recipe: Let the host know what you plan on bringing... because the host is picky.
3. Save the recipe: How do you typically save recipes you want to hold on to?
4. Go shopping for the ingredients: See if users are able to discover the Save To Shopping List feature on their own.


2 - Synthesize


Understanding the Users' Pain Points

User feedback was divided into five pain points:
    1. Search function confusion
        Users rarely picked up on the ability to combine category choices and text entry.
    2. Search criteria unreliability
        Some users’ search results did not always reflect their search terms.
    3.  Difficulties with saving recipes - feature discovery
        Some users did not recognize the save icon.
    4. Share Recipe feature not discovered
        Users had already developed non-app workarounds for similar situations.
    5. Save To Shopping List function - feature not discovered
        Users often missed the feature and scrolled right past it.


What's Important?

Pain points mapped based on business and user needs

Pain points mapped based on business and user needs


Understanding The App

Curious what the app looks like? Here it is The areas highlighted with color are the areas I proposed changes to. 

Screen flow of the Epicurious app

Screen flow of the Epicurious app

So where did users get stuck?

Empathizing with the User

Creating a provisional persona or proto-persona is helpful to stay objective and inform decisions as new concepts are generated.

Meet Penny...

Step 3: Ideate


Ideation and proposal for the Search function

Maybe I need to refine my search? (wanted to add filters but didn’t discover that the app had them)
— Christopher

There was a key issue with the results provided by the search function but the app has a number of helpful search features... discovery of those features was not that hard for some... okay, one. Most ignored the helpful category filters. Can I make it easier or draw more attention to them? Maybe.



Ideation and proposal for search validation

I know (it’s vegan) because my search says ‘vegan’... Oh! There’s butter in it!
— Elizabeth

Well that's not good! Once a user discovered that the search results didn't match the criteria they entered, they lost trust in the app. That's a huge deal and not the fault of the interface itself. I hope the underlying issue can be fixed but, to earn back some trust, I can give the user some validation.



Ideation and proposal for the Add to Shopping List (and Share Recipe, Save Recipe features)

I’d screenshot it.
(when asked how he would save the recipe)
— Kyle
What’s the plus?
(referring to the ‘add recipe’ icon)
— Annabelle

Ideation and proposal for the Add to Shopping List (and Share Recipe, Save Recipe features)

The Add to Shopping List feature was easily missed. Users had difficulty with discovery and didn't go looking for it. Why would they? They had already developed workarounds for this type of situation for other apps and those workarounds worked well for them... like taking a screenshot. That's unfortunate because the shopping list function is something I really like (except for how it truncates item names).


4 - Prototyping

Try it out, it's clickable. You'll find the proposals mentioned above in the prototype below (including a proposal for changing the Shopping List because I couldn't help myself. Read more below).


And then I started designing for myself...

Bye Penny!

While I was making the prototype, I made a couple more changes to address things that bothered me while using the app.

  • Eliminated truncation on the Shopping List tab because it sometimes obscured critical information.
  • Created groupings of ingredients on the Shopping List tab so one recipe's ingredients could be separated from the rest and to be able to sort by food type.


Epicurious has corrected the Shopping List ingredients text truncation problem (I wish I could say it was because of this case study)

Note: I am not affiliated with Epicurious. It really will help you look better at family dinners, though... check it out if you haven't already.