Generation App : Behind the Screens Q + A


If the online world is the shift we’re seeing in culture couldn’t we argue that this is now an aspect of the real world and shouldn’t we accept that? – Aaron Smith, UX Designer


Go ahead, keep your head in your phone. It’s actually one of the most socially active ways to get your head out of the phone and into the physical mix. Phone-dependency isn’t something I would normally encourage as one akin to outings, but being dialed in (quite literally) is increasingly synonymous with getting out. In a culture drenched in words like engage, experience, aesthetic, community, download, connect, profile – all pointing to a pixel community of strangers – these are exactly the things that bring us together in our on-screen relationships.

I was on a mission to go behind the screens with the players who shape the industry and our addictions. A digital analyst from one of LA’s hottest Ad Agencies reveals how data drives not only application development but also the landscape of human interaction. I also tapped the workings of one of Hulu’s frontline UX designers to learn more about user experience in the making.

The conversation aligns with one of LA’s most anticipated apps which launches today, Foodie Shares, connects the home-based chef to foodies around town who can search for gourmet dishes by distance, cuisine, and price.
Dive into our first source of generation-app knowledge, UX designer Aaron Smith over at Hulu to dig into what makes a good user experience and how experiences are evolving.

AG : You’re a UX designer. When did you break in to the application design and what propelled you to continue professionally developing application design?

Aaron Smith: I’ve always had a fascination with design. The progression into application design, specifically, comes from a personal desire to resolve perceived problems. Especially with the changing landscape of interactive form factors (touch devices, audio command devices, etc), there are evolving needs for design to solve these “new” customer interaction problems that didn’t exist a few years ago. No two puzzles are alike anymore.

AG: What do you think makes good user experience? And is that experience dramatically different on a desktop or laptop vs. tablet – OR does that experience translate seamlessly?

AS: There are a lot of interesting perspectives on what constitutes “good” user experience. Personally, I would suggest a good user experience is really a byproduct from great team collaboration around a unified product vision where engineers, business leadership, product managers and ux are in alignment. The experience that the end user (customer) interacts with should be evident in that vision. I would be remiss if I suggested that good user experience was simply about interface design and interaction design.

AG: What do feel users are looking for in apps? Is it more about the service available or the cool factor (uber vs. snapchat…?)

traincase_context-600x345AS: This really depends on the user and their stage in a persona: are they looking for something entertaining (eg solving a boredom problem) or looking for something to solve a tactical problem: getting from place a to place b (solving a transportation problem). I’m sure there are some apps that feed off of a cool factor but I look at the coolness of an app and try to extract the core principles that allowed consumer perceptions to see it as cool: uber for instance is extremely simple to use. Snapchat at its core solves a problem first.

AG: How much of your work is conceptual versus tactical design?

AS: I try to strike a balance between strategic design, tactical design and the conceptual “what ‘it’ could be” when designing applications. Strategic being focused around on the near future that is an extension of the tactical MVP and the conceptual being the underlying vision when the tactical and strategic implementations are stabilized. In short, I try to utilize conceptual design to drive tactical and strategic thinking. Think broad and vast then reign it in for a production ready application.

AG: Talk about Traincase. The motivation behind this app, how it works, and why would should love it? We would love to hear your insight on particular challenges and some of what you are most excited about with this app.

AS: Traincase is really a first step in approaching a large initiative to personalize and give control to consumers in the cosmetic industry. At the core of the cosmetics industry is this rift between marketing beauty and feeling beautiful. Now, traincase won’t necessarily solve the philosophical debate of feeling beautiful but it will look to empower consumers to control and value cosmetics based on their patterns and behaviors without the influence of commerce-first marketing. Our mission is to help you find your own beauty – whatever that may mean to you.


After sifting through some app chat I went out for some data chat to dig a little deeper behind the screens. Sit in on our one on one with one of LA’s very influential digital analysts (this person has asked to remain anonymous).

AG: You’re an analyst. Tell me more about what you analyze, and what you do with the information you analyze.

ANON: There are three main areas of data that I analyze, banner analytics, website analytics, and social channel analytics. We do two things with the data we collect, 1) report the data in an easy to read manner to see performance, and more importantly, 2) provide meaningful insights that goes beyond performance. The more access we have to data, the more depth we can bring to our insights. It’s much easier if we have access to the clients Google Analytics data, Facebook and Twitter accounts, etc.

After I’ve collected the data, there are a countless number of ways I can segment it. Typically I’ll look at the overall sentiment in regards to the particular topic, the volume of conversations over time, demographics, and affinities of the users. Honestly, there are so many different things I can look at it, it all depends, if I’m looking for where the the conversations are coming from I can even see the geographical data. Often times I’ll drill down and read individual tweets and FB posts that were determined to either be positive or negative, and report on anything interesting I might have found that wasn’t already assumed. If I was panning for gold and the river is the internet, these interesting insights are the gold. These insights can be anything ranging from what’s the best time to post, to finding out a feature people love or hate about a product.

The Oh So Famous Google Analytics

AG: What do you think people are looking for in a mobile app today vs. 5 years ago now that apps have become more personalized and custom designer for users?

ANON: Designing an app is like designing anything else, you want to continually captivate your audience, not tangent, not confuse, not frustrate. It also has to be fast (load times), with everything in this world getting faster, the slow stuff gets left forgotten.

5 years ago barely anyone knew how to make an app, the apps were vastly limited by the hardware capabilities, and in general were super basic as a result. Since the hardware can handle so much more, the apps have become increasingly ‘better’. If its a game, it depends on the age range , gender, etc. But in general most people want simplicity. They want a few clear instructions, they want to be able to ‘level up’, they want a challenge but not something they can’t beat. People like options but not too many (3-8).

People in general want something that is going to make their life easier, share content, view others content, and games. Half of the top 10 free apps in the App Store right now are social platforms, the other half are games.

AG: In your recent work, could you provide some insight on what the app generation looks like? Demographically we imagine the metropolitan areas globally are more inclined to be App users, but is there a culture of application use that’s booming in the midwest or more remote parts of the world that we just don’t know about?

ANON: That is a super interesting question. From what I’ve heard and seen, you’re right about metropolitan areas being full of app users. I haven’t seen or heard of some secret demographic that is untapped. It’s a pretty typical breakdown, kids play the majority of games, adults use the majority of utility type apps. I haven’t come across some groundbreaking demographic insights with app users. Also, kids use their parents mobile devices a lot to play games, so age data is typically skewed from it being based on the parents age and not the kids who are playing the game.


AG: In your opinion, what does it take for a user to really have an “experience” and what is an “experience” in your mind?

ANON: For a user to have an “experience” something significant has to happen that breaks through their brains ambient garbage filter. If you drive a Chevy, while you’re on the road you are more likely to spot the same make and model because it’s your car, which has made this car ‘break through’ that filter. If you switch to driving a Jeep, all of a sudden you’ll start noticing more Jeeps on the road, and that’s not because there are more Jeeps on the road. When a user completes a level in a game, gets a like or a comments on their post, etc, this type of engagement is powerful in increasing repeat users.

An “experience” to me is learning or participating with something new, how smooth that goes will determine to me if I find it to be a good or bad one.

AG: How have applications streamlined communication, and how have they impacted the way people do business? Would you say application design represents a growing decrease in mobile friendly website design?

I think apps have done just that, they have streamlined communication. What’s App, has revolutionized how people travel and communicate internationally. But by making communication so easy and fast, certain standards and norms have formed. Most of the time, you’re usually expected to respond to texts/emails relatively quickly. Business has been hugely impacted, being able to transfer money between one another, Square has revolutionized mobile business. I could go on about this for hours. But, in my opinion it has been a big win for business.

I’d have to disagree with you about application design representing a decrease in mobile versions of websites. The web is still heavily used for almost anything, and if your website is NOT optimized for mobile you will be forgotten and the user will keep searching for a site that’s easier to navigate. Thankfully, most website building programs today make it easy to optimize and scale down a version of a website for mobile. Apps can deliver a unique user experience that websites can not. Which is why there is usually a suggestion to the user to download the app version of their site. I would say in general there is a push to get users to use the companies app more than a companies website, but definitely not resulting in decrease in mobile web optimization. If a user going to your site first and has a bad experience, they may assume the app will be a similar bad experience.


AG: Can you argue that application development is keeping users even more dialed in and less offline – socially and culturally are we driving users to disconnect from the real world?

ANON: I’d say yes and no, but mostly no. I think the increase of communication capabilities helps drive a stronger wanting for togetherness. There are so many apps about exploring and meeting up with friends or strangers. Online dating alone has probably increased how many people connect with the real world. There’s a dating app just for people who love to hike, that is amazing to me. I understand what you’re getting at, our faces are buried in our phones, we stay home and stare into our computers. But, I still think that it has done more good than bad having so many apps available to promote exploration of the outside world. They have dramatically increased our awareness of our surrounds and world as a whole, and made it easier than ever to access.

More? If sensory overload hasn’t set in yet, get gluttonous with the latest Foodie app out today:

Using the Foodie Shares app, food lovers will be able to: search for home-based chefs based upon their specialties, cities or geographic distance; see ratings for quality, service and value; and read reviews posted by other members for their dishes. Users can choose to follow certain chefs, receive their notifications, and message them via app.  Members can purchase available dishes or pre-order them for a future date.

For more information on Foodie Shares, click right here.


About Angela Gleason

visual designer | writer | pianist in the basement | painter in the night | fashion critic | lush | Italian savant check me out: