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Cooking Up The Perfect Mobile Recipe App

by Bethany Arthion , 22.02.2013

We all have to eat; preferably every day. For better or worse, I often find myself turning to recipes to spice up my options and learn something new. While I do admit to being a bit of a cookbook hoarder, out of necessity I’m regularly planning meals while on the go, with little or no access to my treasure trove of recipes.

Thankfully, mobile technology has stepped in while my cookbooks sit out of reach on the shelf. Recipe apps have become go-to sources for last-minute meal planning and, while they are quite useful, they are unfortunately not without usability issues. From this user experience expert’s perspective, every mobile recipe app should address the following:

Ingredient Availability

Can I get salt-packed anchovies at this time of night? If you don’t have that dash of vanilla or can’t find guava paste at any store, a recipe isn’t any more satisfying than looking at pictures of the finished product. Including a separate button at the top of the recipe to view a checklist of the ingredients that need to be purchased would be quite useful. For those pesky ingredients that are unusual or hard to find, some built-in intelligence to suggest a nearby ethnic food market or specialty store would also be especially helpful.


What’s a potato ricer and do I need one? Many recipe apps do not mention special tools that are required to complete the recipe outside of the body of instructions. This should be an easy-to-view checklist, very similar, but in addition to the ingredients list, for users to ensure they have the proper cooking utensils and equipment. An app that includes the option to add those tools to shopping lists simplifies the shopping and overall recipe experience.

Time to table    

How long until dinner is ready? Time to table is important, but just as important is active prep time, depending on whether users want a quick recipe or an all day kitchen extravaganza. Well-designed apps have the option to search by active prep time as well as time to table. This information should not be ambiguous and should be located on the search results page and at the very top of each recipe page (20 minutes active prep, 1 hour cooking time, time to dinner = 1 hour 20 minutes). Being able to search this information is great, but more importantly, the information is visible.

Crowdsourced ratings and photos

Too many results… how do I choose? Ratings can be especially helpful in assessing what might be wrong with a recipe and how to fix it. For the user to take advantage of these features, the ratings should be prominent and clearly displayed at the top of the recipe page or, even better, in the list of search results.

Crowdsourced photos are interesting because users can see the un-Photoshopped results when an actual cook followed the recipe. Users might also be able to see their rating and review along with the finished product, which can give valuable information regarding the credibility of the recipe. However, including professional photosof the finished recipe may be beneficial to users who want to compare their culinary masterpiece to the top chef’s. The professional photo should be prominently displayed at the top of the recipe page, while member-sourced photos should be tiled at the bottom of the page.

“Intelligent” recipe apps may seem like more of a convenience than a necessity, but we need look no further than CES 2013 to know that the kitchens of the future promise all kinds of automated, smart management technology-- think refrigerators that tell you how old your eggs are and how much milk you have left. Investing now in making home management apps easier and more useful  will position them well for integration into the connected kitchen; ideally saving time, money, and food! Plus, it’s always nice to get an early start on dinner.

Bethany Arthion is a UX Analyst at GfK with experience conducting research using semi-structured interviews, ethnography, survey design, and participant observation.


Want some more food for thought? To help reduce user error for beginner cooks, here are three ways recipes found online or in cookbooks can be made even more useful and usable:

1) Set realistic expectations for time and tools needed
2) Don’t forget about the newbie cooks! Provide enough information to make recipes accessible to everyone which might include additional cooking instructions
3) Minimize mental workload by aligning ingredients and cooking instructions in an organized step-by-step process

Ensure your next flambé isn’t a flop! By considering the above for improving the usability of recipes, beginner cooks will be able to better understand directions and be more efficient as a result.