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App Review Team: Cook for iPad

Here at Kiandra we’re driven by a passion for learning and continually developing our skill sets. Among the various events and conferences we host and support around Australia, we also have several internal groups taking part in book clubs, UX lunches and the like. One such group is the app review team, who review a popular mobile or tablet app every month. Our goal is to understand the decisions the creators have made that have ultimately lead to their success, and explore what they could do differently.

This month’s app review is the beautiful and unique Cook app (App Store Link). Cook is an iPad-only application for creating, sharing and discovering recipes.

Cook is a design-led application
By focusing on design and user experience, Cook has found a way to rise above the numerous cook book and recipe browsing applications on the app store. Cook demonstrates the value between doing something first and doing something better.

Cook is Australian-made
For us that’s important. It’s great to see a 6-person team from Melbourne bringing their skills (and our town) onto the global design and development scene. Melbourne has a burgeoning tech community and we are all elevated by the success of others.

It’s hipster-friendly
One of the first things we noticed about Cook is that you only get out what you put in. We have plenty of budding chefs at Kiandra, and incessantly taking photos of our food has left us in good stead for visually enriching our recipes. Those of us who don’t obsessively Instagram our efforts were left wondering why their recipes didn’t quite look as slick as the accidental visionaries!

Your cook book feels like a personal expression. You can control certain aspects of it outside of the content, the colour and the imagery around the book itself, but it’s ultimately up to the user to create a piece of art, or just a recipe.

It’s the little things
There’s no doubt some serious design thinking has gone into Cook. The app itself is incredibly slick, but delightful additions like being able to quickly swap between imperial and metric measurements don’t go unnoticed.

Transitions form context
iOS7 was arguably the first release to really hammer in the importance of animation once all the cruft of skeuomorphism is gone. The purpose of animation in user interface is to communicate an elements change of state. Has it moved? Has it shrunk? Faded out? Where has it gone, and will it come back from the same place?

As expected, Cook does an excellent job of this – helping the user understand where elements have come from, where they’re going, and what physical properties they possess. Via the use of visual metaphors, a user knows that they’re opening a cook book and looking inside of it, by literally opening a cook book and flicking through it. A fantastic talk on this topic by Pasquale D’Silva is available thanks to Web Directions. It comes in at 50 minutes, but it’s one of my personal favourites.

Further contextual thinking needed
If Cook’s one objective was to empower users to create, share and discover recipes via a beautiful UI — then they’ve certainly achieved that. If, on the other hand, Cook continues to grow and wants to become your primary recipe management application, then there’s still a way to go.

Stepping in to a user’s shoes by ways of personas and scenarios might lead to some interesting discoveries. If Cook was to be used in a more day-to-day scenario, exporting ingredients into shopping lists would surely be a key feature. An expansion to mobile, whether via a native app or just the web would also be helpful. I can’t imagine lugging an iPad around a supermarket.

And while we found the recipe creation interaction fun and involving, I’m not confident I could work in the app all day. The team agreed to disagree on this one, but if Cook is going to become your primary recipe manager, some kind of timely, possible computer driven interface is going to be necessary.

Image processing would benefit from some magic
In a previous app review meeting we looked at the image processing and layout wizardry behind the Flipboard app. The team at Flipboard use some pretty powerful algorithms to ensure that important elements are cropped correctly, smiling faces were featured front-and-centre and aspect ratios were corrected.

It’s so subtle and effective in Flipboard that uploading photos into Cook and seeing them badly aligned or cropped sticks out. Hopefully Flipboard have open sourced their code, because this would be a fantastic addition to the Cook app.

No portrait mode
Around the time we were having this discussion, figures were indicating that portrait orientation was winning over landscape in the app space, while more recently landscape is certainly leading the web browsing space. Regardless of the preferred orientation, it’s a little odd that Cook is landscape only. At least Apple appear to have relaxed their HIGs which initially mandated both orientations be supported wherever possible.

And that brings this month’s app review to a close. I think I speak for the team when I say that both reviewing Cook, and using it the period leading up to our discussions has been a really fun experience. We’re seriously impressed by what such a lean, local team has been able to produce. It’s little surprise to see Cook winning awards and we hope the team goes on to great things.