Students Help Beer App Barly Find a Smooth Finish

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Craft beer rating app, Barly, recently released new features that shift the focus from simple ratings to smart recommendations that learn your taste in beer over time. The founding team at Barly started as a group of musicians who appreciate a frosty beverage, but after one fateful round of drinks, they realized that most beer menus are hard to decipher for the casual beer drinker. Nick Norton, Craig Vermeyen, Mike Weil, and Hunter Knight moved quickly to create an app, sourcing expertise to get their idea off the ground, including help from UXDI students at General Assembly’s Los Angeles campus.

Students in the User Experience Design Immersive work on client projects as part of the curriculum to gain real world experience using their new skills. Aaron Barnes, Samantha Burke, and Ken Sugai were assigned to work with the app.

For Barly CEO Nick Norton, it was an easy decision to go with the students at General Assembly. “They were great. Sam, Aaron, and Ken put in so much work over a short period, and were clearly excited to be working on this project,” he said.

For a new app team with no design background and barely any tech knowledge, Barly was off to a rocky start. They specifically needed help translating their functioning app into an easy user flow with a friendly appeal. “We also hadn’t done much in the way of polling users to see what people in general really wanted,” said Norton. “We had designed the app that we as four beer experts with very particular taste wanted.”

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The Barly team: Mike Weil, Chief Product Officer; Nick Norton, CEO; Craig Vermeyen, Chief Operating Officer; and Hunter Knight, Chief Technology Officer.

Together with Barnes, Burke, and Sugai, Norton and his team talked through the app’s purpose and discussed problems, like loading time. “There was a lot of back and forth between us and them, and it felt like both sides were open to feedback and criticism and new ideas,” Norton said.“They showed us a lot that we didn’t know about design, and we showed them a lot they didn’t know about beer.”

The UXDI students asked the Barly team questions about their competition, what users would get out of the app, and how to monetize the product. They even ran a survey with 400 people, which yielded responses that the Barly team found especially interesting. “Our biggest challenge, the one that required the most outside-the-box thinking, was in the approach to differentiating the application from the competition,” Barnes said.

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Aaron Barnes and Samantha Burke working on Barly at General Assembly. “We wouldn’t be pursuing angel investment with any success with what we started with. The GA-redesigned version is getting us in the door,” Norton said.

On presentation day, Norton and his team saw the final suggestions that the UXDI students made to improve Barly. “They showed up with a finished product that essentially blew our minds,” he said. What resulted were two major changes to the original prototype.

First, was the entire focus of the app. Originally, Barly was strictly ratings-based, but through the UXDI students’ research, they discovered that recommendations were more powerful than ratings. So, they redesigned the user flow around asking a bartender for a recommendation, much like you would at a bar. The new user-friendly design includes search results in the app that uses terminology you would understand even if you aren’t a beer expert.

Second, the app now features an entirely new look and color scheme, plus one other special feature—a character within the app personified as a bartender to take care of your beer ordering needs. Barnes said, “We felt that having a character to engage, guide, and entertain the user, much like a good bartender does, would make the user journey a distinct, personal, and fun experience.”

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Presentation day. “They showed us a lot that we didn’t know about design, and we showed them a lot they didn’t know about beer,” Norton said.

It was better than the Barly team had imagined. Barnes, Burke, and Sugai had stayed true to Barly’s core needs and asks while giving new users a reason to choose this app over any other beer rating app. “It turns out that the features we had come up with were quite similar, but the way of accessing them and the flow through the app, the overall UX, was very different,” Norton said.

If Barly hadn’t worked with the students, Norton doesn’t think the app would be this far along. “The short answer is that they enabled us to launch,” he said. “After GA’s redesign, we implemented their changes and started pushing the app publicly. We wouldn’t be pursuing angel investment with any success with what we started with. The GA-redesigned version is getting us in the door.”

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The General Assembly students and Barly team checking in during the app’s redesign. “Today when I find myself stuck on something at work, I step back and reexamine the answers to simple and essential questions such as, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ and, ‘Who is the user?’” Burke said.

For Barnes, Burke, and Sugai, working on Barly was a key part of launching their new careers as UX designers. Barnes is now a designer at Rhubarb Studios, and Burke has taken her skills to Sony Pictures.

“The most significant takeaway I have from this experience was learning how to streamline a complex product, and turn it into the most valuable and delightful MVP possible,” Burke said. “Today when I find myself stuck on something at work, I step back and reexamine the answers to simple and essential questions such as, ‘What problem are we trying to solve?’ and, ‘Who is the user?’”

As the Barly team looks ahead to a wider launch and bigger improvements, Norton says the next thing they want to tackle is creating an iOS version and are currently looking for someone who programs for both the Android (now available) and iOS platforms.

But to Norton, these are all just pieces of something greater. “I see a future where the average person has enough beer knowledge to seek out amazing beers on their own, and not be swindled by advertising or preconceptions about beer in general. Where every dive bar on earth has to have a great IPA and a great stout on tap, because enough of the populace wants it,” he said. “Barly’s going to make that future possible.”

Cheers to redesigning.

LEARN MORE ABOUT USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY