How Netflix’s Chef’s Table Inspires App Design

When it comes to product design and development we continuously looping through design cycles to craft our product so that it resonates with our users’ needs and behaviour. We try to figure out how our users experience the onboarding process, how to retain them and what makes them advocating our product. There are infinite resources from design and engineering communities that guide us through this process. However, sometimes inspiration and guidance come from less obvious corners.

Somehow I start watching Netflix more frequently when deadlines are approaching. It’s bad, but pulling all-nighters requires sufficient breaks and rewards is what I keep telling myself. Anyway, one day I decided to turn on Chef’s Table in the background when I was working on my paper. It turned out that watching this show was the most useful thing I did that night.

Less is more

‘The crunchy part of the lasagna’ plate presented in the first episode of the series contains, as the name suggests, only the top layer of the famous dish. This very specific part of the lasagna is favoured by every kid in Emilia-Romagna. It’s served without the dough and pasta, what follows is a large open space on the plate that is claimed by the beauty of the crunchy decoration. It’s gorgeous and clever.

App designers are often told to do one thing only and do this thing very well. Therefore, they need to understand what unique value proposition their product creates and for what user segment that is. Leaving out all other features, forces users to focus and value what’s only there. By subtracting the noise from the product it’s easier for the user to understand what core value the product delivers.

Know your users and surprise them

In my favorite episode, chef Niki Nakayama runs a Japanese restaurant where she keeps track of every order from her customers. She writes down every dish her customers have and what ingredients she used to make it. Every day. Not only because she wants to know what her customers favor, but she wants to surprise them with new ones. It turns out that Niki Nakayama changes her menu twice during the week. While this is even challenging for most restaurants with ‘ordinary’ dishes, think how much work it is if Niki cooks according the very strictly traditional kaiseki philosophy. It’s inspiring to see how much passion and effort someone can put into their work to please their customers.

We are lucky. As app designers we don’t need to use pen and paper to trace every single user of our app. However, capturing and understanding their behavior should not be the goal. It’s about what we do after that. Of course we have our own kaiseki to design apps. But following design guidelines, techniques and trends only won’t be enough. We need to use these tricks to produce content which they don’t even ask for, but still enjoy when we serve it to them. To do that it requires a behavioral understanding of our users that goes beyond the numbers.

Plan users’ journey

One thing that all chefs have in common is the mastery to serve the dishes in a particular order so that the whole makes one single experience. They make sure that the pace, presentation and taste of every dish follows one and another up so that it connects to the users holistic experience. This requires a high level of cooking skills, but foremost timing and planning.

Designing an app is somehow the same. Every action should be followed by another one which connects logically to the users’ expectation, understanding and behavior. We need to identify how users navigates through our app, to distingiush various paths and design for it. However, the challenge is to orchestrate this in such way that they move fluidly and discover all parts of the app in the right pace.

This article is just some thoughts I had when watching the show. I hope it sparkles some sightful and inspiring discussion. Feel free to add your interpretation or comments ;)