Craft Beer and Design: Making Good Choices?

This post is my first ever and is part of my curriculum at Designlab’s UX Academy course.

Today I began DesignLab’s UX Academy intensive course, and for my first project I was tasked with identifying good and bad design choices with apps and websites. For this maiden voyage into the world of UX I figured I’d tackle one of my favorite things: beer.

What’s good and bad with design is definitely subjective and you may disagree with my thoughts, but hey, I have to start somewhere. Along with talking about each app/site, I’ll follow it up with a quick critique based on the Hierarchy of Design Needs:

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, there is a Hierarchy of Needs in Design.

Let’s Start With the Good. Much has been said about Untappd and I’m a devoted user, but there are some other well designed apps out there to help you stay on top of what’s available at a bar near you.

BREW NOTICE

Brew Notice is a open source program developed in Portland, OR by a couple guys in their free time. It uses available information on the internet to update taplists at venues in WA, OR, IL, CA and BC Canada. Brew Notice is automatically updated every fiften minutes and doesn’t require anyone to manually upload information. It’s available via your web browser as well as iOS and Android apps. There’s no need to create an account and it has a very simple design. Navigation is clear and straightforward, there are no flashy fonts and the color scheme makes it easy to read.

Screenshots from Brew Notice

Functionality: Brew Notice functions wonderfully. You can get from point A to point B. The app does what it says it will do.

Reliability: Clicking on something takes you where it should go. I never once found a button that didn’t work properly.

Usability: The site is incredibly user friendly. Everything is labeled and clearly defined.

Proficiency: Unlike some taplist sites, BrewNotice automically updates every fifteen minutes, so you’re not relying on manual inputting of new information.

Creativity: Brew Notice creative compared to it’s competition, but sometimes you don’t need to expand on the product to provide a good product.

DIGITAL POUR MOBILE

Digital Pour is a draft inventory management and digital menu company based out of Portland, OR that provides their services to bars and restaurants all over the world. If you’ve ever been to a bar and seen flat screen TVs with prominently displayed taplists, you’ve probably seen Digital Pour. Alongside their services for businesses, Digital Pour has a mobile app (iOS and Android) for customers to see what’s available near them. There is no account creation required to use Digital Pour and you’re able to search based on location and by specific beer. Digital Pour uses a simple black and gray background with white and orange text based on a simple grid design which is easily seen on a mobile device. The buttons are clearly defined and labeled. Additional information such as % of the keg remaining for a specific beer, as well as ABV and IBU are provided for beers. The venue manager can also include pricing for individual beers. The downside of Digital Pour is that is limited to only venues that pay for the service, unlike Brew Notice which uses open source internet data.

Screenshots from Digital Pour Mobile

Functionality: Digital Pour Mobile functions well. It’s designed to let you look at taplists at various locations and that’s exactly what it does.

Reliability: I’ve gone through Digital Pour hundreds of times and I’ve never encountered a button that didn’t do what it said it would do. Links go where they’re supposed to.

Usability: The app is well designed and easy to learn for the end user.

Proficiency: Digital Pour adds percentage left in the kegs. Instead of just knowing that a beer you want is on tap, you know how much is left and whether you should hurry over or not.

Creativity: I don’t see Digital Pour expanding on the basic product itself.

BARLY

Barly is another taplist app (iOS and Android, no desktop) that retrieves open source data from websites. It uses a uniform black and white color scheme that takes advantage of accent colors on pages to draw the users attention. The layout and is structured well and placed upon a simple grid for easy navigation. Things that Barly offers that the competition doesn’t include estimated calories in each beer and potential food pairings. Barly also separates itself from the other taplist apps by allowing the user to take a picture of their beer menu and it will gives you information about the beers, including user ratings, ABV, IBUs and tasting notes. Barly also lets users find beers they like based on different flavor profiles such as hoppy, fruity, dark and sour. One downside I see to Barly is that I found mispelled and/or fake locations with out of date taplists.

Functionality: Barly meets the basic needs of design.

Reliability: The app is stable. The buttons always do what they’re supposed to.

Usability: The functions within the app are easily understood and learnable.

Proficiency: The app’s palate and snap options are unique in the taplist app field.

Creativity: Aside from the proficiency additions, Barly isn’t expanding upon the other apps.

The Bad

SEATTLE BEER WEEK

Seattle Beer Week is an annual event here in the Seattle region celebrating all things craft beer. We just finished our ninth year of this 12 day party and with it came the official app to help you navigate your way around different venues and events. I downloaded this app shortly before Seattle Beer Week began and was amazed by it’s lack of finish. The app functions, there are strange font choices and image placement. There isn’t a cohesive design throughout the app, some pages seem much more finished than others. Every single link takes you out of the app and opens up the SBW website in your browser, which is actually much easier to use on a phone.

Seattle Beer Week app screenshots.

Functonality: The SBW app meets basic functionality needs. It works. Inconsistent design aesthetic.

Realiability: The buttons work, but there is a lack of navigation bar in half of the site.

Usability: You can learn to use the site, but it’s not truly optimized for mobile as the browser version works better.

Proficiency: The SBW app doesn’t expand on functionality.

Creativity: The SBW app isn’t expanding on beer app products.

And now the Ugly.

BUTTERNUTS BREWERY

Years ago a friend of mine sent me a link to the website for Butternuts Brewery out of Garattsville, NY. When I saw this project assignment I rushed over to see if this site still existed as I remembered it. And luck would have it. It hasn’t changed at all.

This Flash website contains a wildly animated barnyard with Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” playing in the background. Fortunately you can turn off the music. Upon scrolling around the site I had no idea what anything did. I wasn’t even sure what was a button and what wasn’t. The barn doors open and cows and pigs and a hop cone alien pop out, but I still didn’t know what they were for until clicking on them and getting product information. Mousing over the outhouse the door opens with no indication of where it takes you. Clicking on it, you’re taken you to a list of bars that carry their beer. The one thing on the site that is easily identifiable is the “News” blimp, but clicking on it does not actually provide you with any news. The top of the grain silo is a button that my mouse cursor identified once, but I was never able to get it to load anything.

Functionality: Once you know what they do through trail and error, clicking on the buttons takes you to information.

Reliability: The buttons do not consistently work. I was never able to get the grain silo to ever do anything even though my computer thought it was a button once.

Usability: This site does not initially pass this test, but after some trial and error you can figure it out.

Proficiency: There’s nothing new here that expands upon what existed previously.

Creativity: Utilizing Flash doesn’t appear to let people interact in an innovative way.

CONCLUSION

Just like any area of interest, there is good simple design in beer and then there are questionable choices. Some are frustrating and head scratching while others are baffling and entertaining.

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