The less engaging app

4 min read
fix me

Photo by fakurian on Unsplash

In the world of digital product design, the prevailing wisdom often revolves around creating more user engagement. It's a common goal: the longer users stay, the more they engage, and the more valuable they become. But what if I told you about a time when I, along with a group of friends, took an unconventional path? We set out to build what we called "the less engaging app."

As a product, our journey began in 2018 after a rather frustrating night at a local bar. The issue? Nobody took our orders for what felt like an eternity. It was during this exasperating experience that a spark of an idea came to us: why not create an application that empowers users to serve themselves in such establishments? in some sort of self-service way.

We did understand the value that waitresses bring to the service, but for this particular scenario where we knew what we wanted, in technical terms felt like an extra layer of complexity and friction.

Side note before I continue is that driven by mental health concerns, I made the difficult decision to step out of the project and focus on my full-time job. Juggling two roles had taken its toll, and I was fortunate enough to sustain myself with just one.

A Valuable Detour

Yet, my time at ServiteOnline, a SaaS product business, proved to be invaluable. It was here that I wore multiple hats and gained insights into various aspects of product development. Throughout this journey, one term stood out — engagement. As both a developer and a product manager, I encountered this concept frequently: how to measure it, how to optimize it, and how to keep users hooked.

In the realm of user engagement, the traditional approach has long been centered around metrics like the Monthly Active User (MAU) rate. This rate is straightforward to track. For each customer cohort you want to calculate the user engagement for, simply divide the number of active users in a given time period by the number of total users. In other words, the traditional goal is to keep users actively using the platform for as long as possible, often with an emphasis on increasing screen time, clicks, and interactions. Success is often measured by high user activity, frequent visits, and prolonged sessions.

But on the road of redefining engagement here's where our story takes an unconventional twist. We decided to redefine engagement. Not as an endless pursuit of keeping users glued to our platform, but as a means to offer the most efficient experience possible—so efficient that users could swiftly complete their tasks and move on. For our redefinition, success is measured by how smoothly users can complete their tasks or achieve their objectives, prioritizing simplicity, speed, and user satisfaction.

Our History

Our mission was clear: to digitize and streamline businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector. Imagine dining at a restaurant, relishing moments with loved ones. In such scenarios, less time spent on your phone is a win.

How many times have you struggled with complex menus or unstructured PDFs when dining out? Our goal was to simplify this process. We aimed to offer a seamless, self-service experience, from scanning a QR code to placing an order, all with minimal digital distractions.

While others sought to enhance user engagement, we took a different approach. We measured success by tracking the completion of successful transactions focusing on the time, from entering the website to finalizing the purchase. This metric perfectly aligned with our vision of an expedited and streamlined experience.

To eliminate lengthy registration processes, we opted for simplicity. Our user journey was designed to be swift, intuitive, and hassle-free. No registration is needed, and no app is to be downloaded. Just a a light PWA. We prioritized speed and ease of use over complexity and validation processes.

The Result and the lesson

The result? Positive feedback from our clients, who praised the simplicity of our app. We had achieved our goal: creating an app that minimized engagement in favor of user satisfaction and efficiency.

So, what's the lesson here? Sometimes, the path to success involves challenging conventional wisdom. While others strive to keep users engaged, we found success in empowering them to complete tasks as quickly as possible and return to their real-world experiences.

In closing, I don't intend to persuade anyone that our approach is a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, I share our story to illustrate that alternative paths exist for those willing to explore them. Leaving one's comfort zone is never easy, but it can lead to innovative and unconventional solutions that redefine the rules of user engagement.

Thanks for reading ❤️

Written by Manu

I am a product-driven JavaScript developer, passionate about sharing experiences in the IT world, from a human-centric perspective.

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