Ask a band their genre, and they’ll say there’s no way to truly define their style. Ask an app developer to categorize their app, well, you’re probably Apple or Google.
One of the steps to submitting your app to either store is to assign a category to it. Unless your app involves riding a dirt bike or building epic civilizations, this task is harder than it sounds. Lifestyle apps, in particular, are some of the hardest to categorize.
Apple defines it as an app “relating to a general-interest subject matter or service” (vague much?). We like to think of it a bit differently.
People’s lifestyles are as unique as their fingerprints. Lifestyle apps are those that complement this style, whether it’s clothing, artwork or interior design. By looking at some of the top Lifestyle apps, we get a better idea of what they mean.
Other than the fact that we find these in the “Lifestyle” section of the App Store, these apps revolve around personalizing the experience around the user’s lifestyle. They rely heavily on their users to create profiles (that’s when the magic happens). The apps use this information to curate its content or products towards the user’s interests.
For this blog, we chose three apps that seemed to really capture the essence and definition of Lifestyle apps: Wish, Vango and Houzz.
Let’s be clear. Some people love shopping. I’m not, and never have been one of those people. Just thinking about trying clothes on in a department store gives me the heebie jeebies. I’d rather sit at home and memorize the first thousand digits of pi. But alas, it is one of the necessary evils of being a person.
I saw the Wish app while scrolling through the Lifestyle category. “Shopping Made Fun,” they said. It brought me back to third grade when my Phonics teacher claimed her lessons would be fun. No, Miss Cleary. Not fun. Not fun at all.
Regardless, I decided to give Wish another look and realized that it may take some of the heebie jeebies out of my shopping experience. Here’s how they fared:
Wish is an eCommerce app that aims to make shopping smarter and more rewarding for the user. It uses algorithms that adapt to a user’s tastes to deliver more relevant products in a visual format, similar to Pinterest. This was a selling point for downloading the app, but I was left wanting more. While the visualization of the products was nice, I still felt like I was just browsing random products. It didn’t quite have that Pinterest feel.
They made their expectations clear right from the start. The user gives them the types of products they like to shop for, and Wish curates a giant list of products the user will love. This was accomplished through a Tinder-like right or left swipe, depending on whether the user liked or disliked the shown category.
Sign-up Process: A+
The sign-up process started immediately, which is crucial for getting the most out of user profile information. Users can sign up through Facebook, Google+ or email. Right on, Wish.
App Navigation: B-
The side navigation was really clean, and made it easy to jump from screen to screen. But I discovered perhaps one of the most annoying quirks I found in any of the apps: When the user gets deep within different pages in the app, the back button doesn’t take you back to the previous screen, it takes you back to the home screen. This makes it hard to remember when I even was before I clicked the back button.
Overall, the design was average. The color pallette was pleasing, but I would’ve traded that in for a cleaner interface and product pages that are less busy. When the user opens a product, the buy button is easy to find. I loved how it’s contained in the header, but for conversion’s sake, it should float when the user scrolls. I also found the shopping cart icon on the homepage hard to find. It would stick out more in the top-right corner.
The ability to create different lists within the app is one of its best features. The notification center allows you to fully customize which type of push messages you want to receive by blocking the categories you're not interested in. I think they could framed it in a more positive light by asking which notifications they'd no longer like to opt in for, but it's not a big deal.
Wish is the only app of the bunch to receive a 5/5 on sociability. The concept is simple. Share any product with three friends (via Facebook or Google+) and receive a discounted price on it. Your friends don’t even have to buy it. Now that's a bargain.
Other than a few exclamation points here or there, nothing really convinced me that an actual person wrote the messaging within the app. I never got the feeling that they spent time crafting unique or creative copy.
Fun Fact: Wish was launched by former Google, Yahoo and Facebook employees Peter Szulczewski and Danny Zhang (TechCrunch.com).
Overall, Wish did take some of the anxiety out of shopping. It didn’t quite score an A because I never got a true sense that my shopping was that much smarter or more rewarding than it would've been on another mCommerce app.
I heard a story about a year ago of an artist selling his pieces on Instagram for $50 - $200 a pop. Sure, it’s a great success story, but I wouldn’t count on it to bring home the bacon. While there’s a huge user base, it’s not built to sell products (unless of course, you sell sheep). Vango is built to sell products. Pieces of art from independent artists, to be specific. Let’s get into the details:
Vango aims to introduce their users to original art from independent artists. Users can take a photo of their living space and see exactly how the art will look on their wall. It was neat to virtually see a new piece of art on my wall, and certainly a big selling point. Unfortunately, the app crashed more than half the time when using this feature. Great idea, not so great on the execution.
Vango starts off with a bang. They go into just the right amount of detail about how the app works and how it benefits the user. They made it clear that as artists sell more and more art, they unlock higher price points. This builds credibility in the buyer, and encourages the artist to continue producing.
Once they get that across, they ask the user to opt in to push messages. They would've earned a few extra points if they had explained what type of content users would receive within those notifications.
Sign-up Process: B
They do make this process quick and simple. However, there’s no option for an email sign-up, which for some users is a deal-breaker.
App Navigation: D
This was one of the biggest drawbacks in the app. There was no side or top navigation, just one long scroll on the homepage. If I wanted to browse art by price, I’d have to scroll to the bottom of the homepage, rather than pull up a navigation where it’s easily accessible without a mass of pictures to disrupt the experience.
The constant additions of new paintings lend themselves to a nice array of different colors every time the user visits the app. They also make it pretty easy to scroll through the different pieces of art within each category.
However, the design fell short. It plays a big role in the poor navigation in the app. Yes, it looks pretty, but design isn’t just about aesthetics, it’s also about overall user experience. I found it overwhelming trying to figure out where I should even start browsing.
There are very few options for customizing the experience with Vango. The one that sticks out is “My Recommendations.” They claim that it helps the user find art that looks great with the colors in their space. But they never explain how it works. Do I take a picture and then they use a backend algorithm to find art that would work there? Or do they just recommend art based on my history and then I have to decide whether or not it works with my colors? The former would be much more enticing. But I have a feeling it’s up to the user to just manually figure out what works and what doesn’t. Confusing, I know. Again, great idea, just not executed well.
Can you share using the app? Yes. But they could’ve gone above and beyond here. Art is incredibly visual, and social media eats that up. Imagine trying to pick out a piece of art and getting the input of a few friends, or an entire social community. Vango already lets you virtually hang the art on your wall, why not make it shareable? They do have the default iPhone share button, but they could’ve run away with this one if they had baked it into the app with some cool functionality.
Ok, Vango. You had me at hello. Instead of the typical loading screen while opening the app, they were “unpacking mason jars” or “filling up balloons.” This is one of the few categories they excelled in throughout the experience.
Fun Fact: Vango artists get 80% of the commission on each piece, compared to the typical 50% at most galleries (DailyCal.org).
The idea is brilliant. Vango found a way to bring independent art to a community that is constantly on the move. They bring the local art exhibit to a place where users can easily access it: their smartphone. Unfortunately, they failed to execute on some key features in the app. Hopefully they can work on these issues and turn it into something special. We'll be keeping an eye on them.
When I was young I wanted to be an interior designer. You should see my apartment now. A couple fake pumpkins and some fall scented hand soap and my apartment has become the envy of budding Martha Stewarts across the nation.
Jokes aside, I do love some good feng shui. Houzz gives you the opportunity to discover your inner feng through browsing different styles and ideas. But this app really shines because it bridges the gap between an imaginary room in cyberspace and an actual room in your house. They show you how to make it a reality.
Houzz executed their idea to a T. One of my absolute favorite features is the “Advice” section. Users take a picture of any room in their house and get constructive feedback about steps they could take to bring that room to the next level. And it’s not just some forgotten about feature buried deep within the app; people actually use it! One user received 45 comments about designing her “peaceful woman cave.”
From the start, they made it clear exactly what the purpose of the app was: Get inspired, see products and find local pros. But it didn’t go into any detail about how to take advantage of these features within the app. It would’ve been nice to see some in-app messages throughout the first few screens to explain how to use it.
Sign-up Process: A+
This was one of the easiest sign-up processes out of the three apps. They allow the user to do a simple sign-in with Facebook or to use their email. You’d be surprised how many apps only allow social media sign-in, which I personally try to keep to a minimum.
Houzz’s navigation is incredibly clean and easy to use. With only seven screens in the side nav bar, you’d think they’re lacking a few options. But after spending time in the app I realized it’s all they really need. In this case, less is more.
Houzz is like the Pinterest of interior design. The design ideas are all in picture-form with an automatic scroll. Users can stop it to pick and choose those they love. Then they save these ideas to their ideabooks, where they can revisit at any point from the side navigation. When it’s time to get the ball rolling, they can browse a list of local pros that can help them turn it into reality.
I love the homepage scroll with full-screen, high-resolution photos of beautifully decorated rooms. You can customize the automatic slideshow speed, but it was hard to find where to do this. It’s one of the few drawbacks of Houzz’s design. If you like more of a grid-style, you can browse the “Photos” section where it’s easier to view more rooms at one time.
Houzz has one of the most customizable apps I’ve seen. Go to “Your Houzz” in the nav bar and you can tailor and fine-tune your experience. From slideshow speed, to the content of your ideabooks to your favorite room types or styles. They have it all.
Houzz really could’ve benefitted from some social media CTA’s. If we’ve learned anything from Pinterest, we know that feng shui is viral. Like Vango, they include the default share button. But iPhone users are so used to seeing this that it disappears into the background. And if the user did find the button, they wouldn’t be able to share on Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, only Twitter.
If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought Houzz hired Ben Stein to write the copy. There’s so much potential for some quippy in-app messages and creative product info to keep the user headed down that conversion funnel. But no, they had to “Ben Stein” it.
Fun fact: Looking to decorate a kid’s room? Houzz has an app for that with an average rating of 4.5 stars from 32 reviews.
Out of the three lifestyle apps we graded, this was the most dynamic and well-executed of them all. It's an excellent idea, and the function and design backs it up. They found a way to turn what can be an intimidating interior design process into a reality that's accessible for people of all skill levels.
We've entered a mobile age where generic, one-size-fits-all app experiences just aren't cutting it anymore. App developers and marketers are shifting their focus to personalize and optimize for the user. Lifestyle apps, in particular, are driving the charge. They're no longer just a source of information and ideas, they've become an extension of the user that complements their lifestyle.
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