Foodie Tuesday: Share Your Recipes with Nonapkin

A month ago I announced Cookbooth, the app for creating step-by-step photo recipes, was going to revolutionize recipe sharing. You may remember that I was excited — actually head over heels gaga for this little app. You see, I had become jaded, and nothing in the App Store was doing it for me. The iPhone app market seemed stagnant; lacking innovation. Now I realize it was just the calm before the storm.

As Yoda said to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, “There is another.” Nonapkin, released in September on the heels of Cookbooth, is another social app for creating step-by-step photo recipes. Now I believe we’re looking at a new trend. Developers have jumped on the next big leap for recipe apps, and I think we’ll be seeing more players in this arena going into 2014. As with any new platform, the cream rises to the top. In time, we will see which apps offer the best user experience, functionality and social interaction.

After my glowing review of Cookbooth, Nonapkin has a lot to live up to. How does this app measure up to the current standard? Keep reading to find out.

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Getting Started

Nonapkin was built by a handful of creatives and designers who happen to work for LEGO, so I had high expectations for a fun and beautifully designed app experience. The greeting screen makes a fantastic first impression with a fresh, whimsical, fun piece of chalkboard art introducing the app. At the risk of sounding like a snobby foodie, I do disagree with their motto, “Nonapkin Everyone is a Chef.” Everyone is not a chef. Chefs are chefs.

The app kicks off with attractive, modern design that’s fun and inviting. The home screen is an updating feed of recipes represented by photo tiles.

The app kicks off with attractive, modern design that’s fun and inviting. The home screen is an updating feed of recipes represented by photo tiles.

The problem with calling all users chefs is that any user can casually post a “recipe” and the instructions may not have all the info needed to make the dish, quantities might not be exact and methods mentioned without an explanation. In my mind, the title of chef belongs to those who’ve earned it. Maybe Nonapkin caught me on a bad day, but we definitely got off on the wrong foot.

I’m not entirely sure about the branding for Nonapkin, who says their app is for chefs, chefs, chefs! (but everyone else is welcome too).

I’m not entirely sure about the branding for Nonapkin, who says their app is for chefs, chefs, chefs! (but everyone else is welcome too).

The Home screen is an updating feed of photo tiles representing dishes uploaded by users. Nonapkin describes itself as “Beautiful step-by-step photo recipes at your fingertips!” But I was a bit disappointed because the images are definitely not beautiful. As I scrolled down the screen I gazed at blurry plates of food cast strange yellow or blue hues and I realized the images had not been edited. It’s a shame to build a beautiful app only to have it defaced by ugly photos.

One thing is painfully evident as you scroll down the Home screen: the user- uploaded photos are unedited, and it’s not pretty.

One thing is painfully evident as you scroll down the Home screen: the user- uploaded photos are unedited, and it’s not pretty.

Sharing step-by-step recipes is all about the visual, so it’s imperative that users have all the tools they need to create attractive images. This issue also brought my attention to the app’s design, and I realized the importance of smart design in maintaining the integrity of a space that’s not entirely under the control of the app designer. I don’t think the crowded photo tiles help the situation and now I realize that white space is probably your friend when grouping a bunch of dissimilar photos together. It’s tough to cram an app into the iPhone screen, but a bit more white space might give users room to breathe.

The Nonapkin Community of Foodies

Nonapkin is the self-proclaimed, “cookbook for the social generation,” and the designers want to enable users to upload recipes, preserving those from the past generations and imagining new ones for the future. I decided to take a look around and see what the Nonapkin community was up to. The app is in its infancy so the community of users is small, but over time it will grow and become more active.

Roberta is a co-founder of Nonapkin actively engaging in the app, sharing her own recipes and photos.

Roberta is a co-founder of Nonapkin actively engaging in the app, sharing her own recipes and photos.

I noticed the app creators seem to be adding recipes and engaging with the community, which is great. I found mostly simple dishes like curries, stews, soups, salads, stir-fries and roast meats or fish. It’s nice to see a variety of cuisines: Asian, Indian, French, Mexican, Italian, etc. The quality of the recipes varies from a dash of this and that to proper instructions and cooking tips.

Roberta sets a great example with her recipes, which are simple and straightforward while still providing plenty of instructions and tips.

Roberta sets a great example with her recipes, which are simple and straightforward while still providing plenty of instructions and tips.

The unedited photos send a message: Nonapkin wants users to use the app as they cook, quickly photographing recipes and uploading the dishes. It’s reality, not some dressed up version. The problem is we have all been trained to expect a more beautiful, enhanced version of reality, so the photos look sad and dull. I guess the app creators are expecting users to edit their photos with another app, but the competition apps are functioning as a one-stop shop, offering photo editing and recipe sharing.

Sharing Your Recipes

After browsing the recipe feed I decided to try and upload one myself. Nonapkin is very encouraging of this, with the bright blue Create A Recipe button cheerfully beckoning at all times. It’s funny — Cookbooth excels in the visual, with photo editing functionality and artistic display, but Nonapkin has clearly put the work into the recipe-formatting piece of the puzzle.

The process of creating a recipe begins with entering the dish title and choosing tags. The design is what you would expect from LEGO designers: functional and fun.

The process of creating a recipe begins with entering the dish title and choosing tags. The design is what you would expect from LEGO designers: functional and fun.

Unlike Cookbooth’s freeform text (that is a little too free), Nonapkin breaks the recipe into pieces and requires guides users fill in the blank-style. First, I entered the name of my recipe and selected a few tags from the menu. Then I was presented with a sort of recipe card to work through: List Ingredients, Add Photo, Add Text. It’s intuitive, simple and beautifully designed.

The app provides a great structure for adding ingredients and steps, which should help standardize recipes if users have the patience for it.

The app provides a great structure for adding ingredients and steps, which should help standardize recipes if users have the patience for it.

Once I got to List Ingredients, it took me a minute to understand how to enter items, but I quickly got the hang of it. The app allows users to tap QTY or “Enter Ingredient h” (what does that mean?), but it would be nice if the app started users off in the first box. I accidentally typed ingredients and quantities (1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes) for several items before I realize the QTY was actually a box I could use to enter info.

It’s fun to watch your recipe come together as you fill in the puzzle, adding steps and photos.

It’s fun to watch your recipe come together as you fill in the puzzle, adding steps and photos.

After listing my ingredients and returning to the recipe card screen, the app gave no visual confirmation that the ingredients had been saved. I continued to fill out the recipe, uploading photos and typing in text for the cooking steps. As I suspected, photos are simply imported with no option for editing. Users really do need the option to at least rotate images. I think filters and editing functions are essential.

Just when I was ready to upload my recipe, the app required I sign in with Facebook to proceed. I don’t have a personal Facebook account, so I can’t upload recipes on Nonapkin.

Just when I was ready to upload my recipe, the app required I sign in with Facebook to proceed. I don’t have a personal Facebook account, so I can’t upload recipes on Nonapkin.

The app only allows a limited amount of text for the recipe steps, but it would be nice to know this before I had typed almost all the instructions into the box. When I was finally ready to upload my recipe, Nonapkin greeted me with the dreaded Facebook icon. I would have to sign in to Facebook to proceed, but I don’t have a personal Facebook account, so I can’t sign in to Nonapkin.

This is a huge mistake and will lead to a backlash from users. I have seen it before with other apps that ended up apologizing to users and offer other ways to sign in. I didn’t appreciate Nonapkin waiting until I had spent all that time entering a recipe to reject me as a user.

Conclusion

Nonapkin is the latest arrival in a new wave of cooking apps dedicated to helping users share recipes with step-by-step photos. It has the practical down pat, with fill in the blank recipe formatting but lacks the creative. I really don’t know how the app will come out on top when competitors are offering in app photo editing.

A picture speaks a thousand words and no matter how good the structure is users want the visuals. The team behind Nonapkin is smart, dedicated and engaged, so I’m hopeful the app will improve over the next few months. At this moment, though, it’s just not number 1.


Summary

Nonapkin is a social cookbook where users create recipes with step-by-step photos.

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