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[Herald Interview] Refining the design of Korea’s top delivery app

Woowa Brothers’ chief product officer talks Baemin’s interface, food curation and the new normal

Woowa Brothers CPO Yong Kim (The Korea Herald)
Woowa Brothers CPO Yong Kim (The Korea Herald)
Baedal Minjok, widely known as Baemin, has enjoyed a surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the use of delivery apps exploded, the volume of transactions on Baemin jumped 78.4 percent to 15.7 trillion won ($13.27 billion) last year. But as efforts to solidify its position continue, design continues to play a crucial role.

“One of the things we consider when we design the app is not to convey information in a dry way. What makes Baemin is the hidden wit and fun here and there,” says Chief Product Officer Yong Kim at Woowa Brothers, the firm behind the popular delivery app, in an interview with The Korea Herald and Herald Business. He oversees a wide range of Baemin’s operations, from technology services and administration tools to customers and restaurant owners.

“Choosing what to eat is an exciting experience -- looking at pictures and wondering how they would taste. And we always think of how to make the process more fun.”

Instead of only showing essential information such as prices and review scores, the app randomly suggests a dish while users refresh the page.

In the brief moment before a new page appears, dishes such as fried chicken or pizza pop up as a way to amp up the fun.

Photos also play a major role in conveying a vivid image of the food to users. And for its fast-delivery service -- Baemin One, introduced earlier this year -- all photos are taken by the company’s staff, Kim explained.

As the pandemic ushered in the “new normal” era, the app has also sought to diversify the services it provides, including B-Mart.

“If you look at the latest design of the app, you can see various services in the form of tiles alongside food categories.

“We have a new direction, which is to be a food super app. In the new normal, we will continue to create opportunities for users to enjoy food more conveniently through deliveries and look at ways to incorporate new ideas without losing familiarity.”

The fundamentals, however, have not changed.

“Even the earlier versions had categories such as Chinese or pizza when you opened the app. It still does today except that there are more categories and variety,” he said.

With a significant number of users already knowing what they want as they open the app, Baemin decided to prioritize helping customers find what they want instead of adding advertisements that might cause inconvenience.

“If you want to eat pizza, you should be able to quickly pick the best and closest place on Baemin and we found that the most important job,” Kim said.

While the app now reigns supreme in the industry, it had humble beginnings. In its early stages, local restaurant leaflets were collected by staff, which were then scanned to build a database.

Over the years, these efforts have drastically changed the way we order food.

“About 10 years ago, before we had Baemin, people had to rely on the stickers or leaflets on their doors, look at their menu and price and had to take a bet. It was a repeat of such experience, so we thought why not collect all this information?”

With a bank of information came a new challenge -- helping people navigate through the database with food curation.

Recommending food based on algorithms, however, has proven tricky.

“Someone might like something spicy, someone might like something hearty. Just because someone liked a dish, that does not necessarily mean I would like it. If you had chicken yesterday, it would be strange to recommend chicken again the next day.”

Despite the flaws, the number of users ordering based on curated information is growing along with those who use search features, Kim said, with much of what is being shown on the screen now partly reflecting user patterns, preferences and locations.

“As many people now deliver food and our experience as an app has increased, more people are opening the app and start thinking of what to order. To provide hints or curation to them appears to help them make decisions.

“With hundreds of restaurants to choose from, we think to recommend what to eat in an effective way will be more important going forward,” he said.

Kim is set to speak at this year’s Herald Design Forum on Oct. 14 in Seoul.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)
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