Reflection Point: Yelp
Most people love trying out new places to eat and experimenting with different cuisines. However, if you’ve ever gotten food poisoning from the new seafood place right before an important event, then you (like me) would be wary of trying a new eatery without reading any reviews first. My go-to for reliable restaurant reviews has always been Yelp.
Yelp is a website (and app) that rates businesses based on their user reviews and ratings to help you choose an eatery close to you. The information page includes how far the place is from you, hours of operation, menu with pricing, and pictures of the specialties available. This enables foodies, like myself, to quickly locate a great restaurant at a price that I can afford. Most people also use Yelp when they are hosting an event so that they can conveniently plan a party without visiting multiple venues.
After reading authentic customer reviews, most users feel as though they already know a lot about the place, even if they have never been there before! I think Yelp has managed to draw in such a large audience because of how rigorously it follows Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for Usability Design.
Yelp.com’s interface is well-designed and easy to use. The landing page especially stands out in its simplicity, and the user is automatically drawn to a prominent search bar in the middle of the page. After the user kicks off a search, the results page lists all the businesses matching the user’s criteria and ranks them based on their ratings.
Yelp’s design heavily relies on traditional UI elements and iconography to drive user behavior:
- Clicking on the search bar opens up a drop-down with the most-searched business categories
- Clicking the red “search” button kicks off the search
- Interactive map: Clicking ‘+’ and ‘-’ buttons zooms in/out of the map; hovering on the location pin gives details of the business
- Clicking on the “star” icon rates a business
- Clicking on a photo tile opens up a full photo
- Primary buttons are red (aligned with the theme), and secondary buttons are white
For first time users, Yelp is very intuitive, and this enables your experience to be consistent throughout the website. The distinctive yelp logo and the red theme stays with the user even after leaving the website. All the information (including text, photos, and navigation) is organized neatly and has a nice flow to it.
I particularly like how the screen is divided into 3 sections on the results page:
- A permanent top navigation bar
- A list of businesses on the left side
- A map (with pinned locations) on the right side
Similarly, the business review page keeps the same consistent layout, with user reviews on the left side and key business information (like website, phone, and directions) on the right side.
Yelp’s mobile app has limitations for visually impaired users, and the great accessibility experience doesn’t translate from the website to the app. Some sections have too much information crammed in a small area, and the text size is too small (this app doesn’t inherit the native text size of users’ devices, unlike WhatsApp and Instagram). According to the World Health Organization, 4% of the global population (one in every 25 people) have some form of visual impairment. Yelp needs to review some of the design choices it has made for the app design to make it more inclusive for all users.
Ethics and Dark Patterns
It’s a restaurant-rating app, how dark can it get? Though Yelp’s intentions are genuine and the application is mostly transparent with its user base, it still follows a revenue-generating model. Some things that are noticeable to me about Yelp’s dark tendencies:
- Sponsored results listed at the top of the results page look and feel like organic results.
- Yelp uses an algorithm to remove false reviews or reviews that seem too good to be true. However, algorithms aren’t perfect, and this one has been known to remove authentic, positive reviews left by real customers.
- Troll-like behavior has become common on the platform. Disgruntled employees and competitors are frequently seen leaving bad reviews to bring down a business’s reputation. This is especially a challenge for smaller businesses as Yelp rarely allows them to remove these reviews.
- Controversies have also surfaced that Yelp allegedly promoted businesses that signed up with them and was deliberately burying listings that refused to do the same. This had a huge impact on smaller companies, and some even had to close down due to loss of customers.
Overall, I think Yelp has been a great app, and I have thoroughly enjoyed discovering new restaurants and cuisines using the application. I believe it offers significant value to its users. However, the company needs to address the shortcoming in its design and business practices to truly make it an excellent experience for its users and community at large.