I am in an early stage of designing a food-related mobile app with a social component. I have two main options:

  1. Clean, simplistic approach with focusing on the food images as the main attraction. (users will have their images from existing social networks)
  2. Fun, colorful design with maybe a mascot and a Nintendo-style icons. (users will have their images as one of a preset character icons)

What are the PROs/CONs for each approach? And are there any studies out there showing if users lean more towards one or the other?

App Description: The app allows people to share photos of their meals, a user can follow another user and see the list of shared meals and order them for himself/herself.

Update I'm describing the user interface here not the general user experience. For example foursquare have one of the best gamification experience, yet they have a clean, simplistic design.


The main function of your app will be the sharing of food images with friends.

So the main part are the images. The main function is simple.
Because your app will have "only" (not negative!) a few functions, so the most important part will be the simplicity.
On the other hand, colorful apps are in trend (refer to the article #2).

First the PRO/CON.

Clean, simplistic approach, focus on images
+ Your applications main function is about images. So use the images as the main part of the application
+ To take advantage of the few functions you have, hold the application as simple as possible. Not many options, just the most important (like instagram)

colorful, fun, focus on avatars
+ colorful & fun. Exactly that should be your app. Colorful is a new trend for such fun apps like yours

  • I wouldn't have a focus on avatars. Make a focus on your images!

So I would use a mix of both. Use clean and big images, but a colorful UI.

  • These are very generic and arbitrary conclusions: clean = business; colorful = new trend. – DA01 Feb 21 '14 at 17:44
  • @DA01: The statement with the clean design is true. it isnt only busniess. I'll respell it. But what should be arbitrary on colorful = new trend? it IS a new trend. The most of the well designed and new apps are going to have more colors, while the most of the older apps aren't that colorful... – Michael Schmidt Feb 22 '14 at 13:34
  • Okay there is no respelling needed. I don't see any cons for a clean and simple design... – Michael Schmidt Feb 22 '14 at 13:37
  • There's no particular cons for clean and simple. As for new app = colorful, old apps = not colorful, I don't see that. We've always had colorful apps. And adding color for the sake of color isn't always a great UI decision. – DA01 Feb 22 '14 at 16:39

Both can work, if you use clean/realistic, things can be easier to make a relation to the end user, fun/game-like it's like the name says "fun" and maybe more engaging, but in both cases you need to define your audience maybe someone don't like too colorful or too clean, ask people what they like.


If the problem would be about designing a normal restaurant app, I would go with the clean, simplistic, more elegant approach.

But if you are talking about a mobile platform with a social approach then you should definitely go for the colorful/playful style, mainly because it is proven that "gamification" really works for mobile applications and brings a lot of advantages like involvement and addiction.

You should probably take it even further by adding social game elements and achievements. Even the most exquisite and serious people like their apps to be fun and engaging (of course, up to a certain level).

  • 1
    Game and gamification does not mean that everything has to be colorful or playful! See Dwarf Fortress for example. – A.L Feb 21 '14 at 13:33
  • I was talking about "colorful or playful" in a good way. And you can ask any good designer if that example is considered colorful & playful or has anything to do with the terms. – Ciprian Pălici Feb 21 '14 at 13:39
  • 1
    I agree that colorful or playful are nice to look. I just wanted to point that in my opinion the style has no impact on gamification. you should definitely go for the colorful/playful style, mainly because it is proven that "gamification" really works I think that style and gamification are completely uncorrelated, in other words adding gamification should not result in a different style for an app or website. – A.L Feb 21 '14 at 15:02
  • In your opinion :) – Ciprian Pălici Feb 21 '14 at 15:24
  • But note that gamifcation and 'badges' aren't the only way to make something fun and engaging. They may very well be appropriate in this case, but they can also get in the way. It all depends on the users you are going after. – DA01 Feb 21 '14 at 17:47

It depends entirely on your business objectives and the target demographic.

The pros and cons of a particular aesthetic will vary wildly based on the above.

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