Exploring a social network in a mobile first experience. Deco is an idea to make a space for architects to post their work and win big.
Note: This project is currently in staged phase. A lot of the screens and images shown here may have changed over time. The project case study is a retrospective view of the entire app development journey in its first few weeks.
A snapshot of Deco App.
Material Depot as an app does really well when it comes to be a design assistant while doing renders and other architectural material discovery tasks. However, where it really is limited when it comes to being an app that retains visitors for longer session times. This was showing in our user retention metrics in amplitude - despite countless re-engagement efforts. The retention optimization is a part of the product discovery and is ongoing, but part of the hunch also says, material discovery may be as utility fit like google where we barely spend time and move on to things that require real work and not search.
What it led to: A team in the company was tasked to look at the other side of the story where we reverse engineer architects from an engagement angle. A place where they can share, discover works - while leaving threads for original Material Depot to integrate in future.
Not a website this time (Behance, Archdaily, Coroflot) - An app that can re-engage (Kolo, Playhouse, etc.)
The idea of Deco App
How project came to existence
There are very few places where we can discover exclusively NEW designs by budding designers. Most of these projects we find currently are on official websites but as the world moves faster, the content platforms have evolved quite a bit lately. Example: How Instagram used to be a platform to post pictures, now we predominantly enjoy reels on it.
It’s where the idea of Deco began. We envisioned deco as an app where designers can discover, share and get inspired by other designers right through their phones.
It's a pilot hence it's imperative to keep the design/dev timelines short and use frameworks that are already working in the market.
The project started in July 2022 beginning with brain storming sessions going for 1 week, finally the development began mid-July and the app was ready to ship by August first week. This product was developed along the active pipelines of Material Depot 2.0 and Vendor App.
1 Design & Product Lead (Me), 1 Visual Designer (Megha), 3 x 3D Artist Interns (Prachi, Astha, Saravana), 1 Content Writer (Ananya), 1 Backend Developer (Yogendra) & 1 Frontend Developer (Pratham).
1. Familiarity as a driver: Figure out base level wireframes of app interface based on familiar social media apps users are used to like Instagram.
2. Ready to evolve: Create interfaces that are fast to deploy and have very little design load.
3. Figure out a hook: Create a hook (financial or utility) that differentiates the app while keeping the losses low in-case the app fails.
4. Market and brand the app to get its first mile: By definining its market position - through all the potential techniques from playstore, landing pages, SEO, paid marketing, newsletters and organic traffic.
Target user group
The primary audience is architects & designers in the first run of the app. These are mostly architects, interior designers and any designer who work in 3D space (like product, industrial, furniture designers, etc.). They already have pre-made content in their portfolios. The idea is to bring these out through various app actions.
The first competition I hosted on Material Depot 1.0 - A foundation for Deco.
Deco App was based on a palette competition we ran on Material Depot a few months ago. The idea is to make a social media application for designers to share their works on the move.
Project outline allowed using financial incentive to drive action in the first mile and perfect the app experience on the move.
Brainstorming and research
Our research went out to several existing content platforms starting from Behance, Coroflot, Dribbble as these are the go-to avenues for designers to post their content. The problem however was the kind of reach these platforms have, they dominate desktop design discovery space - and Material Depot was already on a similar way.
We also looked at Dream11, My11, MPL and similar apps that put competition and money together in a very persuasive format. Although this was farther side of the spectrum but still was interesting enough of how consumers in India are hooked to such experiences.
The last segment of research was done via apps like Kolo and Playhouse, that bring architecture design in a short video format that is quite refreshing. This tiktok-ification of a real-estate search portal (Playhouse) and a construction directory (Kolo) made an interesting case when transactional usage of search engines were converted to a more engaging format.
These cases allowed us to create a mind-map on what possibilities the app can possibly demonstrate in future.
Kickstarting: Posting content requires having content - With my previous experience at UNI.xyz (Architecture Social Network), I was fully aware it's very hard to convince people to post portfolios without having plenty of existing content.
Plagiarism Anxiety: In the general architecture or any creative industry, while expanding reach by building an online presence is surely a welcome, generally are not very convincing when it comes to creating safe space for people to share their work without a purpose or a meaning behind it.
Deadend loops: While people posting content is one of the existing goals - without an active ecosystem and complex features like messaging built into the app, the loops will
And the last question is of-course is, do designers really need a social app? After building a social network based on competitions at UNI.xyz (my previous organization) dribbble and Behance are given market leaders. Even if we are somehow able to create a buzz around this like Clubhouse, will it thrive?
A shelved experiment as a guide: We built a dashboard for architecture design studios of India to share their professional works and manage their material libraries/teams through this portal in a closed space. The app was built after 1000+ user calls and understanding their needs - however, the firms had their own websites that competed with the value proposition and barely saw people posting their projects for their own organization. Also referrals turn out to be the biggest way firms score projects, hence an online presence for is fairly unimportant for them. If we have to create an online channel for designers, they'll have to be the early career kind.
There are plenty of apps today to post online content and in all honesty having another one with similar features may become an app again that no one wants to use. (Read - MyOrg experiment)
This time we went with the idea to make our mission public and see if users may be interested or not. To make this experiment more agile we decided to use no new methods of sharing content instead making the core differentiator to be the monetization scheme as no other platforms usually offer creators that at present except for Youtube.
We determined a prize will be the best way to induce a certain degree of monetization that's not as complex as Youtube to implement yet will give us similar results.
Experiment: Vibe Check
We ran an early access campaign just to see if people are interested in a space like this - and hence the first challenge was to see if the brand, messaging and the name which first require to be designed are even resonating with our target audience or not.
Also: I pressed we will not make any user calls for this particular experiment. Any communication (if needed) will be written only.
Lightning-fast branding and logo experiment for play store approvals.
As our audience was now shifted to early career architects, I parametrized a new way to launch ads. In my experience to create and run ads for Material Depot - there are 20 ways we explored on our way here, out of which we tried 5 different ad sets to understand more on how the demographic preferring us speaks.
We experimented with Avatar type, where we tried 3 variations of people visible in ads. Some ads that show more of a designer/architect lifestyle was the second kind. We also used prizes as a bait in 1 of those sets. This gave us insight in what can be possible hooks that can make acquiring users easier in future.
The test went on for 7 days where we spent about 500rs per day. The results looked like above.
Crafting the journey
We designed a user journey that put users right into the action. As the app is more of an experiment - the attempt is to keep journeys short in the interest of keeping development cycles small.
The central piece of the journey is the reward to post which will be seen in the leaderboard segment. There were other ways thought of monetizing like giving impressions/like based rewards - or - launching a direct full blown competition with a very huge reward. However the risks with those models are either huge development effort OR commitment to reward if the experiment fails.
The post part involved adding a 3D file to qualify for the leaderboard.
While creating journeys, we also wrote notification ideas that explore levels of users across the journey.
The Leaderboard + Mission
"Inviting designers from architecture, interior design, product, furniture design, etc. and other designers who deal in 3-Dimensional design objects. Other designers can also post on deco - however, we are currently inviting designers who are into any of these four streams. You don't require any educational qualifications to enter deco. "
The leaderboard working was simple, the more you get likes the higher you climb. The points can also be scored through referrals or daily logins or tasks like liking 5 posts or sharing 5 meaningful comments on 5 posts.
The average UAC for users like these from ad to posting costs about 112rs/user (Based on our further campaigns on similar lines) - and our target was to get about 5,000 users to post their content in the next 2 months. The ad budget was decided to split where 33% was decided to place on Facebook/Instagram and the remaining 67% was decided to spend on the leaderboard.
We scaled rewards from 10,000INR to 50,000INR to 1,00,000INR and so on... This helped us in two ways - first users understood that when I share this app the reward will increase and possibly other benefits like more reach, popularity - Quantitative gains.
Whereas, from a meaning standpoint it made sense that we invested this money in community instead of ad budget that goes to Facebook to share a sense of purpose in the app. And that resonated with the community.
As more people signup we aimed to reset and multiply rewards on leaderboard or place surprise bounties for specialized artwork or creative commissions from brands we were finding from Material Depot.
Here's how that entire imagination took shape in the app.
3 step onboarding that gives them an idea what kind of content exactly they'd find inside.
The upload process - Choose image, Crop, Finish post and attach model.
The competition leaderboard - Prefinal stage.
When a new user onboards on the app from the ad, they are not taught on what kind of content to post on Deco. The kind of content they find is a direct representative of what goes on in the app. To populate the first mile of the product, a series of 200 posts were conceived by 3 x 3D designers on the team who made these on contract.
Seed content pipeline which is still under construction.
The designers who will actually signup and post regularly will be much lesser than that figure as funnel narrows, however early access gives us a lot of promise on how the app will grow in future. The app is currently under testing phase and being onboarded with influential designers first with beta access. Once this phase is complete early access users will be invited to the app.