people reading

By making small design and workflow tweaks to improve content discoverability, Goodreads can better support users in finding their next great read in a more targeted way.

Scope: 1 week
Methods: UX research, UX design
Role: Solo project. Conducted user research, created wireframes.
Tools: Sketch, Photoshop, Optimal Workshop Card Sorting, Marvel

Goodreads, a mobile and web app owned by Amazon, enables users to discover new books, read and write reviews, and share books with friends. In other words, it’s Yelp for bibliophiles. 

With the app’s key functionalities, a user can

  • Find books she has already read, add them to her Read shelf, and rate/review the book

  • Find books she’s reading, add them to her Currently Reading shelf, and update her progress

  • Browse for books that seem interesting and add them to her Want to Read shelf

I give two thumbs up to Goodreads for earning a rating of 5 stars in the App Store, but I firmly believe that there is always room for improvement. The nature of design is that it is never done, right? So, I decided to conduct a little “guerrilla user testing” to explore this 5-star app to reveal how it could be even better.

The Challenge

To quickly discover ways to improve the Goodreads iOS app user experience, I tasked myself with

  • Finding pain points around two primary functions of the iOS app:

    • Adding a book a user has already read to their catalog

    • Browsing for a new book in a specific genre

    Because this was a self-directed pet project with a one-week time constraint, I chose the two features I use most often and that I thought first-time users would gravitate toward.

  • Designing alternative solutions

Process Overview

Design is a problem-solving journey that, if successful, should lead to more delightful and efficient user experiences. The framework I followed for this challenge included the first five of the following design phases:


Step 1: Empathize

Usability Testing

Talking to real people and observing them use a product is critical to building empathy for users. And honestly, it’s critical to the success of a product. When pressed for time to perform user research on a low-stakes project, guerrilla user testing is a perfect companion. For this project, I selected 5 people who have never used the Goodreads mobile app and asked them to perform the following tasks on an iPhone 7 Plus:

  1. Add a book you’ve read to your book collection.

  2. Leave a rating for the book, then undo the rating.

  3. Browse for a book in the Historical Fiction genre, then save it as a book you want to read.

  4. Remove a book from your shelf.

If the scope and capacity of this mini-project increased, I would have tested with a larger and more intentionally diverse testing pool to better inform this project direction.

Step 2: Define

One of my favorite parts of user research is turning data into information and identifying trends. After I conducted my guerrilla usability tests, I took note of each participant’s pain points and used an affinity map to define commonalities.

Each color represents one participant.

Each color represents one participant.

Affinity map used to draw findings

Affinity map used to draw findings


  • Add to My Books: 5 out of 5 participants struggled to find a clear way to add a book to their Read shelf

  • Explore by genre: 4 out of 5 participants could not easily find how to browse books by genre

  • Remove from My Books: 4 out of 5 participants could not find the option to remove a book from their shelf

  • Rating: 2 out of 5 participants could not undo a rating they gave for a book


As a designer, I want to solve everything. Unfortunately I can’t, so I’ve honed my prioritization skills. Here, I ranked the pain points I discovered along two dimensions: user value and business value, considering user comments and how users and Goodreads would benefit from content discoverability, usability, user retention, and user clicks.

I chose to prioritize the two pain points that were the most important to both the user and the business.

Persona Development

I wrote a provisional persona based on the users who performed my usability tests to guide my design decisions in a user-focused way.


Step 3: Ideate

With Jenny in mind, I began to develop solutions for her two problems.

Problem 1: Difficulty Adding titles to “Read” Shelf

Participants could not see a clear way to add a book to their Read shelf once they arrived at the book detail page after searching for a specific book. The process of finding the Read button did not feel intuitive for them. When asked about the task’s difficulty, 4 out of 5 participants said that this task was difficult or very difficult.

The book detail page for Karl Ove Knausgård’s A Time for Everything

The book detail page for Karl Ove Knausgård’s A Time for Everything

I created a task flow to highlight the current user journey of adding a book to the Read shelf:

The red boxes indicate where users struggled in the process.

The red boxes indicate where users struggled in the process.

Solution to Problem 1: Replace the Want to Read button on the book detail page with the Add to My Books button.

If Goodreads wants to better support new users’ journeys through the site, they should provide users the option of choosing Want to Read or Read as the default button on book detail pages. For new users like Jenny, one of the first tasks she will want to accomplish on Goodreads is to add some books to her Read shelf so she can begin to track the books she’s already read. When she searches for the first book to put on her virtual shelf, she shouldn’t have to dig or think twice about what to do next. Adding a book to the Read shelf should be as intuitive and clear as a button that reads Add to My Books.

handdrawn wireframe.png

When Jenny clicks the Add to My Books button, she can then choose which shelf (Want to Read, Currently Reading, Read) she wants to add the book to.

This is my redesigned journey for Jenny to add a book to her Read shelf:

Problem #2: Difficulty browsing books by Genre

Test participants verbally expressed and physically demonstrated difficulty browsing books by genres. They either overlooked the Explore option under the More menu (which would have led them to a list of genres) or participants unsuccessfully attempted to use the Search function to search for the genre. Actually, 4 out of 5 participants used Search to look for a genre.

The Explore link is hidden under the More tab.

The Explore link is hidden under the More tab.

Searching for “historical fiction" returns many books with historical fiction in the title.

Searching for “historical fiction" returns many books with historical fiction in the title.

This is the task flow to show the current user journey of browsing for a book by genre:

The red boxes indicate where users struggled in the process.

The red boxes indicate where users struggled in the process.

Solution to Problem 2: Replace the Scan link in the main menu with the Explore option and add a way to search for books by genre.

If Jenny wants to discover new books in a specific genre, let’s make it easier for her to do so.

I recommend replacing the Scan button with the link to the Explore page (right).

I recommend replacing the Scan button with the link to the Explore page (right).

The Explore page

The Explore page

After scanning through customer reviews in the App Store, I noticed that many users mentioned that they really enjoy using the app for finding new books to read, as well as the Scan functionality. For the purposes of this study, I chose to replace the Scan icon in the main menu after assuming that the other links were more important to users. However, note that I would only recommend such a significant change after conducting quantitative research on the features that are most valuable to users or by analyzing existing data. 

This is my redesigned task flow for browsing:

Step 4: Prototype

After drawing out the UIs, I made high-fidelity mockups using Sketch and clickable prototypes using Marvel.

befores and after.png
befores and afters 2.png
before and after 3.png

Step 5: Test

Again, I truly believe that it is imperative to involve users throughout the design process. To validate the above prototypes, I performed an informal usability test with five different participants who have never used Goodreads before. I asked them to complete the following tasks:

  • Log the book Madame Bovary as a book that they have already read

  • Find a book in the Historical Fiction genre


All participants expressed that it felt very easy to add a book to their Read shelf from the book detail page. They clicked on the Add to My Books button without hesitation.

  • One participant said that she thought she could add books directly from the My Books screen. She expressed that once she was on that page, she thought that there would be an Add button where she could start adding books. This could be an addition to explore in future iterations. If user testing validates this idea, it would be a good idea to give users another option to accomplish the same goal. 

  • All participants said that it was very easy to find a title in the Historical Fiction genre . Four participants used the Explore button and one participant used the search function to type in the genre.

My guerrilla usability test results indicate that users accomplished the two tasks with significantly far more ease.


Even if an app has five stars in the App Store, there is always room for improvement. Interacting with users—talking to them, watching them, empathizing with them—can expose changes that designers can make to improve user experiences for both new and existing users. While my recommendations may seem very small, they still helped users accomplish the tasks more successfully—and that is always worthwhile.

Next Steps

If I were to take this project further, I would focus my attention on how the app’s primary functionalities have been mostly static over the past few years. I would conduct user interviews to explore ways in which new features could be added to help this app be more useful for bibliophiles. From there, I would design new functionalities, conduct usability testing, and refine my designs to make informed suggestions to Goodreads. As mentioned, a perfectly rated app can always improve, and I think exploring new ways to delight and engage users would be a positive direction for this app.


Note: I am not affiliated with Amazon or Goodreads. This was a pet project on one of my favorite apps. I’m always up for book recommendations—feel free to tell me your favorite book!