Guerrilla usability study on VSCO Cam.  

Full story + more depth on my blog and


Visual Supply Company’s VSCO Cam app is a sleek yet powerful mobile photo editing app packed with features. It has 4.5 stars in Apple’s App Store and in Google Play. They have a cult user following and their Grid section (photo feed — viewable in app and online) consistently hosts some of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen. On May 6, 2014 they successfully raised $40M in Series A funding.


My Role

  • UX Team of One
  • Design usability test
  • Recruit & screen participants
  • Run test with participants
  • Data synthesis
  • Design conclusions & recommendations



i. Discovery

Define scope, identify qualified interview candidates, discussion/task guide, conduct usability tests.

I wanted to keep the test as simple and relevant as possible in order to provide value to both VSCO Cam and the respective users.  To do this, I created 6 cores tasks, 3 of which were sourced directly from the VSCO Cam's app store copy.  

The only requirements for participants were that they had not previously used VSCO Cam, that they had a iPhone or Android phone, and that they were familiar with photographic terms such as filter, crop, and exposure.

Test tasks:

  1. Take a photo (within the app).
  2. Edit the photo by applying a color filter to it.
  3. Crop the photo.
  4. Adjust the photo's exposure.
  5. Add a photo into the app from the phone's photo library.
  6. Share a photo to a social network.

ii. Data Analysis

Identify patterns and pain points.  Use to inform design recommendations. For a longer, more extensive look into the analysis check out my post.


iii. Conclusion & Design Recommendations

2 Key issues & recommendations

Issue 1: 

The app has a nonlinear task flow and offers no suggestions as how to use it.

Solution 1:

For first time/new users, provide an overlaid explanation or walkthrough on top of the UI to educate users to key functionality.


Issue 2:

The visual hierarchy is misleading.

Solution 2:

Dim or lower the contrast of the top icons. Those icons open organizational dialogues that aren’t of any relevance to most users at this point. Without a huge photo library to manage (yet), users don’t really need to be able to resize or select images by variables such as flagged, edited or unedited. Definitely a useful feature later, but not now.

The bottom left menu icon is highly relevant on all levels so I think it makes sense to leave it as is.

The “add” photo plus sign icon from task 5 could be changed to match the current contrast of the menu icon. Several users mentioned that the icon appeared greyed out or in a state that would suggest it was unavailable.


Next Steps:

These suggestions are my own based on a limited usability study with 5 strangers. I would love to see actual app data to validate some of the patterns I’ve encountered. Next steps would be to iterate, test, rinse and repeat.


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