Creating Creator

The following is a short case study on “Creator”, a cloud-based content management system I built at Mashgin, where we make visual self-checkout kiosks that use computer vision to see items so you don’t have to scan barcodes.

In the years since launch, it has given location managers the ability to customize their menus in ways they were unable to in the past. This empowers them to make frequent changes, tailoring the menu to customer needs rather than just “using the default”.

Mashgin Creator is a tool for operators to build and manage their menus, from items to discounts, schedules, and more.

Mashgin customers have been able to easily edit their checkout items in the cloud since we first launched in 2016. But when we began to design our mobile and in-person ordering app, we realized customers would need an easy way to design more complex menus, with custom item options, photos, nested categories, scheduling, and more. This is where the idea for Creator came in.

Creator is what they call in the industry a “CMS”, or content management system. Any software tool used to manage content of any type could apply.

In the food service industry, a CMS is used to manage their menu items, pricing, discounts, taxes, etc. The scope could be anywhere from an individual cafe to a nationwide chain of stores.

Most existing CMS software for food service was cumbersome to use and poorly designed. It was really just a simple layer on top of a database, allowing users to edit basic item information. Some software didn’t even allow for real-time syncing of data — any changes are “submitted” and someone behind the scenes has to deploy them to the menu.

The output of these menus is very simple: it’s just items in some nested menus, each with its own data like price, type, options, etc. But the work and consideration that has to go into building each menu is anything but simple.

It was clear that our customers needed something much better.

Designing the app

Believing that all the existing tools weren’t very good, we chose not to base the core design off of any other examples or prior work. Creator would be rethought from the ground up based on the needs and jobs of its users.

Fortunately when it came to understanding the use cases we had a few big advantages:

  1. We were working closely with multiple location managers who would be end-users of Creator and would give immediate, helpful feedback;
  2. All members of our support team were also users who had a very good idea of what was needed;
  3. Even more conveniently, I had the experience myself of having to design order menus and understood the major needs and pain points. It is an often unappreciated advantage for the lead engineer and designer of a product to be able to build the tool that they would want to use.

I wanted the design to look and feel like it fits in with any modern office web app, like Airtable, Figma, Notion, etc. The UI needed to be intuitive and ready to use without any training. This meant we needed to use existing design patterns and models of interaction. Common tasks should take no more than a few clicks to accomplish.

This meant using design patterns like WYSIWYG displays to mimic the end-user experience, organization via easy drag & drop, in-line editing, and multiple ways of viewing the menu depending on what your goal is.

Just like other modern apps, users should feel like they can “play” around with the functionality to learn it, without getting frustrated or fearing they’ll break something.

Because we were free from the burden of following rigid customer specs, we could add features that have thus far never been done in the industry. Like the ability to easily pull in a high-quality, royalty-free photo for an item if you don’t have one.

Adding a new item with photo in under 20 seconds.

Feedback from customers

As soon as we released Creator we began hearing positive feedback from customers.

“This will be a game changer for [our] managers.” — Regional Food Service Director

Based on further discussions with power users, we realized there was a need for more intuitive menu scheduling. So we quickly added the ability select which item menu appeared on which day.

Scheduling categories.

Creator’s ease-of-use also directly led to us winning an account, taking not only the checkout but full mobile ordering infrastructure from a competitor. The competing CMS was complicated and would sometimes take many days to make changes.

For large enterprise customers, one good product or service isn’t enough. You have to get the entire ecosystem of services right, along with an amazing support team to back them up.

Creator — and other tools like it — provide a full suite for clients to use. This makes us much more sticky and also makes it easier for internal customer buy-in.

Editable item table from v2 of the app.
Adding a 2-item combo discount in under 30 seconds.
A manager at a hospital chain in Atlanta getting creative with the image upload feature.

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