Improving Retention at Darby

I led a redesign of the Darby iOS app that increased retention by 24%.

I previously worked as a UX/UI designer at a startup called Darby Smart.  Their core product, an iOS app, allows users to create a personalized watch feed of videos, and shop products directly from the videos in their feed.

Imagine if Instagram and Amazon had a baby, and you get pretty close to what the Darby app aims to be.

But Darby wasn’t always focused on shoppable video.  When I joined in 2017, the company was positioned more as a media/interest app (think Pinterest and the likes).  There were thousands of videos to watch on Darby, but the user journey didn’t yet extend to the point of product discovery or purchase.

In 2018, Darby began to test the waters in e-commerce – and in true startup style, we did so by jumping in the deep end.

High churn rates posed a threat to our new goals. Every product team wants to deliver an amazing experience for their users.  But what do you do if you can’t keep users around for long enough to see your app’s true value?

The Problem

How might we increase retention (NDR) and engagement (views) for users who download the Darby app?


Our next day retention was below 20%, and we needed to figure out why people weren’t sticking around.

User Testing

I worked with our Product Manager and Design Director to facilitate a series of 30-minute user tests with eight of our existing Darby users.  Together, we uncovered multiple points of frustration for users that we believed might have an impact on retention:

Users felt bombarded by too many tooltips.  Not only did we have a tooltip to educate users on how to scroll, but we also had to provide direction for hidden actions (e.g. “Double Tap to Follow.”)

Users had difficulty getting to the next video.  The existing feed required that the user swipe up quickly from the bottom of the video without tapping any of the other actionable UI elements.  Users frequently tapped accidentally on the “Buy Now” and “Create Video” actions while trying to swipe (these buttons were at the bottom of the screen).

Users struggled to read important text, such as the video title, because of the lack of text-to-background contrast and the placement of tooltips.

Learning From the Competition

I examined Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook to explore the question: What elements of our competitors’ watch feeds can Darby learn from to improve the user experience?

Above: UI pattern analysis of watch feeds from Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.


I came out of the competitive analysis with a clear direction on the design improvements that would solve our users’ pain points.

Above: A sketch of the new watch feed.
Above: The transformation from sketch to high-fidelity.


We released the redesigned watch feed as an A/B test and found that, in comparison to the old watch feed, next-day retention improved significantly.  Other key engagement metrics, such as fave and follow, also increased.  This was one of the biggest product wins our company had seen.

But there was also a new problem: Shop CTR was significantly lower than in the previous watch feed.

The Problem, Revisited

How might we maintain the usability improvements of new watch feed without compromising the user’s ability to shop?

Design v2

As a product team, we took a step back to assess what changes may have contributed to the decline of shop.

The biggest factor that we noted was that we’d decreased the size of the product thumbnail, price, and shop button – all in order to fit more elements “above the fold.”

However, because several studies have proven that users do scroll, I believed it might be worthwhile to restore the size of these shop elements – even if it pushed other content further down the screen.

Testing v2

In order to validate our new hypothesis, we quickly shipped a v2 of the watch feed and followed up with a round of guerilla usability testing outside of a Sephora store – a location we knew we’d be likely to find qualified participants.

Of the five users we observed, all five scrolled through the feed with no instruction.  Feedback from these users enabled us to move forward confidently with the changes.


The second iteration of the watch feed redesign had the exact results we’d hoped for.  In a second A/B test between new watch feed (v2) and old, we found:


Increase in Next Day Retention


Increase in Watch Feed Views


Shop Conversion (No Change)

Overall, the product team felt super proud of this win.  Our VP of Engineering called it “the most impactful product change we’ve seen.”