Exploring Mobile App Design: Alumnae Caroline Kwan & Nina Luo “Dishcover” a Great Idea

Nancy Ward
For elementary school students, early technology training, a growth mindset, and teamwork skills can help them make the most of opportunities that come later in life. Former Clairbourn School students Nina Luo and Caroline Kwan, from the Class of 2018, exemplify this perfectly. The following article describes their new app, “Dishcovery,” and how Clairbourn School provided early educational advantages that helped them to take on a technology challenge as high-schoolers.
Anytime an interactive tool or device is created, there is a lot to learn and accomplish. Having an ability to think conceptually as well analytically is key to generating the initial idea, the plan, and the steps for development and deployment. When busy high school students Nina Luo and Caroline Kwan set out to create an app for their summer computer class at Coding Minds Academy, they didn’t flinch when faced with the mountain of work involved. They chose to invest their precious free time, both in and outside of class, to make an app that had meaning and value for their everyday life.

As food enthusiasts who frequently eat out and enjoy discovering new dishes, Nina and Caroline realized they wanted a way to quickly identify the customers’ favorite items on restaurant menus.  Both of them were aware of Yelp.com but felt that reading through multiple posts and clarifying what was worth ordering was too time consuming. So they decided to build an app that could determine the preferred items mentioned in user reviews and then list the top ten dishes at restaurants.

Screenshots from the Dishcovery app built by Caroline Kwan and Nina Luo.
Before trying to build the app, they needed to see if a similar one already existed, determine if it would actually solve their problem, and then develop a strategy to reach their goal. They also had to plan out the user experience and design the user interface, identify technologies, develop and test the app, and then deploy, brand, and market their product. (For a fascinating read, check out their “Our Research” document).

For the technical part, they used technologies like Beautiful Soup to crawl the web and parse individual online reviews, Flask to give the data a framework, their own blacklist for filtering out undesired words, and Google Natural Language Processing to analyze the positive or negative sentiments and sort the food or beverage items mentioned in the reviews. Then, to determine a rating score for menu items, their program used the Google Sentiment Analysis API.

Their working app is now available on Google Play and the Apple App Store, and it allows users to immediately view the top ten popular food and beverage recommendations at the closest local restaurants or type in a specific restaurant name to see what’s recommended. After publishing, Caroline and Nina presented their Dishcovery app during a Coding Minds web conference to inspire other students interested in inventing their own tech projects. In their presentation, they described the process of making the app: the backend database, their frontend code, and the app’s user interface. (View the Coding Minds Academy Talk here on Youtube.)

View Caroline and Nina’s Coding Minds Academy Talk here on Youtube.
Caroline and Nina both credit Clairbourn School in providing a good foundation for their recent app-building experience at Coding Minds Academy. Caroline shares, “We both started our programming foundations in elementary school by block coding on Scratch and Code.org. We realized that the ability to understand and create tech projects [and teamwork] has and will become even more valuable and impactful. App creation encompasses many components. Teamwork allows responsibilities to be shared, boosting efficiency and performance. When people collaborate on big projects like apps, they can easily bounce ideas off each other to spark creativity and tackle tough challenges.

Clairbourn School prepared us to embrace challenges and keep working towards our goals, even when our ideas seemed intimidating or impossible. In other words, Clairbourn taught us to always have a growth mindset, whether it be memorizing lines for the school play or improving drawing skills in art class. We will always be grateful to Clairbourn for showing us how to rise above hardships and to accomplish difficult tasks.”

While they don’t have plans to monetize their app, Nina and Caroline do plan on making improvements such as using a faster algorithm to speed up the app’s load time and finding a way to clarify non-specific results like “sauce” or “salad.” But despite these challenges, as first-time builders and full-time students, their achievement in creating a working, published app in just a few months is commendable.  As their app-building journey continues, it is clear that both Nina and Caroline are well on their way to developing the skills that lead to promising technical careers and big ideas for the future.
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