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Student-built ‘Mustrd’ app simplifies informal gatherings between students

| Thursday, April 4, 2019

From the fog of social media, group chats and phone notifications, a new app called “Mustrd” has recently gained visibility on Notre Dame’s campus. Created by senior Kevin Dingens and first released on March 9, the app has been building momentum since bright-yellow Mustrd merchandise first appeared at student parties, bars and across social media two weekends ago.

Dingens said Mustrd may not seem unique on its surface, but a closer look reveals how the app fills the need for casual event planning with friends.

“Mustrd is just another social media app, which doesn’t sound very exciting, but essentially what makes it different is its event-based group chats,” Dingens said. “ … My quick elevator pitch is that it optimizes casual social gatherings using spontaneous event-based group chats.”

A combination of GroupMe, Snapchat and Facebook, Mustrd puts a time, location, description and an invite list on a group chat that disappears when the event ends. Each of these social media platforms had a hand an inspiring Mustrd, Dingens said.

“I kind of got the idea for this from a giant GroupMe that I have that has existed since my freshmen year. We essentially post who wants to go to dinner, sand volleyball, anyone driving back to Chicago, that kind of thing,” Dingens said. “It worked well, but I just thought that it was a really inefficient way of organizing casual events.”

Thomas Murphy | The Observer
Sophomore John Kling interacts with the ‘Mustrd’ app. Designed by a Notre Dame computer science major, the app has received almost 500 downloads since its initial release on the App Store on March 8.

While the idea for Mustrd drew from other existing social media apps, Dingens added Mustrd is really designed to fill a need for organization for a certain kind of specifically casual event that other apps fail to effectively address.

“I was just really frustrated with the way that current social organization works on a moral casual level,” he said. “Obviously, you have Facebook events, but those are for birthday parties or even just party parties. I don’t really know what else Facebook events are used for, honestly. Leggings protests? Dorm events? Not getting dinner or rock climbing with a group of friends or bowling off-campus.”

Nate Myklebust, a senior at the University of Wisconsin who worked with Dingens as the app’s designer, said in an email that central to Mustrd’s purpose is a informality rooted in cultural and social norms.

“[We] wanted to harness the low commitment, casualness of everyday social events and empower people to easily organize them on the fly,” Myklebust said. “It’s supposed to be casual and simple, but also organized and therefore empowering.”

Mustrd is not Dingens’ first attempt at creating an app, however, as he said he worked on a similar project during his junior year.

“I actually created a version of this application last year and it was really bad,” he said. “ … That was before I had any professional iOS development experience, and luckily just randomly my internship this summer they placed me on an iOS team application and so I got professional experience developing iPhone apps.”

It was also at this internship where Dingens first met and began working on projects with Myklebust, Dingens said.

“I recruited [Myklebust] because he and I were on the same project over the summer,” Dingens said. “He’s very much a design stickler, which I really like about him, and he thinks beyond just colors and shapes, more to the user experience, and he’s helped me incorporate design thinking into my app.”

With Dingens programming the app and Myklebust designing features of the user interface, the project slowly evolved into Mustrd. Dingens said that despite his background as a computer science major, much of his early work on the project was spent studying and learning how to design an application for iOS.

“The process for me has been very much learning intensive and reading intensive,” Dingens said. “ … I have been the only one developing this application, so I’m the only one who’s ever touched any of the code. I saw it go from a blank screen to where it is now.”

While designing the app, Dingens reached out to his friends to help test beta versions of Mustrd. One such friend was senior Moira Griffith, who said the release of Mustrd marks a milestone in Dingens’ long process of building the app.

“I feel like it’s been a multiple year process of him showing us different versions of it to test out what works best or what we thought would be the most successful thing,” Griffith said. “ … I don’t think I ever recognized how official it was going to get, I thought it was just his creative little side project that he was exploring, but I’m sure he always had a goal in mind.”

Another friend called on to help test Mustrd was senior Sarah Stillpass, who said Mustrd is especially remarkable considering it was built while Dingens also had to deal with the work of a college student.

“You don’t expect when you’re a full-time student to have enough time to make a full-blown app on the side and he just made it,” Stillpass said. “There’s no school project associated with it or anything which makes it that much more impressive.”

While working on Mustrd, Dingens said he designed the app to differentiate itself from other social media platforms in the way it acts as an impetus for in-person social interaction rather than a replacement.

“I hate social media and I think technology is really bad for us as a society, and so this is also a way to remedy that for myself because one of the reasons why I like this app is the endgame is not the app itself,” Dingens said. “You look at Facebook and their endgame is your feed, they want you on the app and that’s a success for them when you’re scrolling. But for me, success with the app is the physical community of people that come together because of the app and not the app itself.”

Even the design of the application is geared towards personal interactions, Myklebust said.

“Our focus with the UI is always on simplicity and ease of us,” he said. “Our goal with the app isn’t that users are stuck in it for hours, but rather quickly reference it from time to time for planning and connecting sake.”

Now, less than a month after the initial launch and only two weeks after Dingens began publicizing the app, Mustrd has received nearly 500 downloads on the App Store. Dingens said the more people use the app, the more they come to appreciate its usefulness.

“The response is pretty awesome,” Dingens said. “A lot of people don’t really understand the need for it at first, but then once they use it and understand the differences are subtle and more cultural than functional, they’ve really enjoyed it.”

Dingens’ work on Mustrd over the course of his time at Notre Dame reveals an intellectual and creative curiosity that should be encouraged on college campuses, Griffith said.

“Seeing people actually take advantage of the time and resources that they have at school is really incredible in a lot of ways, and I think that it should be promoted at a lot of schools and celebrated because he is doing something that is pretty unique,” Griffith said. “He’s taking advantage of what Notre Dame has to offer to support him in that, and I think that is something that people shouldn’t be afraid to do and take risks and exploring their potential.”

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About Thomas Murphy

Thomas is a sophomore in the Program of Liberal Studies, where he double minors in Business & Economics and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He is ideologically in favor of the Oxford Comma, and encourages readers to contact their local representatives regarding the codification of its usage.

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