How I single-handedly designed, built and launched an iPhone app
HOW I SINGLE- HANDEDLY DESIGNED, BUILT AND LAUNCHED AN IPHONE APP AND LIVED TO TELL THE STORY Alexander Baxevanis @futureshapeTuesday, 14 June 2011Hello everyone, and thanks for having me here to speak tonight. About a year ago, a fewthings were happening at about the same time.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/matthewblack/331090762/Tuesday, 14 June 2011I had a long, boring commute into London
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/secretlondon/4366328006/Tuesday, 14 June 2011London was getting ready to launch a Cycle Hire scheme
Tuesday, 14 June 2011I was curious to ﬁnd out if there was going to be a cycle hire station close to where I work, soI sent a Freedom of Information request to Transport for London.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011In a typical public sector manner, they replied with a spreadsheet in PDF, with the coordinatesin “British National Grid System” (not something you can easily plot on a map).
Copyright Any copyright in the material provided with this response is owned by TfL or one of its subsidiary companies unless otherwise stated. The disclosure of information does not give the person or organisation who receives it an automatic right to re-use it in a way that would otherwise infringe copyright (for example, by making copies, publishing it, or issuing copies to the public). Brief extracts of the material may be reproduced under the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 (sections 29 and 30) for the purposes of research for non-commercial purposes, private study, criticism, review and news reporting. In respect of use for criticism, review and news reporting, any reproduction must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that TfL or one of its subsidiary companies is the copyright owner. Re-use If you would like to re-use the information supplied with this response please contact TfL using the details provided in the attached letter. Requests for re-use will be considered in accordance with the Re-use of Public Sector Information Regulations 2005.Tuesday, 14 June 2011And a scary copyright notice saying that I wasn’t allowed to use the data they sent me in anyuseful way. Which I completely ignored.
http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/rhodes/3177112624/Tuesday, 14 June 2011Because I thought - “I’ve got some spare time, wouldn’t it be nice to use this information andbuild an iPhone app”?
OpenStreetMapTuesday, 14 June 2011Fortunately, thanks to some great development resources and libraries out there, it wasn’tvery long until I had a ﬁrst working prototype.
LESSON #1 Don’t reinvent the wheel, but pay attention to the detailsTuesday, 14 June 2011Using all these resources out there made it very quick to get something working, but itwasn’t perfect. Copying or building off an example will get you a long way, but the userexperience comes from the details.
DETAILS OF A MAP APPLICATION • Does the map scroll automatically as your location changes? • How do you ask for directions from A to B? • What kind of markers should you show on the map? • ... and many more • (Exercise: try to deconstruct the interactions of the standard Google Maps application on an iPhone)Tuesday, 14 June 2011Some of you are probably already getting suspicious here - I’m talking at a UX event, and I’msaying that I went straight to writing code?
Tuesday, 14 June 2011In fact, I did do a bit of sketching, and it’s proven to be quite useful, but it’s also had itslimitations.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011There’s 2 things that I found particularly challenging when sketching for mobile apps:1) Getting the information density right (i.e. how much you can realistically ﬁt on a screen)2) Simulating complex interactions (explain popup ...)
LESSON #2 Prototype at the right level “sketch in code” if necessaryTuesday, 14 June 2011Using all these resources out there made it very quick to get something working, but itwasn’t perfect. Copying or building off an example will get you a long way, but the userexperience comes from the details.... Anyway, I had something working quite early, was making progress on these details, and Iwas obviously quite excited ...
Tuesday, 14 June 2011I made a website to publicise the upcoming app, got a couple of hundred people to sign up tomy mailing list
Tuesday, 14 June 2011I got Londonist, a quite popular London blog to write about my app (I really like the headlinethey chose)
Tuesday, 14 June 2011I even got somebody from the Mayor’s office writing to me - I thought they were going to tellme off for using their data without permission, but actually they were just excited thatsomebody was planning to build an app for them, for free.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011They told Transport for London who got even more excited and put out a call for developersto create more cycle hire apps. Meanwhile, with the scheme launching in less than a month, Iwas still in designer’s den, still agonising over a few remaining details, and I had one of thestupidest ideas in my life ...
“Nobody’s going to need my app until the Cycle Hire scheme launches, so I’ve got plenty of time to get my app out there”Tuesday, 14 June 2011Here it is, in Comic Sans, for added effect.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011Unfortunately, other people weren’t thinking that way. Encouraged by TfL’s press release,they built their apps and launched them before me. Of course they weren’t as good as mine :)But people started downloaded them! Which leads to our second lesson...
LESSON #3 “Real Artists Ship” (quote attributed to Steve Jobs)Tuesday, 14 June 2011If you stay in your cocoon and agonise over the details, you’re missing the chance to get yourwork out there, and you’re missing on all the feedback and recognition you’ll get. Thisdoesn’t mean deliberately launching bad work, it means knowing when your work is goodenough.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011So I rushed to go ahead and ship, and one of the last things left to do (probably because mygraphic design skills aren’t that great) was to make an icon for my app. I wanted to make itfamiliar and recognisable by Londoners, so I went for an abstract version of cycle hiredocking stations look like. I knew that it was a bit risky to put the TfL logo in there, but otherapps at the time were also doing so, so I decided to take the risk.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011Except, it just happened to be that time when TfL decided to crack down on all apps usingtheir logo without permission, so I got a polite email from Apple asking me to remove thelogo and resubmit my app. And I had just lost more than a week waiting for Apple to approvethe app.
LESSON #4 Pick your battlesTuesday, 14 June 2011If you have to ﬁght over something or take a risk, make sure it’s worthwhile. In my case,having a nice icon was probably more likely to satisfy my designer ego than to make asigniﬁcant difference in the experience of my app.Although I mentioned a couple of things that went wrong, there were also things that wentvery well.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011One of the things I had in mind from the beginning, given that this was an emerging ﬁeld andI couldn’t always predict what people would need, was to at least allow users to send mefeedback as easily as possible, from within the app.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011This isn’t optional - if you don’t make it easy for people to get in touch, they’ll take theircomplaints elsewhere. In my case, they’ll probably go and leave a negative review in the appstore.
Hi Alex, Thanks for your note - I shut down the app and restarted it and it has added the new docking stations as you advised, thanks. I added a review on the App Store with 5* rating - thanks for the app, its great stuff! Regards, IanTuesday, 14 June 2011If you do let people talk to you directly, and reply to them politely (whether they’re right orwrong), you’ll get feedback like this ...
(after explaining how exactly a feature of my app works) Alex, Many thanks, obviously Ive been hit with the stupid stick lol DeanTuesday, 14 June 2011... or sometimes even more funnier things like this.
LESSON #5 Make it easy for people to talk to youTuesday, 14 June 2011... and listen carefully, and try to reply promptly.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011So, what’s happening now? I still get about ~40-50 people downloading the app every week.
Stuff I designed but rarely use Stuff I use 20% 80%Tuesday, 14 June 2011I still use the app myself, although not very frequently as I’m usually on my own bike. Andwhen I do use it, I probably only use 20% of the features I designed ... which might be proofthat I didn’t fall into the trap of designing just for myself.
Tuesday, 14 June 2011There’s still a couple of annoying bugs that cause the app to crash or misbehave in a fewoccasions ... but I have to admit I’ve lost a lot of the initial enthusiasm and haven’t been ableto convince myself to sit down and work on a new version.
LESSON #6 You learn a lot when you build (just don’t expect the enthusiasm to last forever)Tuesday, 14 June 2011So, my last lesson for today ...
Thank you! Alexander Baxevanis @futureshape If you want to try the app, search for ‘Cycle Hire’ in the App Store Matt JonesTuesday, 14 June 2011I’ll leave you with this beautiful poster designed by Matt Jones - as I truly believe in gettingexcited and MAKING things - not just designing them. Try and do it yourselves and see whatyou learn. If you can’t build something, try to learn how to, or ﬁnd someone who knows. Justgive it a try.Thanks for listening!