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How I Single-Handedly Designed, Built And Launched An iPhone App (And Lived To Tell The Story)

How I Single-Handedly Designed, Built And Launched An iPhone App (And Lived To Tell The Story)

The story of Cycle Hire App (http://cyclehireapp.com/) presented at the lightningUX event on the 9th June 2011 (http://lightningux.org.uk/).

Alexander Baxevanis

December 07, 2011

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    APP AND LIVED TO TELL THE STORY Alexander Baxevanis @futureshape Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Hello everyone, and thanks for having me here to speak tonight. About a year ago, a few things were happening at about the same time.
  2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewblack/331090762/ Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I had a long, boring

    commute into London
  3. http://www.flickr.com/photos/secretlondon/4366328006/ Tuesday, 14 June 2011 London was getting ready to

    launch a Cycle Hire scheme
  4. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I was curious to find out

    if there was going to be a cycle hire station close to where I work, so I sent a Freedom of Information request to Transport for London.
  5. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 In a typical public sector manner,

    they replied with a spreadsheet in PDF, with the coordinates in “British National Grid System” (not something you can easily plot on a map).
  6. 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 2011 And a scary copyright notice saying that I wasn’t allowed to use the data they sent me in any useful way. Which I completely ignored.
  7. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhodes/3177112624/ Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Because I thought - “I’ve

    got some spare time, wouldn’t it be nice to use this information and build an iPhone app”?
  8. OpenStreetMap Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Fortunately, thanks to some great

    development resources and libraries out there, it wasn’t very long until I had a first working prototype.
  9. LESSON #1 Don’t reinvent the wheel, but pay attention to

    the details Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Using all these resources out there made it very quick to get something working, but it wasn’t perfect. Copying or building off an example will get you a long way, but the user experience comes from the details.
  10. 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 2011 Some of you are probably already getting suspicious here - I’m talking at a UX event, and I’m saying that I went straight to writing code?
  11. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 In fact, I did do a

    bit of sketching, and it’s proven to be quite useful, but it’s also had its limitations.
  12. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 There’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 ...)
  13. LESSON #2 Prototype at the right level “sketch in code”

    if necessary Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Using all these resources out there made it very quick to get something working, but it wasn’t perfect. Copying or building off an example will get you a long way, but the user experience comes from the details. ... Anyway, I had something working quite early, was making progress on these details, and I was obviously quite excited ...
  14. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I made a website to publicise

    the upcoming app, got a couple of hundred people to sign up to my mailing list
  15. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I got Londonist, a quite popular

    London blog to write about my app (I really like the headline they chose)
  16. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I even got somebody from the

    Mayor’s office writing to me - I thought they were going to tell me off for using their data without permission, but actually they were just excited that somebody was planning to build an app for them, for free.
  17. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 They told Transport for London who

    got even more excited and put out a call for developers to create more cycle hire apps. Meanwhile, with the scheme launching in less than a month, I was still in designer’s den, still agonising over a few remaining details, and I had one of the stupidest ideas in my life ...
  18. “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 2011 Here it is, in Comic Sans, for added effect.
  19. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Unfortunately, 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...
  20. LESSON #3 “Real Artists Ship” (quote attributed to Steve Jobs)

    Tuesday, 14 June 2011 If you stay in your cocoon and agonise over the details, you’re missing the chance to get your work out there, and you’re missing on all the feedback and recognition you’ll get. This doesn’t mean deliberately launching bad work, it means knowing when your work is good enough.
  21. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 So I rushed to go ahead

    and ship, and one of the last things left to do (probably because my graphic design skills aren’t that great) was to make an icon for my app. I wanted to make it familiar and recognisable by Londoners, so I went for an abstract version of cycle hire docking stations look like. I knew that it was a bit risky to put the TfL logo in there, but other apps at the time were also doing so, so I decided to take the risk.
  22. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 Except, it just happened to be

    that time when TfL decided to crack down on all apps using their logo without permission, so I got a polite email from Apple asking me to remove the logo and resubmit my app. And I had just lost more than a week waiting for Apple to approve the app.
  23. LESSON #4 Pick your battles Tuesday, 14 June 2011 If

    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 a significant difference in the experience of my app. Although I mentioned a couple of things that went wrong, there were also things that went very well.
  24. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 One of the things I had

    in mind from the beginning, given that this was an emerging field and I couldn’t always predict what people would need, was to at least allow users to send me feedback as easily as possible, from within the app.
  25. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 This isn’t optional - if you

    don’t make it easy for people to get in touch, they’ll take their complaints elsewhere. In my case, they’ll probably go and leave a negative review in the app store.
  26. 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, it's great stuff! Regards, Ian Tuesday, 14 June 2011 If you do let people talk to you directly, and reply to them politely (whether they’re right or wrong), you’ll get feedback like this ...
  27. (after explaining how exactly a feature of my app works)

    Alex, Many thanks, obviously I've been hit with the stupid stick lol Dean Tuesday, 14 June 2011 ... or sometimes even more funnier things like this.
  28. LESSON #5 Make it easy for people to talk to

    you Tuesday, 14 June 2011 ... and listen carefully, and try to reply promptly.
  29. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 So, what’s happening now? I still

    get about ~40-50 people downloading the app every week.
  30. 80% 20% Stuff I designed but rarely use Stuff I

    use Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I still use the app myself, although not very frequently as I’m usually on my own bike. And when I do use it, I probably only use 20% of the features I designed ... which might be proof that I didn’t fall into the trap of designing just for myself.
  31. Tuesday, 14 June 2011 There’s still a couple of annoying

    bugs that cause the app to crash or misbehave in a few occasions ... but I have to admit I’ve lost a lot of the initial enthusiasm and haven’t been able to convince myself to sit down and work on a new version.
  32. LESSON #6 You learn a lot when you build (just

    don’t expect the enthusiasm to last forever) Tuesday, 14 June 2011 So, my last lesson for today ...
  33. Matt Jones Thank you! Alexander Baxevanis @futureshape If you want

    to try the app, search for ‘Cycle Hire’ in the App Store Tuesday, 14 June 2011 I’ll leave you with this beautiful poster designed by Matt Jones - as I truly believe in getting excited and MAKING things - not just designing them. Try and do it yourselves and see what you learn. If you can’t build something, try to learn how to, or find someone who knows. Just give it a try. Thanks for listening!