Sahand Nayebaziz

How I Successfully Prototyped My Way Into a Pivot

Prototypes, pivots... You might be thinking these are just buzzwords, but I'll tell you how these concepts truly impacted me a couple months ago.

In May, I left a job at Apple after two happy years to try some new things. After about a month, I was working on a new app that was basically Sketch for iPad. I got as far as an App Store launch, a small newsletter following, and was just cranking through updates for the app.

At this point, my brother had mentioned to me I should probably be on Twitter and could benefit from joining the designer / developer community.

What happened?

So as I was wondering what to tweet, I was seeing the vibrant community developing around SwiftUI. Many designers, like the now-iconic @jsngr and @joeyabanks, were posting beautiful designs, both recreations and concepts, and attaching the SwiftUI code.

I just thought this was the coolest thing. These tweets were small, visual, and inspiring to many designers out there who appreciated the detail and beauty iOS allows and were thinking about getting into SwiftUI.

When I was at Apple, I organized small, lunchtime SwiftUI lessons for my nearby designer friends.

Back to the present, I was seeing this interest in SwiftUI on Twitter and it was exciting for me to see because I had previously been evangelizing SwiftUI especially for designers. (I'll be following up with another blog post for the developers out there who got into development for design. Stay tuned...)

I had the first thought on a Friday afternoon walk. You know, you could probably make an iPad app that had a hierarchy displayed on one side and a preview on the other, that let people create and edit SwiftUI designs.

Idea had — now what?

This is such a crucial moment in any creative person's creativity cycles: what do you do the moment after you had a spark? Do you drop what you're currently working on? Do you try to ask someone else about it first and see what they think?

To both of these things, I would say no and no! My recommendations here are:

  • Make the idea wait just a little bit. Let your mind think about it in the background and just give it one short break, even just a few hours, and if the idea holds up after that, you can be more confident that there's a strong core waiting in there somewhere.
  • Don't share the idea until you're ready. You'll know you're ready when you're both pretty sure of how you feel about the idea and want to know what somebody else thinks. Try to avoiding telling somebody right away if you might be discouraged easily if they aren't as excited as you

So I made the idea wait!

And wait.

And wait.

I think it was like four hours later that I went back out on a walk, this time with a notebook, and walked to my favorite bench, and I was already buzzing mentally waiting to sit down and just put my pencil to paper just to see if I could find any huge holes in this idea, or if I could sort of mock up the interface for this that would make sense.

I scribbled an iPad... I scribbled a bar on the left... I scribbled a preview on the right... I considered in my head what the code would have to look like inside the app for this to work... It seemed okay... right around here was when I got that racing feeling that I wanted to starting working on it.

Making the prototype, with a time limit

I think one of the good decisions that was made was right at this time: I decided to only give myself a few hours to make the most minimal prototype, and make it something that could be shared right off the bat.

I was ready to share this idea and I was ready to see what kind of response it would get. Which, I guess, is to say that I was also ready for this to totally be a bad idea.

You know? There was no attachment to trying to be too protective of it. I think I felt this way because I was coming off of starting to feel like I was forcing it with that first app. So, with this, I sort of wanted it to prove itself from the beginning or I would shelve it and move on.

So I decided to make a prototype that would be just enough to share a screen recording of the app in action.

I'm going to follow up with another blog post on how to prototype your ideas effectively and efficiently. I was a design prototyper at Apple for the last year, and that combined with this experience has given me a few insights. Stay tuned...

I prototyped the hardest nugget of the inside that I could think of that could still be done in just a few hours but would also serve as validation for me on the development that there was potential here, and then I took some shortcuts on the parts that had nothing to do with the prototype or the essence of the problem but had to be there for the video. More on this later in that next prototyping blog post.

A few hours later, I had it doing just enough. I could start from an empty design, add a design element which represented SwiftUI, see the preview live, and make some edits. So that was it! Time's up, right? Time to prove it.

Time to see how the prototype came out

I spent maybe 30 minutes crafting the tweet. Tweets are such an art, and truly an art to be learned for people like who me are generally long-winded. I carved it down to:

  • Explain what the prototype does
  • Explain what it could do later
  • Explain why I made it

And tweeted it out.

What happened next was that I got the biggest response I had ever received to anything on social media. The inspirational people I tagged, like Jordan, Joey, and Meng, thought it was cool and actually tweeted back in support. I got a bunch of new followers, and here was the kicker:

There were people asking for a link to the beta! Some were even worried the beta might be full already!

But there was no beta. There was nothing more than the three-hour prototype exploring the idea.

Watching the sun set and the sun rise

Reading the excitement, the support, and the messages asking to be notified of the beta altogether blew out of the water the response I had received to that first app I was working on before.

Since there were already a few reasons I was considering sunsetting that first app, I wonder if that was why I was even open to this small prototype exploration. I remember rationalizing it to myself as a fun thing to do on a Friday. I had already put in a week of work on the main thing, and I was a bit tired of it, so why not have a little fun with this.

But in that some moment, this small prototype-and-share revealed a connection to people that I had never connected with before and showed that they were pretty interested in this app. And I was, for once, feeling like one of the best people for the job because I appreciated what the app was about and what it enabled for people.

So by Monday, I planned to "pivot". Meaning, I planned to fully move on from the first app and focus on this. The response was already bigger in just that one night than the sum of all responses for the other in a month or two combined.

One of the many benefits of being a small business owner and an independent software developer are that decisions like this can be made relatively quickly. Luckily, not many people were relying on that first app, and, maybe unluckily, as just one person I didn't have the ability to even work on both at the same time.

I had to pick one or the other to try to focus where the biggest impact could be made. And that was clearly this prototype and the future app it could be.

Today, this app is called DetailsPro. I will follow up with more blog posts on this process. Thank you for reading.

You can find the tweet here:

#design #iOS #SwiftUI #prototyping

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