I had tried building some of my own web-based side projects in the past, but I lost interest in most of them after awhile. Super Cool, on the other hand, was an idea that I just couldn’t shake.
Super Cool is an iPhone app I created and self-published that lets you accessorize your photos with cute, fun, and cool sticker packs. It was a tremendous task to design and publish an app on my own. Here's how I did it.
I don’t start any project without sketching first. I spent a long time drawing out the app interface using pencil and paper. I was able to play with a bunch of different design flows and interaction possibilities very easily, and I tossed out the ideas that didn’t seem optimal.
I knew that I was going to hire an offshore developer to help me build this app. I designed every last detail of the interface before the developer started so that I could avoid any costly delays and eliminate any guesswork.
The going rates in the Bay Area for objective-C programmers are probably the highest in the world. I knew I’d have to outsource the development overseas to keep the costs of the project down. I read a bunch about hiring and managing outsourced developers, and then I posted my job on three of the top outsourcing websites: Odesk, Elance, and Freelancer.
It was a pretty painful process sifting through all the applicants. Freelancer had the worst applicants and ironically had the most expensive up front fees. Elance was ok, but I felt Odesk had the most well-designed site with better quality applicants.
However, a lot of the applicants had terrible work in their portfolios, and many of them flat out lied about work that they didn’t do. I will spare you the gory details of hiring 4 different developers to finally find one from Odesk who turned out to be fantastic. My developer and I have had few bumps in the road with the time difference and language barrier, but tools like Skype and Dropbox have made the collaboration process pretty easy.
Once I hired my developer and got a solid quote on the development timeframe, I moved onto designing Super Cool’s interface. I wanted the app to look clean and not too serious or too goofy. I also didn’t want the interface to distract from the the stars of the show: the stickers and the user’s photo that would be decorated.
As a designer, I often have to make a lot of compromises when working on products. Sometimes features get implimented by engineers without being designed at all, or sometimes designs get implemented but are never fully refined. Since this app is mine, I made sure to get everything pixel-perfect when it got implemented. I’ve also had the developer make many iterations on the interactions so that the app functions just how I envisioned it to.
Super Cool will be in the photo/ video category of the app store, but I didn’t want its icon to have yet another camera lens on it and get lost in the sea of other camera apps. The icon I ended up designing doesn’t really communicate what the app does, and it also goes against the shift to flat icon design. However, my real goal with the icon’s design was to make something beautiful and fun that people would be happy to have on their phones. And after all, who doesn’t love donuts?
Without content (stickers, stickers, and more stickers), Super Cool is a pretty useless app. I’ve had to illustrate hundreds of stickers for the app so that users can get some real value out of it. Illustrating the stickers has been the most time consuming part of building this product, especially when I want to make sure the content quality stays high.
Once my developer got the app functioning, we quickly got a prototype on Testflight. I’ve had a bunch of friends test out the app to find bugs and get feedback on usability. I’ve also learned a tremendous amount from letting random people use the app. Problems and ideas that I never thought about surfaced, and I’ve been able to address them before pushing out the product live.
I designed a responsive landing page so that people can learn about and download the app easily from whatever device they’re on. Visit www.getsupercool.com
Creating Super Cool has been much more than just coming up with the design. It was more like building a small startup, and a lot of the details I’ve left out of this case study. I've spent a lot of time doing unglamorous yet necessary things: customer development, user testing, setting up an LLC, opening a business bank account, consulting with lawyers, etc.
This is one of the most exciting and challenging projects I’ve worked on. You can download it free from the App Store.