I don't remember what I was more pumped up about — the opportunity to hear about working at Spotify or the chance to see Tobias van Schneider's mustache in person. I'll admit I was also a little hesitant based on the title of his keynote, “Why side projects are dumb.” My coworker and I braced ourselves for cold warnings like “focus on your day job so you don’t get burnt out…” or “you won’t be able to put as much effort into your side projects so why waste your time?” Instead, we were filled with 45ish minutes of delightful insight, as Tobias talked about his journey to New York and some of the many accomplishments he’s had in doing side projects. What he meant when he said that side projects were dumb was that you should explore the crazy ideas, the ones people might toss out as being stupid or impracticable, the ones “no one would ever use.”
This was actually a fascinating theme throughout the conference. Oftentimes, the most innovative ideas and features are the hardest to validate, as users haven’t even conceptualized them yet. Another good example of this was presented during the Intercom talk when Des Traynor told a story of a developer constructing a video chat system. “No one will want this,” they all said. But they put it out anyway, just to try. Today it’s become one of their most popular and entertaining forms of communication. Naturally, this isn’t always going to be the case, but what was so inspiring was that they were willing to try, and they were willing to fail.
The other tip Tobias gave was to develop applications to fix a problem you saw. If there was something out there, and you felt like you could do it better, go ahead and do it. So on that uplifting note, I present to you the inside scoop on Goalie, a task app that will be available on iOS and Apple Watch in a few weeks!
Incipia came to me with the goal (no pun intended) of developing a simple, task-based app. This was something I didn’t think had been totally solved yet, especially on mobile, despite the fact that there were a lot of choices out there. Now I, a devout Text Edit fan for all things list, sought out the simpler methods. So many apps focused on deadlines, and date driven tasks. While they often had a lot of power, they also had a lot of complexity. When I come in to work on Mondays, I usually compile a list that looks something like this:
I already had plenty of calendar apps to notify me of meetings and schedules, but this little square at the corner of my desktop was my driving force for the week. Priority was really the only thing that mattered to me, so I knew I wanted to make it easy for users to prioritize their lists as well.
The other thing that was going to be tough about a list or task app would be user retention. What’s to keep users from giving up, or using something else, like a notebook or a sheet of paper? How could we keep users motivated without blasting them with push notifications or sending email alerts? And with us putting less focus on due dates, how could we still hold our users accountable? I wanted Goalie to be light and playful, but still give some sort of drive and sense of accomplishment to the user for putting in the time in the first place. Often I think we make the mistake of front-loading users with the exciting handholding type stuff at the beginning, and then just leave them hanging after they get through all of it. In a user story, that’s where the almighty cliffhanger begins to creep in. We needed something that would be present throughout.
From the recent and addictive productivity app Forest, to The Sims, to beloved childhood Tamagotchi pets, there’s something to be said about our desire and fascination with nurturing. I find it’s an easier thing to grasp, as a physical or emotional state of something is quite relatable to us as humans. Empathy, pathos, appealing to emotion... It’s why you cry watching an Extra gum commercial. No but seriously, I did tear up. But I didn’t want to just guilt users to take care of young Goalie, I wanted them to be able to get a status update of their tasks at a glance, without having to rely on numbers or stats. Why tell them that five tasks were nearly due, when you could show them? So I got to work on all of Goalie's physical states, and fun positive messages he could throw out for encouragement.
So therein lies the basic premise of Goalie. A user adds tasks, that will by default be given the latest priority. Notice I didn’t say date, because technically the priority level acts as more of a state than anything. Tasks move from green, to blue, to yellow, to red. The longer you take to finish a task, the hotter the task would get, and the hotter Goalie would get. The list mimics a thermometer, as color helps provide a simplistic sense of time. Whether glancing at your phone or your watch, you get a general sense of how you're doing at any given moment based on Goalie’s state. Simple, quirky, and adorable, we wanted to release version 1.0 in the hopes of providing a solution that wasn’t overbearing or overwhelming, but simply helped you get things done. At the end of a long work day, watching Goalie cool back down to a calming shade of green, rock his tiny shades, and tell me I was a rockstar was way more satisfying than crossing off items in a list. Is it crazy to befriend a tiny droplet with a sweatband? I hope so.