We'll get going in about 30 minutes. Be sure to sign in with your Twitter or Facebook account above to ask your questions, where they'll enter a pool for me to choose from. (The sooner you get your question in, the more likely it is to make our Q&A.)
Alright! We're ready to get started with Andrew Allen! Andrew, are you reading me?
You made that in Paper, didn't you?
That's probably up for others to judge. But for us, Courier and Microsoft was where we first met as a team and learned a new way of working together.
A new way of working together? Do tell.
Well, it's a way of balancing design, engineering, and business. Typically those disciplines are very unbalanced—most organizations have a design:engineer ratio of around 1:40. We have a ratio of 1:1. It makes for a much more balanced product that can celebrate every aspect of creation from it's design to production to marketing.
So rather than a situation where an engineer might develop a new tool for Paper, then a designer figures out how to fit it in, I assume that means those tools are developed through a dialog?
Yes. There's a deeper conversation that can take place when you're 1-to-1.
That's interesting. I’ve always been a bit surprised that Paper was able to be such a huge hit despite coming to the iPad illustration party a bit late. (Apps like Layers already had marketshare, and they went extremely deep.) How early in development did you know what Paper would be--how it would find a niche in the market that excited people?
The company started with our belief that people are really at their best when they create and spend time with their ideas. So we had to start where ideas started. And for most of us, ideas begin on Paper. We didn't set out to build an illustration app, we set out to build the simplest, fastest way to get your ideas down on Paper. In fact, we're not afraid to say there are better illustration apps out there. But if you have an idea that you need to get down quickly and capture beautifully—we think Paper is the place to go.
So in development, you never had a moment where someone said "shouldn't we have X, Y, and Z features on top of all these simple brushes?" or "what will the power users think if we don't allow them to...?"
Or did you have that happen a whole lot, at which point, you had to refocus, and recenter yourselves?
We debate features quite a lot. But we're more interested in simple tools that enable everyone to create and capture beautiful ideas. There's a lot of latent creativity hiding out there in the world, but we need the right tools to release it.
Would you be wiling to give us an example of an enticing feature idea that you had to kill to protect that vision, the simple beauty of the app?
So you designed around verbs rather than physical objects.
That's right. We built the tools for what we wanted to do.
Alright, lots of you in the audience have asked questions. Let's bring our first in now.
Andrew, for those original colors, how did you ever decide on just 9? Was there an effect, or an emotion, you wanted the app to have at launch?
We think there's no such thing as a bad color, just bad color palettes.
The original 9 were designed to both give you a broad spectrum but also work well together in blending and layering. It still amazes me what many creators were able to just nine colors. It's a good reminder that tools are not so much about quantity but flexibility and openness.
The current crop of styluses are okay. They're better than your hand. But clearly there's still a lot of room for improvement—both in accuracy but also in how you use it.
I like Derek's question a lot, especially as Paper is designed to work so well, stylus or no stylus.
I think this leads us to another audience question...
Good question, JJ. Yes, in addition to Paper we are working on new products to expand further into the creative process. We're looking both at web services in answering the question of how people create together and looking at hardware that will transform how you create. Enticing, I know. We can't wait to share what we've been working on!
Andrew, I'm fascinated by something you mentioned to me when we spoke last--FifityThree's focus on "creativity/productivity" products. Do you view this as a new market?
And is there any reason the time is right for you to be working in this space now in particular?
I'm guessing that brings us back to the verb-based design rather than the physical object based design we were discussing earlier.
In which case, what verbs are driving you today?
We always joked that with Paper we were building more of a game than a productivity tool. And I think there's truth to that because play is such an integral part of creative thinking.
Do you consider Post-Its more playful than keyboards, then? I do, but I can't say why. It brings me to this idea I hear from designers a lot--designing for "delight"--and I've always considered delight the great intangible. But it seems like that's what creativity/productivity is, in part, going after.
Yes. Keyboards (the typing kind) have come a long way since the typewriter days, but they're holding us back now. We need new kinds of input to allow new forms of expression that are more visual. Great creative tools are like scissors—they do one thing really well yet open up so many new possibilities. True delight comes not from the interface but from what the interface allows you to create or accomplish.
I love that idea. So you actually see something like playfulness or delight stemming from empowering the user. But it has to be more than just that, right? Because macros are powerful but not very fun.
Ha! Yes, you also need a dash of surprise.
So how can you maintain the element of surprise in an interface, or a product over time?
(Thinking back at how Paper surprised me, I think it was through the empowerment we were talking about. I was empowered to draw WAY better than I ever could on analog paper.)
That's tough. We try to keep applying our approach by rethinking basic tools (like mixing color) for simple, beautiful creation that anyone can jump into.
A lot of the audience has asked, is Paper as we know it a completed product?
It's a complete product today, but it'll continue to evolve to open up new areas of creativity (if that makes sense).
It's absolutely, wonderfully vague. Bravo.
Expanding Paper does seem quite complicated, because you’re defined by your spartan toolkit, but at the same time, add-ons to that spartan toolkit are your whole monetization strategy. In Paper’s case, the design of the app is quite directly tied to how much revenue can be made from it.
I can see how it may seem that way, but we think we've really just scratched the surface. I mentioned it earlier, but we're taking a broad view of how creativity looks in the design of web services and hardware including how it all ties in with Paper—those open up additional avenues. Our team has a vast expanse of expertise that you couldn't label us as just app-makers. We're integrators who span the seams of software, hardware, and services.
So Paper is a platform...
We like to think we're building a suite of essential tools. Paper is part of that suite.
Understood. And because I know we've gone over a bit, just one last question from the audience.
This is probably the most unfair, on-the-spot question ever, which is why I love it so much.
It's not one, convenient piece of advice, but I came from the world of filmmaking, so that experience has shaped me as a designer. Filmmaking has taught me to always tell a great story, no matter what you do, how big or how small—always tell a great story. And that's woven into everything we do at FiftyThree from design to engineering to marketing.
So the only real advice I feel I can offer a designer is—make a film.
Thank you, Mark and those who submitted all the great questions. And…