Making Typendium

Blue sky thinking

In early 2013 I wanted to make an app. Technically I had already made an app, the 2012 iPhone game TEETHING. However having been made in GameSalad, TEETHING was put together without any coding. This wasn’t going to cut it anymore because a side goal of 2013 was to enter the mysterious world of software development, and that just couldn’t be done without learning how to code.

2013's app was going to have to be made in native code. I had an iPhone 3GS and a 2008 MacBook Pro, so Objective C and iOS development it was. I knew a game would be out of my league so I decided to make something static, something easy. Having recently watched Gary Hustwit’s documentary Helvetica, and currently reading Just My Type typography was on my mind, so it was simple, “I’ll make an app about typography”. It didn’t take long before my friend suggested the name Typendium as a joke, but I loved it.

Early designs for the history, anatomy and specimens pages.

Originally Typendium was going to work like a typographic alphabet, where each letter would have a typeface assigned to it that you could learn more about. There would also be an anatomy section to explain the fundamentals of typography, as well as a specimen, or more accurately a poster for each typeface, that would capture its essence and be worthy of screen printing and using as rewards for a Kickstarter. Yes the original version of Typendium was going to be Kickstarted and it was going to be amazing. It would give us the money to make Typendium full time, and it would give us enough PR that come release getting press coverage would be easy.

Typendium was always planned to be released around the launch of iOS7, a September/October finish line seemed perfectly reasonable in February/March 2013. In hindsight that was ridiculous. When learning something new you should leverage existing knowledge to make it easier and more enjoyable. Otherwise you quickly become out of your depth and begin to think you’re a fraud.


Realisations

To be truthful I quickly realised two things. Firstly, my initial idea for Typendium would require a ridiculous amount of content, both in the actual stories, but also in Robyn’s illustrations. Secondly, there just isn’t aren’t enough interesting typefaces to cover every letter of the alphabet. My biggest mistake was not admitting early enough that I couldn’t overcome these two gigantic hurdles, and therefore I became miserable whenever I thought about Typendium and resultantly development slowed to a crawl.

2013 became 2014. Typendium always felt so close to being finished, but the finish line kept disappearing. Compounding the problem was that my programming skills were progressing too quickly, and the project was becoming an unmanageable mess of terrible code. What made it worse was that I knew the project wasn’t that complex, that my developer friends and the developers I admired could probably make this app in a couple of months. Yet here I was struggling with every little problem.

Eventually I built up the courage to strip Typendium to its fundamentals. Gone was the extensive anatomy section, gone was the specimens section, and gone were the settings that let you choose between different display typefaces, different sizes or day and night modes. All that remained were the stories, and even those were cut down from 26 to 10, and then 10 to 5.

It wasn’t until I also decided to scrap all my code and start from scratch that progress on Typendium truly began to improve. In one month I had completely remade Typendium, but this time it was much more manageable and didn’t terrify my friends whenever I needed them to look at a problem.


The Last 20%

Now there was a new goal, release Typendium before iOS8. I won’t lie, even with the downsizing of expectations finishing Typendium was like pulling teeth. No matter how invested you are in a project, when you have a full time job working on evenings and weekends over seeing friends and family is a tough sell.

Regardless work on Typendium plodded on. Weekends became researching, writing and editing. Researching, writing and editing. Researching, writing and editing. Then not with a bang but a fizzle Typendium was finished. There was no fist thrust into the air moment, instead it was more a quiet realisation that, “I think it’s finished.”

Typendium 1.0 entered the world on August 26th 2014, 23 days before iOS8. I suppose I have yet to finish working on it. There have already been a number of updates for bug fixes, and most recently support for the larger iPhone 6 & iPhone 6 Plus. Next on the agenda is iPad support and then more typography stories. Maybe Typendium will never truly be finished, but I think I’m ok with that now.

Typendium is available here.

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