Introducing “Baby Steps”
An iPhone app for modern parents who want to keep track of their baby’s daily activity.
Two pixels blinked at us from the glowing ultrasound monitor as the doctor announced to my wife and me that we were expecting twins. The following months went by in a blur as we attended baby classes, weighed possible names, and did what we could to prepare ourselves. We bought cribs, a giant double stroller, and way too much baby gear to fit in our small, one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.
Despite all this, my wife and I still felt unprepared to bring home two newborn babies. We hadn’t grown up with younger brothers and sisters and we were far from family who could support us during that first year. That meant we had to learn a lot on our own. The first few months were incredibly draining, but we all survived. And we eventually hired some much needed help, a postpartum doula and an incredible nanny.
We need to keep track.
Looking back at that intense period, all I wanted was to to understand my newborns better. The twins were not good eaters or good sleepers by any standard. They spit up a lot and rarely slept at the same time. We tried our best to make the right care decisions, but it always felt like we were basing our judgments on our fuzzy, sleep-deprived recollections of the last 48 hours. We hoped we weren’t confusing the two babies in our heads as we tried to remember who needed to be fed, and who needed to sleep.
We began to write down the daily grind of sleep, bottles and diaper changes on paper as a way to coordinate with our nanny. This simple solution did ease the handoff between caretakers, but didn’t help us develop an understanding of long-term trends. Being both tech-savvy, we tried a few mobile baby apps.
None of them stuck with us. It wasn’t the design or any missing feature that was the problem, the apps just felt slow and not as efficient as possible. As a mobile app designer myself, I would spend my days at work obsessing over how to make apps simpler: how to shave off a second here, or an unnecessary choice there. I was looking for the same in an app for new parents. There’s already so much work involved in taking care of babies, that I couldn’t stand to add any more. The right app could have made tracking everything about our babies’ first year so much simpler.
Over lunch one day, I shared my thoughts about baby tracking apps with my good friend Phil, a mobile developer and colleague at the time. We often enjoyed chatting about the apps we were using, as a way to learn and keep up with the latest trends. We also had a mutual interest in apps that helped users log their activity. Phil had created an app to log his swimming training and we had worked on an app to log statistics for pick-up basketball games. We liked the idea of creating an app for new parents and baby caregivers and we believed that we could make a great product. Unfortunately, I had no extra time in my life for a side project while balancing my full-time job with caring for the babies at home. So, we put the idea on hold for nearly two years. As the twins grew out of the helpless baby phase and into the independent preschooler phase I was finally able to revisit making the app.
Speed. Speed. Speed.
Speed and ease of use are incredibly important for apps being used multiple times a day. Posting on Instagram or sending a tweet is not particularly tedious or difficult. In the case of an app for baby caregivers, this ease is even more important since users might be stressed out, tired, carrying a baby in one arm, or all of the above. That’s why we paid close attention to every detail that would make the app faster and easier to use.
For example, the icons to enter new logs are at the bottom of the screen because this is the easiest place to reach when holding the device with one hand. These icons are customizable, so you can choose which ones you use most frequently. A log is pre-filled with the current time. A new growth measurement starts with the previous measurement, so you only need to add the difference. Values are edited by swiping over large portions of the screen rather than typing on a small numeric keypad, which is faster and less prone to error. While all these small improvements are great, there are many more that we may not have thought of yet and we hope to get feedback from our users about all the ways they use the app, so that we can continue to make it more efficient.
It takes a village.
All the apps that I tested allowed for multiple people to log entries collectively. But none of them identified the author of the entries or which entries were new. It made using these apps as a group, with my wife and our nanny, a frustrating experience. And yet having multiple people teaming up is not an edge case. Raising children today often involves multiple caregivers: working parents, stay-at-home parents, and childcare from family, nannies, or daycare.
That’s why creating a great multi-user experience was one of our primary areas of focus when designing the user interface. The main screen is designed like a familiar messaging app. It features a feed of entries with authors, dates, and timestamps. There is no learning curve, everything looks and works like the apps you use everyday. The feed allows for a clear visualization of the shifts between caregivers throughout the day. It also allows for the possible integration of group features in the future: threaded comments, reactions, suggestions, etc.
A long road ahead.
No product is perfect or complete when it launches and Baby Steps is no exception to the rule. With the app available in the App Store, I am most excited to hear from our users about pain points and missing features, about personal experiences and unique struggles, because only this knowledge will inform us on how to make the app better. If you want to give Baby Steps a try, please let us know how it goes–the good parts and the bad. With your help we hope to make parenting a little less stressful a little more fun.