The Making of Wunderlist 3

(Originally published at christianreber.com in July 2014)

What a year so far! While writing this, I had one of those moments realizing how fast time has flown by. I turned 28 last month and today we are finally releasing the product that kept me busy the last 10 months: Wunderlist 3.

It’s a big milestone for us as a company. A new design direction, new apps, new features, and an entirely new real-time sync architecture. As with all big projects, it has been an intense process getting to this point. I am incredibly proud of our team, thanks to everyone who was involved. You are amazing!

The announcement just went live, and in addition I wanted to share a few insights behind the product I can proudly call our best piece yet.

From Wunderlist 2 to Wunderlist 3 — Another rewrite?

Not so long ago, we’ve just completed a big rewrite with the release of Wunderlist 2. Why another one? Let me give you the back story. In 2013 we made incredible progress. We launched Wunderlist 2, our first (!) move to native software development on all major platforms — Windows, iOS, Android, Mac and Web (and later also Chrome OS). Later we launched our premium versions Wunderlist Pro, and Wunderlist for Business. We were happy with the progress, but didn’t reach a point of true satisfaction. Why? Because we knew our architecture wasn’t solid. It was working, but it was not ready for scale. Every time we saw a big peak in activity, we had to tweak things to keep Wunderlist operating smoothly. We weren’t always successful. We knew we had to make some drastic changes again in order to reach some serious scale with Wunderlist.

The decision to do it all at once

Wanting to build a truly mass-market product, but knowing your technology can’t keep up with it is frustrating. We felt we were ready, but late 2013 we had to make the call. Do we invest more time fixing our existing architecture, knowing we will continue to have issues, or do we want to fix it for real? To be clear, fixing things for real wasn’t going to be simple. It meant rethinking the entire server infrastructure, defining a system that’s entirely real-time and compatible with old clients, rewriting all APIs, and also rewriting the sync logic on every client. In addition to that, we also worked on a new design, and of course, new features.

So, there we were. Facing a massive rewrite, knowing they’re always brutal. No one likes big rewrites, months without updates, and some serious stress to get a massive project done. We had carefully reviewed all options, and we knew the fastest way to get it all done was to do it all at once. Our goal is to build the best product in the world to organize your life. And you can’t achieve that by having a flakey architecture. You only achieve serious success by having the best product in the market. There the idea of Wunderlist 3 was born.

Fast, light-weight and simply rock-solid

When we started designing it, we defined a simple mission: fast, lightweight and rock-solid. Nothing more. It wasn’t a priority for us to ship new features, we simply wanted to improve what was already there. Speed meant everything for us. Especially with the launch of iOS 7, the pressure was quite high to get it right. Wunderlist 2 was a very unique. How could we move forward without losing the entire character? How could we keep the product’s soul, even when we are about to change everything? Our design team spent some weeks, locked down in a room where they questioned every detail of the old design and eventually came up with the first rough concepts and prototypes that set the foundation for the new design direction — Wunderlist 3 has been designed for speed. Visual elements, interactions, animations, we wanted to make everything as fast, lightweight and intuitive as we possibly could and at the same time create a concept that scales across all screen sizes and devices.

I found myself saying that even if this is Wunderlist 3, it somehow feels like its the first version. For the first time, everything feels right. The apps are incredibly fast and beautiful, and the new real-time sync makes Wunderlist a whole new experience. Creating and sharing lists has become incredibly simple, intuitive and elegant. There are tags and search on mobile. You can drag and drop lists and tasks. You can mute lists to reduce notifications. The level of care, time and energy our designers and developers have invested to make the experience great is remarkable. I’m so happy with this release, it’s hard to put in words.

Our first step into the future — The new home of all the world’s lists

And then there is our new Public Lists feature.

We all are working with lists every day. Shopping lists, to-do lists, wish lists, movie lists, playlists. We all create, consume and share lists. With Public Lists you can share your favorite lists with the world via social media or your blog and websites and allow others to take those lists and act on them. We are not only building another repository of content on the web. We are actually taking all the knowledge that’s floating around in the form of lists and launching a platform to make those lists usable for everyone on the internet.

Just imagine, if you could search in Wunderlist for “How to move to the United States?”, “How to prepare for a baby?” or “How to setup my first company?”. Everyone will be able to use and benefit from the knowledge of others just by searching Wunderlist.

Our mission: Keeping your life in sync

With the new design direction, a real-time architecture that is ready for scale and Public Lists, Wunderlist 3 is one big step closer to our goal of helping every person with a phone, tablet or a computer to keep their life in sync. We help millions of people to organize the things they want and have to do, tens of thousands of businesses to collaborate with ease and fun. Now, with Public Lists we turned a utility into a powerful platform.

This is of course just the starting point. We have more exciting ideas and a host of new features coming down the line. We are going to launch some great new features that our users have been requesting for a while and will integrate Wunderlist with other services and devices to bring Wunderlist to a much broader audience.

Wunderlist 3 is not an just an update, it’s a new foundation.