WTF Shakie $%?!
Why an ad agency created a GIF sharing app
SS+K Labs recently launched a new GIF sharing app called Shakie, the fastest and most awesome way to share GIFs in text messages to your friends.
Editor’s note: I wrote this in March 2015 but never published it.
On the surface it seems curious why an innovation lab inside a marketing agency might launch a GIF sharing app, so we thought we’d share the background.
Shakie wasn’t an idea we were pursuing, it was an idea we stumbled upon serendipitously. One Saturday morning the folks in SS+K Labs were having an argument via text messages about the merits of various mobile apps, and as usual the argument was degrading into a back and forth of animated GIFs. One of us jokingly commented the most useless app in the world would be one where you just shake your phone and a photo pops up. We could call it Shakie.
Which seemed ridiculous, until we argued about it some more. Everybody loves to share GIFs — on Tumblr, in email, in text messages. But that last one isn’t very easy to do, unless you are using iMessage on your desktop, or relying on some not-so-user-friendly iPhone apps. An app that just let you shake to get a GIF and send it to your friends might actually be useful.
The text message stream continued. We brainstormed features, shared basic wireframes and interaction ideas, and within an hour or so Shakie was feeling like something we should actually build a prototype of. A few weeks later we had a working prototype.
The first version of Shakie didn’t look like much. It was a simple barebones app that called trending GIFs from popular web-based GIF search engine Giphy. Every time you shook your phone you got a new GIF that you could easily swipe off the screen to put into a text message. It was basic, but it made something incredibly clear — shaking to get GIFs was really fun, and as a result we were all browsing, and sharing, many more GIFs than ever before.
In fact, shaking really began to stand out for a number of reasons. While certain apps like Google Maps have incorporated shaking as a way to signal feedback, we hadn’t really seen apps leverage shaking as the predominant method of app interaction. It was fitting with the silliness of GIFs themselves, and also a built in conversation starter about Shakie. People were constantly asking why we were shaking our phones.
Since our prototype of Shakie proved such a hit, we set right to building a version for public release. Our main focus was preserving the simplicity that made Shakie so useful, but adding enough design and functionality to make it an app you want to spend time with regularly. We maintained the same basic modes of interaction but improved the user experience by increasing speed and load efficiency, applying a brand look, and adding a big friendly search box accessible by swipe down anywhere on the screen (the same level of ease as shaking), along with a few other features. A month later we launched Shakie in the iOS App Store.
Building a simple GIF sharing app may seem ridiculous, but not to us. Not only is Shakie incredibly useful, it’s also taught us a ton. We’ve been able to observe how people use GIFs to communicate, how the art form is developing, how common mobile UX practices can be challenged or broken to foster different experiences, and more. Lessons that will feed into our work for our clients. Learning these insights is one of the reasons we started SS+K Labs in the first place.
So where do we go from here? We have plans for Shakie. New ideas for features that have surfaced as we continue to use the app. And we know as we go we’ll continue to learn a lot, too. So keep an eye out for more from us soon.