Much Smart — why side projects should be fun

The design process is usually complicated, with deep implications and huge restraints — especially when you’re working on big products. Every small decision requires a ton of consideration and at some point that can become frustrating. That’s why having small side projects can help you forget about the seriousness and just have fun while designing.

This is not the type of article where I get into all the “how it should be done”, but the opposite. Me and @carmenalbu built a silly little game and it was as as fun as one might expect.

Context

After the launch of the Apple Watch, the small gadget got our attention. It was a huge step in terms of wearable technology so we decided to make an app just to test its limits. All we knew was that it shouldn’t be too serious, and it shouldn’t take a lot of time to build.

After some random ideas we agreed on a small game to improve your cognitive skills and help you get your brain in shape. We set up some basic rules along the way:

1. Compare two numbers / equations in order to chose the biggest one.
2. Do it in 5 seconds.
3. When you lose… we make fun of you.

iPhone App

You can’t have a Watch app without its equivalent on mobile, so we started with the iPhone one. After exploring different versions we decided to go with the simplest one in order to allow quick development and easy feedback. I used Sketch App for designing and exporting assets.

Homescreen and Gameplay

Because most of the times people don’t consider equations as being fun we had to create the habit in a different way. Our research was based on the negativity bias: if we hurt our users’ ego when they lose, they will be more likely to prove us they can do better.

So each message was written on the “mean + ironic + funny” formula. Each time you lost you had a different message to push you more into playing.

Download the app to see the other additional messages.

Apple Watch App

The Apple Watch is a great gadget and it has huge potential, but it’s still in its early phase.

Most of the things we had to be careful were design related: you can’t use too many icons, you can’t overlap elements and each small thing that you add to a page will increase the loading time. So on the Apple Watch version the actual challenge was to remove elements without losing the personality and playfulness.

What’s next? — Android App

After launching the iOS app and having more than 100 active users in the first few days — with no marketing budget — we figured out there might be some desire for it on the Android market. Right now we're working on adding more messages, increasing the difficulty and launching in on the Google Play store.

What we learned

We never looked at Much Smart as being a successful game. If we got more into research maybe at some point we would have realised that it’s not worth involving in this project, but that wasn't our goal. Along the way we noticed that having fun can make a positive impact on a project — and that’s a huge lesson to learn.



I’m Dan Tase, Product Designer living and working in sunny London. If you enjoy what you're reading don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m also on Twitter.
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