Design Tales #1 – Screenshots & “Design Debt”

Our connected devices are part of our daily life. They take such a big part that we don’t question it anymore. Just like we don’t question why a fork has four tines, we don’t question why our cursor is hand shaped, our save button is an antiquated floppy disk or that we save images by taking screenshots.

Fortunately, few people looked deeper into those unspoken habits and decided to make them evolve. Some of them are scientists trying to figure out the ins and outs, some are entrepreneurs seeking the business opportunities and some are designers thinking of ways to improve them.

At Pelostudio we are part of the third group. A team of designers striving on making one of our daily digital experience evolve: Screenshot. Because we are more interested in the journey than the destination, we can already tell you how it ends. It’s called Blink, a mobile app allowing you to take a screenshot, add text to it, tweak it, share it… It has already gained over 5,000 downloads from it’s popular launch on Product Hunt and has gotten picked up by sites like Mashable or LifeHacker. Before arriving at this destination, Blink went through many early iterations. An instructive journey.

The lessons from Prism

Adam Breckler -Visually co-founder- got in touch with us with an insight: Everybody takes screenshots, but storage is problematic, sharing them is slow and editing them is complicated.

Prism was born quickly after that, allowing users to take screenshots and add them to collections called ‘stacks’. This gathering of features in one app is interesting, close to Pinterest model: We post, we create boards, we comment, we share…

The very first version : Prism

While Prism resonated within a core group of early adopters (namely designers, developers) it failed to fulfill the promise of the original vision to democratize access to visual communication tools.

A phoenix named Blink

It’s a well know phrase but every failure brings its lessons. Prism is one of them: We understood that the mobile app was the most interesting part and the creative lead we should follow: Users are ready to share the most popular screenshots around the web, as well as memes they see on their screens.

We then developed a new app: Its name is Blink and is built on those lessons. The logo sketch prove it, more consumer oriented and with a different creative approach.

Logo research for Blink

After much back and forth, it was clear that we needed to settle on a approach for Blink that met the changing requirements for the product.

But just like any other great story, there is a magical and unexpected element that happens and allows the hero to succeed. In this case it was a simple feature map: A one page document going over all the feature of our first hybrid app. In the blink of an eye the whole team realized we need to simplify it.

For a while we stopped producing material, we decided to take the direction that lead to Blink as it is today. Everything the user knows how to do (sharing, liking..etc) is following the standard, so the user feels at home and comfortable with common features. The whole team started from a clean slate.

Just a few weeks later, we successfully released a clean and simple app on the Apple Store.

Feature Map

The key: Lose the “Design Debt”

When you look Blink’s journey, one thing stands out: The original idea of the app was not responsible for its lack of immediate adoption. Working on improving the screenshot experience has always been a good idea and the process to get to a better product has always been the objective.

The key part of success is in the making, the process. In the case of Blink, we encountered a major issue: The impact of the “Design Debt”, which could be compared to the “technical debt”. As we are all strong defenders of the “test and learn”, let’s not forget that this very efficient process still leaves marks behind on the product, its understanding and its features.

The Blink adventure is a lesson of audacity and restraint. Restraining from the desire to always reinvent everything: Standards are here for a reason and shouldn’t be seen as constraints. Restraining from Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things”: Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look at what’s been done. But you still need audacity in the decisions you make: Wanting to make everything great prevents you from making one thing well. Audacity when you decide to tackle something established in people’s daily life.

The Blink project brings us to a paradoxical conclusion, in terms of designs, the highest ambitions are successful with a subtle mix of audacity and restraint.