Lessons Learned

When I first started to get into programming in 2012, the first app I wanted to develop was a smart to do app. Called NextTask, my first android app mainly consisted of adapted code samples from Google’s documentation and lots of bits and pieces from Stack Overflow.

I think I have come a long way since then. I have rewritten NextTask for Android (twice!), getting better and better. But: the app still looks hideous to me now, when back then I thought I had finally produced a good design. At the core though, I think it’s a solid app and concept, which might be the reason that there’s still 35 people actively using it at the time of writing (on Android)!

After a while, I decided to shell out the 100€ for the Apple Developer membership and started getting into iOS programming – mind you, I’ve never actually owned an Android; after 2 years of having a Windows Mobile (6 or 6.5 I think) phone, I got my first iPhone and have only used iPhones ever since. Which means, I had a much better grasp on what iPhone apps were supposed to look and feel like. I started out with developing NextTask for iOS, before I finally worked on other things: Panchromatic and MateMonkey for iOS followed in the years after that. Yes, years, because every app takes quite a while for me to develop; I have a day job and two kids to handle, which often leaves me tired at 8pm – my prime time for working on my apps.

I’m not quite sure why, but for some reason I had the urge to come back to NextTask once more. I guess it just has to do with having my name next to an app, that I – once again – can’t stand from a design perspective. I think I did have more than a faint inkling that the design was not actually good when I first released the app, but I knew that was all I could come up with at the time. I’m not much of a programmer, having never really learned how to program, and I’m much less a designer. But I think, you can train both of these skills, like a sport. If you keep doing it over and over and over, you’ll eventually get better. Keep running every day, and you definitely will get better. You’ll never be an olympian sprinter, of course, but still better than some others. And in that sense I know I may not be a natural programmer and designer, but I’m getting better as I keep doing it.

Long story short, I’m quite content with how NextTask has turned out this time. I’ve finally really picked up on the original metaphor (look at the Android app icon) of an ordered stack of tasks to do and created a card based UI. The user can go through the stack and look at all their tasks, and even edit and finish them out of order (which was not possible with the prior version ?). I’ve given the app some color, but as I’m not sure that everybody will like it, I have provided a couple of alternatives to choose from.

I also like my idea of not providing a tutorial screen when a user first opens the app, but to create several tasks describing how the app works. The user can check them off and at the same time get a feel for how the app works. I’ve reduced the overall complexity of the app, almost everything happens in the main screen as the cards flip for editing and don’t split up their content anymore. The only reason to leave that main screen is to go to the settings, that – once set – should be good for a while for most users.

To finish my train of thought from earlier: I can’t wait to see what my next projects teach me about app design and how I might think of this version of NextTask in the future. Of course I’m hoping I’ll still find it halfway decent in another 2 years, but who knows?

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