Category: Side Projects

Software Designers, Let’s be more playful!

I want to extend the idea of playfulness as an underutilized concept in user experience and product design.

Let’s take a second to think back to the days when we were all just getting introduced to the world of computers, Windows 95:

Windows 95

Doesn’t that just look – not fun? Not playful?

I use Windows 95 as an archetype for the non-playful. Analyzing it, we can identify several elements that make this product particularly non-playful:

  • Functionally oriented – the best software is going to do what you want it to, but it appears that Windows 95 developers were primarily concerned with what the software does not how it does, let alone how beautifully or how playfully it does so
  • Boxy design – the design is regimented and recalls notions of standardization, functional orientation, and even autocracy: everything is laid out in ordered, neat boxes
  • Straightforward – features and applications are included when they have a strict utilitarian purpose for the user, rarely as flourishes for the user to view

On the other hand, some software is simply a delight to use. Games can be addicting in this way, and hence we use the term playful.

Here’s one of my favorite recent examples of playfulness, Google Drive’s feature for simultaneous massive editing. It uses cute icons and names to identify people, like Anonymous Chupacabra:

Playfulness in Action

Aren’t those icons just a joy? Doesn’t that name make you laugh?

What makes this software so playful? By analyzing the attributes, we can hopefully begin to incorporate playfulness in our software as well:

  • Experience oriented – there may not have been a user specification to make the software fun or have memorable identifiers for distinct anonymous contributors, but instead of stick with ‘Anonymous A, Anonymous B,…’ or ‘User 1, User 2,…’ the team behind drive thought about the experience of having funny, identifiable anonymous contributors
  • Modern design – the look of the images and the use of the latest design concepts, including flat design and simple conceptual design (see iOS 7, twitter redesign), makes the feature very appealing to the eye
  • Funny – both the names and images are done with an attention to humor; one does not expect to think about chupacabras or axolotls after 12, but their appearance out of context makes them quite funny

So, I encourage all of us to be experience oriented, use modern design, and be funny. In our mockups, wireframes, and flows, we can think a little bit less about the functional requirements and more about the playful experience, taking after the definition of play itself:

  1. engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

Doing so, we can improve all of our software.

Note: this post was originally published to Medium and is included here for visitors of my personal website.

About Sky Brothers

Who are the Sky Brothers?

Aakash and Gagan Gupta. We’re brothers from Portage, MI – though Aakash lives in Palo Alto, CA now and Gagan lives in Philadelphia, PA.

What are we working on?

Rap to Beats – a top 2 ‘Rap’ app for iPad and iPhone.

Better than Siri – a method to deliver custom Siri commands without jailbreaking your phone.

LoudCrowd – an interactive lecture app.

A few other things – we’re tackling big problems and can’t wait for the results to be ready for you all!

#4 in Rap!

Rap to Beats is the 4th App when you search Rap in Apple's Apple Store on the iPhone

That’s pretty cool – if you search ‘rap’ on your iPhone, Rap to Beats is the 4th result. And it’s a result of downloads only accelerating, on all devices.

We’ve been getting there with your help. Your suggestions on features, DJ intros, and the rest are helping. Thank you!

I have been loving beats by our latest 2 featured producers. Some of my favorites by redhooknoodles:

And these tracks by Spence Mills also really burn:

But our ambition is much bigger than #4 for rap. It’s to be the first in the music category. We have many features we are working as fast as possible to roll out to you. Keep updating, and talk to you soon.

PS-If you are a DJ who would like to market yourself to our huge user base, kindly contact us.

So, Rap to Beats is killing it…

Just in its soft release, Rap to Beats has absolutely killed it. We were a featured app in the United States and India, and 100% of the reviews have given a rating of 5 stars.

We definitely count ourselves as blessed.

As we make a push now for the hard release, news coverage, and mass public usage, I look forward to updating you all with more tales of success.

Our New “Favorite” Way to Use Rap to Beats

Gagan has been getting his usual funk on and dropped me this soundbyte using Rap to Beats when he solved a programming problem I had in all of about 5 seconds. Predictable.

I love the use of Rap to Beats for 5 second little e-mail bombs on friends like this. [For those of you who can’t play the file for whatever reason: he says Boom, slowly, over a funny background.] Going to come in great use when I beat someone in fantasy football ;). It is the ultimate, easy to record diss; it’s the 5 second funny audio diss.

As predictable as Gagan being fun and goofy, I have three reasons I really like the 5 second audio diss:

1. They’re really small, as in only 39 kilobytes!

2. They’re really easy to do. People who are afraid of “rapping” can do these.

3. They are really fun and have a broad appeal. Who doesn’t like to do fun stuff like this? Boring people?


New Design for Rap to Beats

We have just submitted to Apple a major upgrade: a completely new interface (along with a few little changes like better offline functionality). I wanted to use this space to walk through some of the new design features that should go live as soon as Apple accepts them.

We went through several iterations before reaching this final design, essentially a dark denim texture theme. The first iteration of our theme was intended to be a leathery texture with cloth “sewed on.” But that did not turn out so well. The second iteration of our theme was intended to be a dark, futuristic take on a music player. But that also did not turn out so well. After a few more iterations, changing the colors and textures, we ultimately decided this interface was the best of the bunch we created:

This is the new home page for the redesigned Rap to Beats

We could see a few iterations of making this better, perhaps changing the colors of the button and title patches and fraying the edges further, but we will try to A/B test those landing pages now that the App is available in the App Store.

An interesting roadblock we had throughout the design was what background texture to use. After consulting various design resources, we were ultimately able to decide on the final texture, the dark denim, by looking at how the second most visited page in the app would look:

This is the completely redesigned studio page for Rap to Beats, my iPhone App

We really liked the contrasting colors on this page. Once we had the home and studio pages complete, the final large design hurdle was the icon. There is no shortage of advice on how to make a great icon, and we tended to agree with most of it. So, ultimately, we decided to make a no-text image that fits with our overall theme and conveys the functionality of the app. The stitching from the other pages is there, and then we have a very low opacity silhoutte of a dread-locked female singing on a microphone and pointing to the sky:

The new Rap to Beats Icon, v 1.1

This iteration of the Rap To Beats design was a great workout for my Photoshop skills, and I look forward to further development as we get feedback from YOU! Indeed, any comments at all are appreciated.


Rap to Beats Available Now!

7 business days after submission, our AppRap To Beats was just accepted! When I first got the text from Gagan, I did not even believe him. Then he sent me the screenshot of the e-mail, and I kept checking it again, and again, and again–just to make sure it was real. Alas, when you search ‘Rap To Beats’ in the App Store, the app does indeed come up!

So, please check it out! Enjoy it, and, if you would be kind enough, (5-star) review it! We think you will have oodles of fun.

First App, Rap To Beats, Submitted!

After months of coding and design work, Gagan and I submitted Rap to Beats to the Apple App store on Tuesday night! Here’s our homescreen, simple and effective:

Rap To Beats has been Uploaded! This is the home screen.

Why did we create this app?

1. Glaring Market Weakness: there is no free Rap app for your Apple device with

A) a rich selection of free beats

B) the ability to use your own beats.

This is the only app that allows you the ability to rap over the best beats. While serious artists will probably defer to their Studios, for the up and coming rapper or average Joe looking to have fun with his/her friends, this app fulfills a crucial need. We will soon be making the app full featured and equipped even for the most serious of artists [interviewing them on what they need now].

2. Very Fun: Gagan and I love recording things while singing to songs. We throwdown all the time. After we submitted the app, we got particularly goofy. What a memory! We think this app could definitely go viral; it’s just way too fun.

3. Our First App: we love coding and designing mobile applications, but amongst our litany of ideas, this stood out as having a clear first version that we could release with sufficient functionality and added features over the current market offerings to make it an attractive app the day it is released while simultaneously having future iterations — for example, eventually the app will be a platform for beat producers — that allowed us to release an app quickly and learn by doing.

We will let you know if/when the app is accepted and you can use it to make fun memories as well!

Product Creation and the 80/20 Rule

Throughout my life, I have found great evidence for the Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule — that is, sometimes the best way to succeed is to focus on that 20% of work that produces the 80% of results you aim to achieve.

In the case of my interest in fully jumping into the product creation game, I have decided to apply the 80/20 rule to my to-do list.

Sometimes good is good enough.

The best ideas I currently have are in the mobile space, and I am not making the apps in HTML5. Furthermore, my brother is extremely proficient in the mobile space and an amazing partner. As a result, the core focus of my coding efforts has been, and will be for the next few months, on the mobile projects with my brother — nothing else.

That means, for my personal website, WordPress with a stock theme is good — good enough.

The creation of an organic blog will be a side project for another time. I will certainly return to the internet game, but Objective C and Photoshop currently demand all the time I can give them. This is a pragmatic decision to make the best product I can, a product which I cannot wait to share with you. So, ’till then, cheers.

Austin Lake - Sunset View

Why this site is not awesome

Yes – someone who was once known as an html programmer should have a much more functional, impressive site than a WordPress with a stock theme. Honestly, this will only be live for about 10 more days. Then, it will be relegated to the internet archives.

A few days after I finish the GMAT — I take it Thursday — I will have my own ground-up blog up. It will be one of my many projects to get back into product creation.

My programming since senior year of high school has been focused on two research pursuits:

— Sensor networks: JAVA and Bayesian Statistics to improve anomaly detection

— Psychological applications: creating novel tasks using the PEBL language, all manners of statistical software, advanced clustering using MATLAB

Neither were particularly end-user oriented, nor were they intended to be sold. But now that I am moving to Silicon Valley, I have been inspired to enter a new combination of business and tech. I think it is the perfect fit for my life arc. I cannot wait to share more of it with you.

For now, here is a list of some of the ways I am getting back into product development:

1. Basics, lecture notes of Stanford CS CS106A course available on Stanford Engineering Everywhere

2. Developing two iOs apps with my brother under the Sky Brothers moniker, mainly at this stage on user design and improving my Photoshop savvy; he’s a passionate code guy

3. Developing a Google app engine based blog, mainly through instruction from the Udacity course CS253 and learn HTML5, CSS3, PHP, Javascript, etc through a variety of resources as well

So this site was just a jump start on my effort to motivate me to display all my work. Cheers for finding it early.