Failing to write apps

I failed recently to write an app. I started in November, in my spare time, and I planned to have this app ready for Christmas. It’s clear that I’ve missed that goal, so I can now chalk it up as another failure. Failure is rubbish, but I feel good about this one – I didn’t just burn out or grow bored and move on to something else, and I learned something about myself.

The app was to be a colouring book for the iPad. I wrote it with my little four year old girl, and she got to see first hand the excitement of creating something like this from scratch. She loved the whole process, and she loves the app in it’s current, unfinished form. I wish she could have seen it go through to completion, and being downloaded by strangers who like the app and actually want to pay money for the thing we created, but that phase will have to wait.

Analyzing the reason this project failed also revealed something interesting — I’m scared of making an app that look ugly. I think the reason most of my projects fail boils down to this one fact: I suck at graphic design. It’s the phase where I always grind to a halt — I build out the platform, get the technical plumbing all done, and then I freeze in the face of visual aesthetics and certain aspects of UX/interface design. Looking back over all of my failed side-projects, this is the key weak point in them all.

With this colouring book app, the thought of getting the interface right bugged me. But even that was some way off. My first stumbling block was the chunky line art black and white pictures for colouring in. I was going to ship 8 images with the app — 4 regular and 4 seasonal (for Christmas) with more free seasonal pictures throughout the year. I wanted also to have a pack of 24 or 30 pictures that you could buy for $2, with more packs added later.

I drew some pictures, first using a mechanical pencil, and then going over the outline with a medium sharpie. The results looked good on paper, but the scans looked stark and the outlines were too harsh. You could also blatantly tell they were hand drawn. I tried various Photoshop filters, which certainly helped, but still not good enough. For this app, I think the answer lies in vector art, and Adobe Illustrator (with the trace tool) in particular. I need to get good at using Illustrator before I can finish this app.

Hand-drawn snail

So it’s another failed app, but at least I’ve had a bit of a realisation with this one — and I now know where to focus my efforts for the next time (or to look for projects where this weakness won’t bite me so hard). I have moved on to the next project already, but this one will sit in the front of my mind for a while longer and will hopefully get done — not least of all because my little girl keeps asking me for progress reports :)