February 21, 2012
[Nico Janssen is our "new" designer (he's actually been onboard since July 2011) and is responsible for all of the incredible beauty that is Photosmith 2. He also produced the video on our homepage and has been an all-around incredible asset to the project, we are very fortunate to have him.]
It’s nine o’clock in the evening, and I’m chasing the sunset westward across the Atlantic. My plane is losing the battle, so I leave my window seat and wander the low-ceilinged aisles to prevent statistically improbable embolisms, and also to sneakily scope out some empty seats I might prefer.
“What are you doing this weekend?” they asked innocently, two days ago. We Skyped over breakfast — well, my breakfast, their dinner — and now I’m on my way to the United States for the third time in my life. I feel like such a jet-setter! I feel lik Andy Warhol, when Napoleon shuttled him to Atlantis to celebrate his marriage to Boudica. I don’t know what to expect.
‘They,’ by the way, are Chris Horne and Chris Morse, the developers of Photosmith, and I am Nico Janssen.
Born in Amsterdam to a feisty lass from Belfast and an educated rocker from Jakarta, I now live on the world’s largest man-made island, three meters below sea-level. Last time I was in the States, a girl asked whether we all scuba-dive to work. This time, I’m flying out to Atlanta in my capacity as the designer of Photosmith 2.
It took a bit of work to land the job — trawling the Photosmith support forums, shooting a spec promo video, and dropping hints with all the subtlety of Thor’s hammer — and I like it a lot. I like how it fills out that weird gap in my calendar between my dull day job and sleep. I like the team, too. The Three Musketeers we are, with myself as a cunning Aramis to two d’Artagnans both called Chris.
Photosmith has been a fascinating challenge. To bring full-fledged photo management to the iPad, a companion to Adobe Lightroom, is no mean feat. So much control needs to be placed at your fingertips on a sub-megapixel screen. “It should be effortless and delightful,” they briefed me, “and incredibly powerful. Here are three billion user scenarios that need to be supported. Go forth.”
That was months ago, and the work since then has been staggering. I designed transforming buttons, virtual drawers, intelligent sliders, swipe-enabled carousels of controls… Complex custom interfaces designed, coded and discarded in favor of something better. We plotted out a wish-list roadmap to ensure the interface could support future functionality.
Hundreds of radical iterations of mockups, all built pixel-perfect in Adobe Fireworks at my own masochistic insistence. Wireframes and sketches can convey an idea, but they can’t tell you how a screen will feel. On a touch device, feeling is everything.
Just last month they approved the new Polaroid-style thumbnail grid I proposed. We’re close, very close.
When I disembark the Chrises will shuttle me to a hotel, where I’ll be chained to a laptop for the weekend under armed guard. I’m excited to meet them, and even more excited at the prospect of finalizing the last outstanding screens. Well, I say “finalize”… Experience has taught us that Interface and Structure interact at every level. No concept, no matter how logical and obvious, is guaranteed to stand up to the rigors of pixel-perfect simulation. I’ll no doubt head home with more tasks on my punch list than we’ve scheduled for this weekend, but that’s fine with me.
I find a new seat where I can stretch my legs a bit, and settle down.
I blink, and the weekend’s over.
It’s three fitful days later and I’m on a (full) plane heading home, passing through the Atlantic time-vortex in reverse. In the overhead locker, my MacBook is quietly cooling down from its exertions. Shell-shocked and shivering, poor little thing. A talkative boy on the seat beside me informs me I resemble Doctor Tommy Oliver, the Black Dino Ranger.
By the time I land, a new build of Photosmith 2.0 will be ready to install on my iPad.
Bring it on, I say.
Here’s the thing, you see: every hour we spend on Photosmith 2, into the wee small hours of the week-night, is going to save our users a few seconds of time, a few calories of effort, and bring them closer to smiling — just a bit. It’s worth it.
It’s not just altruism, either: my camera hasn’t been sitting idle during the months I’ve been on the Photosmith team, and like so many among our target audience I have a substantial passel of photos sitting unsorted in my Lightroom catalog.
When we’re done, I can brew a pot of tea and sync all of them to my iPad with the awesome tech the Chrises have developed, then rate and sort them from the comfort of my sofa with the simple, elegant UI we’ve worked on all these months. That’ll be a nice way to relax after that hard work.
And then, in all likelihood, I’ll find some obscure little thing I never before thought about doing, which requires four frustrating taps to do. My photos will linger in half-sorted limbo, while I check if Morse and Horne are online so we can brainstorm about improvements.
Bring it on.