Day One is a lovely journalling app that helps you keep track of your entries while also being a robust writing tool that's a pleasure to use. Behind the app is Paul Mayne, designer and founder of his company, Bloom, where Day One came to fruition. We caught up with Paul to learn how and why he came to create the app.
Where did the idea for the app come from? Were you trying to solve a problem you'd experienced, or did the inspiration come from somewhere else?
I'd never been able to keep a written journal, but was always fascinated by the concept of keeping a personal history, especially digitally, considering all the advantages that can come from doing so. Since I was a child I've held onto every ticket stub I could, from movies, concerts, sporting events and such, and taken lots of photos (on 110 film) always with a goal in mind that someday I will create something from these artifacts, in a way that will give me a good reference and timeline of my life history.
After you came up with the idea, what was the next step?
I'd been throwing around this basic idea for years, but never had the technical expertise to make it happen on my own. A year prior to Day One, I designed a basic version of a Mac app that I pitched to several programmer friends, seeking a potential partner, but realised based on the feedback that it wasn't compelling enough. Rightfully so — the idea had morphed into something too grandiose, as it had become a full-blown life-tracking application that let you track and note every detail about your life, like "how many Cokes did I drink today?" (similar to the Reporter app by Nicholas Felton). After explaining my complex idea to people I always ended it with "But you can also use the app just as a personal writing journal."
It took me another year of learning and improving my design and product thinking that I finally realised the value in simplification. That the application should be a simple journal, and to start with that.
How did you choose which platforms to target and which to ignore or wait on?
I love Apple's sense of design and how they continually focus on building high quality products by limiting what they choose to work on. Working in the Apple ecosystem is inspiring and allows us to take advantage of brand new technologies and deploy them to the majority of our users. For example, we are really excited to take advantage of the new "extensions" to be introduced in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite.
Apple's App Stores — Mac and iOS — are massive features of these operating systems. There are so many useful and innovative tools on there, with new ones launching every day. It's ridiculous how many apps are on my phone.
There's a big demand for Android, and it's something I'd love to provide when the time is right, but currently we're a small team that strives to take full advantage of our capabilities, and we feel that by focusing on a single platform, we're able to achieve a better product.
What was your biggest roadblock and how did you overcome it?
Trying to do too much too fast. Timing is a crucial element of success, but there has to be a balance. For the first year I wanted to get everything out the door as quickly as possible, which bit me a couple times like with iCloud.
Now we've got a solid, full-time development team with an agile approach, and managed to nail down a great testing and release process that's reduced our need for quick-fix updates, which has led to improved App Store user reviews.
What was launch like for you?
Extremely exciting. I've been a huge fan of software creators and website services forever and had never launched anything that was mine, or that I was proud of and wanted my name on. I had very little expectations going into this, I honestly would have been happy to fund the creation of this tool for my own use only. But the idea that some other people might actually find this application as useful as I do was very exciting.
After seeing a successful launch, the thought that I could earn money from this and maybe even get to work on it full-time was a dream. And it came true.
How do you handle user requests and criticisms effectively?
User feedback was incredibly useful for the first year, and still is today. I launched the app without many features you'd expect from a journal. But I felt like it was time to get the product out there, and I would list in the app description the features that are coming soon.
Now, how do you split time between developing new features and managing existing ones?
We just passed the three-year anniversary for the launch of Day One. The team has grown to seven people and we've been committed to continually improving the app in every way, like fixing bugs and adding new functionality. Recently we transitioned from fully developing the current app and splitting out efforts between supporting the current app and developing the next 2.0 app. It's a gradual process and a constant topic of discussion on how much we want to get done now versus in the next major update.
What advice would you give to others that want to take on a similar project?
1. Work with the best people. I've been very fortunate to bring together some of the best people you could ask for. They love what they do and they do it very well. And they are easy to get along with.
2. Focus on a single purpose idea and nail down the user experience to be the very best you can make it. Refine over and over and do one feature that will showcase that it's the best at this one thing. Don't get hung up on superfluous animations and design details — make it look good and function better. Strive to do something new and unexpected.
Lifehacker's Behind the App series gives an inside look at how some of our favourite apps came to be — from idea to launch (and beyond).