I've always thought that building software is very much an organic process. It's like shaping a lump of clay. First, you push and pull in different directions. Then, you keep smoothing and refining until it looks and feels just right.
It's not something that can be planned out to the nth degree.
I know a lot of developers don't like this approach. They want the spec sheet. Defined and ridged.
But true Art cannot be made like that.
Some developers find it annoying to change direction while developing an app. They just want to plough on and get the app finished. Get it shipped, so they can move on to the next thing.
More often than not, Apps from big corporations tend to be bland and uninspired. It ticks the boxes. It gets the job done. Nothing more. It's not a joy to use. It's functional but ultimately forgettable.
On the flip side, software from independent developers can be charming and delightful, packed with thoughtful touches and fun interactions. You can tell when a team genuinely cares and puts everything they have into something. The app will have a personality, a real soul.
If you want to find the magic in apps, look at the fringes. The small teams working tirelessly because they love what they do. For examples of this, check @asallen @ixeau, @splinetool, @afit, @jsngr, @aaroniker_me, @sdw, @stroughtonsmith @phillipcaudell, and so many more. All of these people clearly care about building truly great software.
As an independent developer, you can start building an app with just the whisper of an idea in your head and let it grow and change as time goes on. Weeks and months of work can get discarded. It's certainly more risky building software this way. In fact, it might just be commercial suicide, but you have to accept that creating something special is not always a profitable business to be in.
Sure, implementing changes on a whim makes the entire process harder, messier, and more drawn out. But creativity is a process. You can't rush it.
As an example, Clear for iOS would have never been built if it'd been defined in a spec sheet as a to-do-list app with a set of features it should have.
I was inspired by the user interface of the Windows phone back in 2011. This gave me the inspiration for the flat design that gave Clear part of its distinctive look. Remember, nothing is really original. Everything is a remix.
At the time, everything else on iOS was Skeuomorphic. Clear was a labour of love for the entire team. We played with many ideas and weren't afraid to change things. At times conversation got heated, but only because everyone was invested in building something truly great. Clear ended up being a breath of fresh air and radically different to anything else out on iOS at the time.
The creative freedom afforded while designing Clear was one of the reasons it was a success.
Without freedom and time to experiment, a spark of an idea can be smothered and lost.
If you take away anything from this, it would be to give yourself time to experiment. Add features that are fun and whimsical. Make the app a delight to use. Above all, make sure you give it some soul.
But don't forget, building software this way is risky.
Clear was an experiment that paid off, it could have easily fallen flat. But when making Art, that is the risk you take. You make it for the joy and expression of making it. Not for the money.
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