Tell us about Solo - how did the project come about and who are the team behind it?
Thrive was formed in August 2008 by myself, Jerome Iveson. I’m a Graphic/Web Designer with a love of typography. I’ve been working in the creative industries for 15 years. I started out doing traditional print work. However, just around the time computers we’re taking over from traditional techniques, I transitioned into web design and then finally moved into web app development, which is what I do now. I have always had a keen interest in design, typography and technology and recently I have been playing around responsive web design and CSS3/HML5. Over the years I’ve freelanced, had employees and done a bit of consultancy.
My vision is to build functional, beautifully designed web and mobile applications. I want Solo to be the best looking and best functioning app there is. My whole ethos revolves around good design and streamlined functionality. I seek to create an independent aesthetic; to stand out from the crowd. A lot of websites and web apps I see lack individuality and seem a little ‘cookie cutter.’ I want to buck this trend.
Solo’s UI is beautiful. How did you arrive at the design of the app, and what challenges did you face in its development?
I wanted to get away from the spreadsheet feel of traditional desktop apps such as Filemaker etc. A lot of web apps still have that feel and for me, tend to be lacking visually. I know quite a few designers/developers will have read ‘Getting Real’ by 37 Signals. It’s a great book with a great methodology for building an app. But I’ve seen loads of apps that take it further and follow Basecamp’s visual style; which for me is clean but uninspiring.
My main aim is to show business data in an easy to digest, visual form, free from clutter and unwanted visual distractions. I started out looking for a clean style with a tight but interesting grid. I tend to design cleaner stuff like this in one Illustrator document as I find it easier to keep visual consistency this way. Using symbols and style sheets allow me to make changes globally, across the whole design. With the typography I wanted a sort of print feel, with large type in places and good visual hierarchy. I’ve always liked Clarendon as a typeface and it was great to see it on the web. The app is designed to be lean, compact and easy to learn. If I could I’d like everything to be available on the dashboard at the users’ fingertips.
We faced quite a few challenges along the way. Typical problems included longer than expected development, and getting the developers to realize that pixel perfect really means pixel perfect! When I started I had a limited knowledge of CSS, however I have since taught myself. Something that comes in handy when I want to get that pixel perfection. In any simple design like ours, it’s the use of space and juxtaposition of the elements which will really make it or break it.
Tell us about the back-end: what platform is the app built on, and how did your back-end team work with the front-end/design team?
The app is built on the .NET platform with the usual mixture of jQuery etc. for the front-end. We have always had a very small team. Firstly it was just myself and our original developer, who has now left for pastures new. At the moment there’s myself, our new developer Mario and our new Marketing Executive Craig.
With such a small team there was a very tight bond between the front and back-end work. In my opinion, I feel that in v1.0 we have managed to get out a pretty good product. I admit that there are still areas that need improvement, however we are working tirelessly to make sure that the functionality matches the aesthetic.
Tell us about the tech scene in Newcastle: why did you decide to base the company there? Do you find any problems running an app firm being away from London or California, or is location not important for you?
I have lived and worked in Newcastle for 15 years. There is a small tech scene here and good access to local funding for small businesses. For that reason, within the UK it is as good as anywhere outside of London. We are funded by http://www.northstarventures.co.uk/ through the Proof of Concept Fund. They have been very supportive. Saying that I wouldn’t say no to moving to California; I can imagine that the weather is definitely a lot nicer there than in Newcastle!
You’re currently busy getting the name out about Solo. Do you have any advice for other app teams for marketing their new products?
I think getting a good head of steam up before launch so you can get people through the door is very important. We did this a little, but still something that we really could have done a lot better. When we launch another product I’ll really pay attention to this. There are so many good tools that can help with creating things like this. Things like BetaList and LaunchRock are good examples and really get subscribers up at launch.
Other tips: really utilize Twitter, answer your support questions quickly, and above all, listen to your users! After all they’re always right. Honestly!