Over the last few months I’ve been working on a free service for designers called Marvel, a super-simple way to create mobile and web prototypes using your images and PSDs on Dropbox.
We went into public beta with our MVP around a month ago and we’ve now got over 2000 users and over 8400 design files synced. The feedback has been amazing, I’ve been stunned that so many people have taken the time to write huge emails detailing things they love, hate and want to see in the future. It’s given us tons to work on. We’re now gearing up for our proper launch with lots of new features and fixes.
A bit of background
The idea for Marvel came about whilst I was freelancing at a big global agency. Like most of the designers there, a large part of my time was spent on pitch work.
There was one pitch in particular that sparked the idea. It was a iPhone app for a big brand worth 6 figures, so everyone had their heads down all week working hard on putting something impressive together.
All of my time was spent doing the interface and ux for the app, I more or less designed the whole thing by the end of the week. I sweated details, I did it all in Retina, I displayed interactions and gestures, it was full on.
What happened next is pretty typical in most agencies I’ve worked in. You hand over the finished mockups to the account director, who then crams them into a Powerpoint and presents the whole thing on a screen 5 metres away from the client whilst flicking through each slide every few seconds.
A couple of things happen at that point:
- The attention to detail and the impact of that design is lost
- The user journey isn’t communicated efficiently
- It looks like every other presentation
We ended up losing the pitch.
In an ideal world I would have handed my designs over to one of the devs and they would have coded it up so that we could have presented a prototype that the client could have played with. The reality is that in most agencies all the developers are stacked on existing projects and don’t have time to anything else. Placing developers on each pitch can also lead to the cost of pitching spiraling out of control.
It wasn’t the first pitch I had ever lost nor was it the most disappointing, but I was frustrated. What’s the point of spending days on design when it’s presented in such a poor way?
For the next pitch I decided to put all my mockups on the photoroll of the device and give it to the client myself.
The result was incredible, even though the only thing you could do was swipe through the screens, the client loved it and actually thought we had finished the app. I had to explain that it was static mockups but she was impressed.
I was able to talk through the flow with the designs in context and the client got it instantly.
After we won the work, the idea for Marvel began to form.
I started researching many of the different prototyping services on the market they were either too complicated or not seamless enough. Many make you use their own clunky interface tools to create wireframes, it was painful and I kept finding myself trying to make them do what I could already achieve in Photoshop or Illustrator.
And what happens to the prototypes and wireframes I make if I stop paying the monthly fee?
Another problem was that so many prototyping tools don’t support PSDs or AI files. The chore of saving each file as a PNG every time you make a change then reuploading, maintaining my prototyping took longer than designing.
Can’t I just leave my files where they are (in Dropbox) and the prototyping tool sync changes automatically?
And then there’s the price – I don’t know about you but as a freelancer there’s no way I can afford to pay for half of the prototyping services out there.
The plans don’t make any sense either – 4GB storage limit, 3 project limit blah blah blah, just make it simple!
So there it was, the foundations of a fantastic problem to solve that could really help fellow designers.
After pitching the idea to @oh_moore, we decided to start working on Marvel in our spare-time, gradually getting to something useable. It was time to start testing with users so we began to gradually invite friends and designers from different agencies around London.
Just over a month ago we decided to flick the switch and put the site live. The plan was to soft-launch and keep a low profile until we were happy that the servers could cope and that it was bug free.
But shortly after going live, someone posted a link to Marvel on Designer News and within a few days we had 1000 sign-ups. We were completely unprepared.
The website had barely any information on what Marvel could do (we planned on doing a full-site when we had more time) meaning that lots of people were questioning our request to access their Dropbox. Many reached out and asked for some sort of video explaining exactly they were signing up for. It’s hard to know how much it affected signups but I think it was significant.
In the last 2 months we’ve signed up over 2000 users, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. But also the negative feedback has been really constructive which has surprised me. The users who don’t like Marvel genuinely want to see it get better.
I’m learning so much right now it’s both exciting and slightly distracting. I love talking to the users and getting feedback, but I also need to design our roadmap and do all the business side of things. Hopefully I’ll be able to work out a balance soon.
I’ve been inspired by a number of startup folk who’ve documented their experience so I’m going to try and get in the habit of blogging about the journey with Marvel.