Unlike most of my professional projects, the punchmob app was unique in that it was funded and driven by a single person, Sam Esmail. As with many people in the spotlight of fame, Sam had been disillusioned with the world of social media. His interactions were often not as engaging or constructive as he would have liked, so like any creative mind, he decided it was time to create something more personal. The concept; create a social media like experience where messages and content could be shared to an audience you actually know in the real world. Users should be able to select the audience of people they choose, post content to a feed for engagement and discussion, and best yet, have that content remove itself from existence when discussion ends.
Being presented with a “Blue Sky” idea, and keeping cost at the forefront of effort, meant that in order to be the best team for our client we work as efficiently as possible. To that end, a small team consisting of myself and our company CTO travelled to Los Angeles and conducted an in-person workshop with Sam. Our goal was to best understand his creative vision and begin to craft an app to achieve his goal. Initially, our conversations included everything from platform support, native vs. hybrid code approach, to finally an experience unlike any in existence. Having the spirit of budget in mind, we began to fully whiteboard the information architecture and navigation structure, allowing Sam to make adjustments and tweaks on the fly before diving into full design. During those whiteboard sessions, we isolated the user interaction goals and tailored each navigation path to best serve the app user in accomplishing their end goal. By branching the experience into 3 navigational starting points based on message type, we ensured that users would have the easiest way to post a social message without the need for complex onboarding or the need to learn the app's unique experience. As this app was going to be a series of firsts, we also agreed to design this with a new coding system in mind. Past experiences with development executions like React were an option, but ultimately it was decided to build this app in Flutter for maximum compatibility. From a design perspective, the approach was a slight shift in that every element of the app would be concepted from a “widget” perspective. The approach of the app being a series of widgets also had the unexpected benefit of creating a solid design system from the start, a practice I have since incorporated into my daily design process. As Sam’s time was extremely valuable, we also structured our review and feedback sessions to correspond to our daily design publishings, where Sam could review and add comments to designs as they were completed. This approach was also carried through the life of the project, where development would publish a build that could be downloaded to Sam’s personal device for review. In order to create the most realistic experience, a small, personalized group of friends and our team conducted user testing by posting threads and messages. Considering the experience is so unique to the app, design was heavily involved in not just creating wireframes, flows, and UX maps, but also with crafting logic around display and content handling. As previously mentioned in our challenges, it was key that the app content remove any record of itself after user participation ceased. Meaning that determining how long content “lives” in the app, the ability to “screen capture”, and finally personal privacy, all remain at the core of our design.
Having completed design, development, and testing; Sam was provided the app to distribute in the way he saw fit. While the app was not initially published to the respective stores, what did come from this collaboration was an ongoing engagement where new ideas and goals are flourishing. In it’s later iterations, functionality such as post customization (think Instagram but for text) were added as well as strategies on how to generate revenue to pay for future development efforts. In addition to our focus on the punchmob app, our working relationship also fostered new ideas such as creating a set-top-box app for distributing all of Sam’s television and film projects.
The biggest highlight of this project was the sense of inspiration and accomplishment gained from working with someone directly, building something based on personal passion for an idea. Working with a large company has major benefits in the sense of total budget, product strategy, and measured pivoting when new requirements are put in place. But working directly for an individual means that every creative idea must be measured against ultimate cost and personal responsibility to their reputation. This direct collaboration with an individual is reminiscent of projects I experienced working for small start-ups, a time I have always been fond of. This personal relationship also allows for exploration in innovation. For example, while working with Sam on this app, we were also able to create concepts in building his personal brand and branching into the set top box arena. While those are ideas for the future, being able to inspire and build on his creative output always kept the project fresh and exciting.
MVP Budget Planning
New Technology Design Approach
Design System Creation
Product Innovation and Strategy