The Most Important Screen

The time delay screen is the core of Sealed. It needs to be an exciting, delightful experience to scroll into the future. How exactly should it look?

In contemplating the design for this screen, I’ve kept an eye out for apps that use a prominent circle to perform an action or to display data. Here’s a smattering of what I’ve come across:

At this point, I’m happy with the notion of dragging an item around in a circle to increase the time delay. The action itself should be just about universally understood: things rotate clockwise, whether it be an analog clock, a planetary system, or an iPod scrolling through music. I’m confident that people will see this screen and know what to do.

The decisions to be made here are basically cosmetic. How thick is the line? How much data should I show the user (hours, days, months, years?) To gradient or not to gradient? To introduce a new color or to keep with the theme? How can this experience sparkle?

I feel like I’m missing an animation, but I have a hard time thinking in motion. Maybe the button swells when you tap + drag it? Maybe it changes color with each revolution?

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I’m hesitant to gradientify the whole app, but it is a common trend and does tend to cause people to call the design “beautiful”. Is it clear? Will it feel special? Is there a happy medium?

Also, I’ve recently begun to take to Tumblr to post my screenshots, which I collect aggressively whenever I come across a piece of design that is interesting to me. Ads, apps, marketing done well and poorly, tech, future-tech (my favorite)… if the Internet has taught me anything, more social media is always better than less!!!!!

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How to Sell Sealed

There are many ways to spin a product. Facebook could have been sold to baby boomers who wanted to reconnect with long lost college classmates. Twitter could have been spun as a way for activists to amplify their message. Snapchat could have been marketed as a tool for business professionals to communicate instantaneously across departments or between cities.

But Facebook started with college@students.edu, creating that initial scarcity that made it desirable. Twitter managed to combine microblogging-as-self-expression with tweeting-as-public-broadcasting, and Snapchat flamed its way through every high school in the nation as a way to thwart their parents.

How did these companies know to target the users that they did? Did they do extensive market research and customer validation? Did they run focus groups and a/b test taglines and color schemes? Was the process wholly scientific or was it human intuition that led to these decisions? Of course the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, but what does that mean for Sealed?

Sending a time capsule message is a very abstract concept, and as such, there are a number of different use cases that could be compelling to different users.

The Relationship-Driven User

Use Sealed to give your friends or family something to look forward to. Send your significant other a message in the morning that will unlock when they get out of work at 5pm.

The Pragmatist

Send birthday and holiday messages and gifts ahead of time. Never miss a birthday again.

The Sentimentalist

“Someday this moment will mean something.” These users are haunted by the passage of time and our ever-pending mortality, leaving themselves a trail of breadcrumbs for then they are old and “remembering the days when…”

The Joker

Send a friend a message for 25 years from now. Why? Because you can. Better yet, send a picture of nothing. Imagine the let-down…

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Each of these approaches will appeal to a different user. How do I know which of these users will be the most engaged and likely to become an active evangelist? How can I decide on how to sell Sealed?

The following are potential strategies for customer validation.

  • Short ~$50 campaigns of Facebook / Google ads, A/B testing.
    Pros: nearly immediate results in hard data. Cons: expensive and hard to avoid bias in the testing process. Validately and Optimizely do this. This guy did it with $30.
  • Create an online survey.
    Pros: will receive subjective feedback in real sentences from real people, which could result in insights. Cons: survey design is tricky, hard to avoid bias. Hard to get large number of responses, and most people responding will know me personally, contributing another layer of bias.
  • Go out into the world and ask.
    Pros: real-time feedback from town centers, shopping malls, etc, could lead to enlightening conversations. In person I can make note of the subtler aspects of people’s reactions and probe deeper into unexpected results. Cons: very easy to ask ‘leading’ questions. Responses in person are likely to be self-censored to some extent in order to “be nice” / protect my ego.

What this all boils down to is a conundrum. I am currently trying to design a product for a user that I have not truly identified yet. My unscientific intuition-led gut-guess is first Sam and Sammy, 24-year-old lovebirds who value displaying thoughtfulness towards each other, and second, Mommy Jane with baby Jaye as she revels in those precious moments with her young child. People in relationships and young mothers are my top two guesses, but I could be completely wrong. Without a data-backed validation process, it’s impossible for me to know for sure whether I’m building a product that anyone wants, and that’s the number one rule of entrepreneurship… build something that at least SOME people really, really want.

Even with an extensive ad campaign and conclusive data, I’m still not sure I would accept validation or refutation without users having tested the actual app, because I think the experience of having an inbox full o’ surprises from your closest friends and family will be more tantalizing than a pre-product ad campaign or questionnaire can reveal. But I could simply be in love with my own idea and blind to its faults…

What do you think about how I am thinking about this? Do you have recommendations or ideas for most productive next steps? I plan to troll around the Natick Mall this coming week with some flyers and a sign-up form, maybe that will give me something to work with.

“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
—Steven Pressfield

Sealed

I can hardly believe that I can write this post today. After almost a year of idea-vetting and indecision, I’ve finally begun to work with a developer friend to create an app. We’re calling it Sealed, and it’s an app for time-delayed photo and video messaging. We think it will be a fun and thoughtful way for people to share moments, especially for occasions such as holidays and birthdays. It can also be used as a personal time capsule, which was my initial motivation for the idea many months ago.

We’re on track to have a beta release in the next 2-3 weeks. If you’re reading this, you’re invited to be one of our beta testers. Your feedback will be invaluable and deeply appreciated.

Help us make Sealed the best it can be. We’re looking forward to the journey ahead.

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