In 2013 I was working as Director of Content Strategy, which meant I spent a considerable amount of time writing content and managing a team of writers.
As anyone who has ever written anything will attest: writing is hard. It's rife with doubt, uncertainty, and fear. My team would routinely rant about the woes of writing, saying things like: "Getting stuck is my problem. I never know what to do after that first line." And: "I can write, but only if someone has explicitly told me what to write about."
I found myself and my team often using our phones to write since we carried them everywhere we went, so I wondered what technology might do to help us. As I began researching competitive and comparative products, I discovered the market of writing apps at the time primarily consisted of two types: 1. Well-designed apps built for powerful writing, such as Evernote and iA Writer, and 2. Apps dedicated to inspiring writers at the beginning of their writing process.
What might it be like to have an app that combines powerful, habit-encouraging features alongside built-in inspiration? What might it look like to have a writing app that offered ideas on what to write about and encouragement and inspiration as you write?
I envisioned an app that could suggest ideas for you whenever you felt stuck, like always having a writing companion nearby to ask for a little boost when you run up against writer's block. Talking to writers—both on my team and through online communities—I came to believe the idea of a writing tool with built-in prompts might be beneficial; I knew even if the idea was a flop widely, it could be something my team and I could at least use. So I began sketching concepts, discussing possibilities with fellow writers, and putting rough ideas together in code. I even enlisted the help of a few close friends to create a fun ad showing off Prompts features.
The app's first version took months to build, test, and iterate. The design was rough—and overdesigned with trendy skeuomorphism—but the app functioned at what I set out to create: an app you could use to write and get prompts as you do so. It was eventually enough to be put out into the App Store.
Upon launch, the app was featured on the main screen of the App Store. Several prominent publications began writing about the app as well. The app was a success. Thousands of writers worldwide found the ability to use an app with built-in starting lines and writing prompts helpful. On launch weekend alone, Prompts received 42,000 downloads. With the large amount of attention the app had received, I spent a few months of time talking with customers and updating the app to look and function more uniquely.
I knew the value of real-world feedback on the app would be necessary, so I built a "Send feedback" feature directly into the app, and the feedback began pouring in.
Over the following months, I made tweaks and improvements to the app based on feedback:
- Fixing bugs to prevent crashes.
- Adding new and different types of statistics.
- Adding the ability to sync notes to Dropbox (and later iCloud), and including support for hashtags to help writers quickly identify themes or categories of notes within the app.
- Overhauling the nuanced details of the app, such as a custom-made icon library
Today Prompts is a top Education app across the globe. Educators consistently provide feedback about how the app helps students learn to write creatively, and Apple features Prompts at education events (such as the one pictured here from March 2017) and in the App Store.
I have some ideas for the future of the app—everything from providing prompts in-line, a kids version of the app, and a desktop version—but at the moment, the app is providing value for hundreds of thousands of people, and to me, that's a success.