There’s no need to preface how wretched, horrible and hard 2020 was for all of us with the global pandemic and all that changed in the world. Most of us stayed home an insane amount and refrained from any kind of travel, domestic or international.
My girlfriend Katherine and I had plans for some big trips this year, which we of course shelved. In the past one of my most time-consuming hobbies was making really detailed photosets of my trips. Here's one of my favorite: Southern Serengeti, Tanzania.
I would spend months of spare time culling and processing thousands of captured shots and video clips then designing and building photosets around them. They were definitely a passion project, almost entirely for myself.
Over the last few years I was usually juggling 1 or 2 side projects: either writing some long article for this blog, or working on some large travel photoset. This year I didn't feel strongly enough about any particular topic to deep dive into writing a long article about, nor did I have any travel photos to work on.
I felt the need to do or learn something to keep me occupied (which I even feel a bit weird about, I find it hard to just relax and do nothing). I had always been curious about Swift and SwiftUI but really thought that was an unattainable goal for me to be proficient at. I had very, very briefly dabbled with Objective-C development years back and was turned off by the whole thing. It was so confusing to me at the time.
In March I decided to spend some time diving into Swift and SwiftUI. After reading some cursory guides and tutorials, I needed a project to dive into. That's how I learn best. I began working on a personal itch: having an easier, more approachable and elegant way to track my stock holdings. Since then I have probably spent 10-15ish hours per week for the last ~9 months learning and building my first real iOS app, Stocketa (Coming in 2021.. stay in the loop).
It wasn’t all kittens and daisies. There have been many frustrating back-to-back days and weeks where I’ve been stuck on a problem or not been happy with a solution so I’ve redesigned and rebuilt entire features. I think I’ve rebuilt the holdings view of my app probably 4-5 times by now.
I really, really love building for iOS. I love being able to control the entire lifecycle of a product: idea, sketches, designs, coded and working on a real device with native iOS code.
I can spend an insane amount of hours on a particular animation or flow and get exactly to the intended fidelity and experience I’m aiming for.
Now this has me thinking that as long as I have some app that I’m working on as my main side project.. I’m not so sure I’ll ever go back to spending months working on detailed photosets. While photosets are largely just for me, an app is a different beast entirely.
I can distribute and have others try out and hopefully find a recurring use for it. I’m not assuming my app or future apps will make me any money but there’s something nice about being able to share your work with others that they will be able to use with their own data, unlike my website where it’s a more defined one-way relationship.
But I digress, I’m sure I’ll find some lightweight way to share photosets in the future, but it likely won’t be to the level of care they have been in the past. Though I do plan to find time to pause working on the app to write about things I’ve learned and share more progress.
Designing and developing
Throughout the year all of this has had me thinking more about my career in the future.
When I went to college in 2004 I started out as an electrical engineering major. I grew up soldering and building little circuit boards so it felt like the natural thing to do. I was never really into software. Long story short, that changed for me and I became fascinated with the web, design and software world, eventually changing switching to a major that was a hybrid of design and computer science.
I graduated college not thinking I was a good designer or developer. I did both as needed with my first few jobs. They were startups, so wearing many hats is expected anyways.
I love working on design strategy, vision, visual design, interactions and motion just as much as learning how to setup a view model and pipe data through my app and having my designs come to life.
At times I feel like I’m hiding part of myself at my day job as I don’t really get to put all of my technical skills to use, aside from some interactive mobile prototypes (and I am trying to fit in more SwiftUI prototypes at work when I can).
This is not a dig at my employer or anything; just commentary on what I view as a slightly evolving landscape where development tools and frameworks have become so much more approachable that the definition of a "developer" is finally more accessible. This is a good thing! Designers that care so much about the end-to-end experience can now have greater control over the end result. I could have never been an iOS developer in the UIKit and Objective-C days.
I have no interest in going into full-time software engineering as a job. I don’t want to get caught up with process, semantics, code style and code reviews, I want to obsess over the (front-end) details and interactions until it’s right.
There are more and more design engineering roles these days but I feel like I would lose part of my autonomy as a designer in helping define the strategy, solution and experience. And some companies have design engineering roles that are much more on the engineering side where you’re going to be working in a production app. That’s definitely not me (please no UIKit!).
A common rebuttal to this is just "work at a startup!"—I am definitely jaded on that. Here’s a good read on the topic. I just think that the ROI is often so messed up with startups. Especially if you’re the first design hire and get to do all the fun and challenging 0-60 stuff. You’ll be putting in as much time and sweat as the founders but get 100x less compensation.
There's nothing I need solved now, nor am I looking for a job (the opposite, I'm very happy at Twitter).. just wanted to share that I really love building, from design to polished app.