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Hold That Sound started out from my laziness and frustration with downloading conference talks. My morning commute was the perfect time to catch up on them but the problem was getting the audio from the web onto my phone. It was annoying to have to deal with downloading the files, importing everything to iTunes then searching for the cable to sync the lot. I wanted to make this process as seamless as bookmarking a page.
This led my to my first sketch of how an app to solve this might work. I wanted to bypass any need for downloading to my desktop and simply pass the http:// link for the audio file from the website to the phone in one step.
Note: A few of the images refer to the app as “BlipSqueak”. I though it sounded app-ish and audio related but eventually I settled on “Hold That Sound” as a more descriptive name.
Looking into what was out there, Huffduffer was the service that immediately came up. It creates a personal RSS stream of the audio you tag on the web. Huffduffer does a good job of implementing an easy way to capture the files but there is no mobile component. To get the files onto my phone I still needed to connect via the desktop audio player.
There were standalone podcast apps that allowed wireless syncing, but this felt like an unnecessary additional step: one I doubt your average user would would go to the trouble of using. Rather than rely on two separate services, I thought it would be more elegant to roll them all into one.
“Make transferring an audio file from a website to mobile as seamless as possible.”
This was use case I set out to fulfill.
To begin with, I started listing things that users might want to do and grouped them together into user scenarios. This helped distill down the key functionality the app needed.
I had originally thought of having a web component like that of Huffduffer where you could view your queued files. The more I thought about it, making people register online and then download an app seemed a bit much. Instead the sign up process will be managed in app. The bookmarklet will be emailed to the user.
Using Post-its drawn to scale, I was able to quickly try out different arrangements and transitions, as well as get a sense of how the app felt in my hand. The limitations of size become really apparent once you have a thumb moving around the screen. I was able to explore some neat solution to these problems using transitions.
Since the app was trying to deliver immediacy, I made an effort to not bury functionality behind menus. The “Download” button is the most important in the app, so I gave it prominent position away from other buttons to avoid accidental presses.
Once the layout was finalised I began exploring different visual design options. Since the app is all about reduction and simplicity, I felt the design should have a limited colour palette and minimal texturing.
I was able to do some user testing by uploading the static screenshots onto Droid phones. The feedback pointed out some problems with comprehension and certain colour combinations.
As much as I liked the white version, everyone thought the matte black looked pretty awesome. I think the strong contrast of the white text against the black really helps focus attention on the important areas.
Overall, I was really happy with how the app turned out. I’m surprised how close it was to my initial sketch. I think app this could really encourage people explore more audio now that the download process is condensed into one seamless process.
It was an interesting challenge designing an app aimed at creating new user behaviour. Now I just hope I can start using it soon.