Building an app from scratch — interview with Vienna-based simplify.art

Building an app from scratch — interview with Vienna-based simplify.art

simplify.art is the first interoperable art archive that allows users to share saved artworks, simplifying communication between artists, galleries,
collectors, and exhibition spaces, bringing smart work to the art world.

Brainster: The art world has its own ‘user experience’. Can we say that simplify.art digitizes the art world? What is the biggest problem this app is trying to solve? What are the key benefits to users?

Victoria: That’s the first problem: The art world has almost no best practice standards. Everyone just tries their best in my experience. There are no standardized formats of communication or documentation and information exchange goes over many different platforms, so yes. simplify.art’s mission is to literally simplify daily processes in the art industry but the biggest problem we are solving is efficient information exchange about artworks between the artist, the gallery, and the collector.

Part of the communication will be possible through the platform (by sharing) and some will be integrated, like sharing something from your inventory to Instagram for easy content creation. Another example is storage handling: artworks are often fragile, big or heavy, and usually wrapped or crated making them unidentifiable. The integration of simplify.art that exports and reads storage labels with QR-codes make this easier.

Another benefit to users is the standard reports we provide: When an artwork is damaged, usually a lot of money is at stake but insurances often only pay, if there are documents proving the intact condition of the artwork before the damage was reported. Those „condition reports“ are complicated, often need an external specialist, and have no standard shape. With simplify.art a condition report becomes a matter of 5 clicks on the iPad in the storage.

Brainster: There is a long way to go from an idea to a product. How did the problem lead you to the design and functionalities of the app? Can you explain the building process?

Victoria: We went from idea to paying customers in 18 months. But I’ve spent 8 years working for galleries, exhibition spaces, corporate and private collections, and taking note of all the things that were a hassle, didn’t work well, took way too long, and made people unhappy in their jobs.

Still while working for a private collection, I started sounding out the idea of creating a new tool. Competition research showed, that most software tackling art inventory is from the 90s, looks like it, and feels like it, so I looked for a programmer and found Benjamin Novak who just got out of university and shared my enthusiasm for changing an industry.

Brainster: UX/UI Design trends evolve by the second. What were some key pointers when designing the UX/UI Design that enabled simplify.art to stay on trend in 2020?

Andreas: I have no idea if we are „on trend” and frankly I don’t care too much; I try to provide value for our customers by trying hard to design a clear and understandable interface that helps people get their job done. 🙂

Brainster: What were the biggest challenges in building an easy to use, but complex app?

Benjamin: Focusing on the essentials and avoiding the distraction of all the new ideas coming up during the process of building the MVP.

Brainster: What tools do you use for affinity mapping that indicate improvements on the UX/UI of the app?

Andreas: We have a pretty clear roadmap outlined in front of us and have not relied on affinity mapping for determining the next steps. But we do have a lot of discussions about priorities or whether it makes sense to user test a feature. (If we were to do mapping, which we will at some point, we’ll probably just use Figma, since everybody is now comfortable with it). Conversations are my favourite design tool.

Brainster: What was your design process? Are you a mobile-first type of designer?

Andreas: I was joining the team a bit later, but the process was pretty straightforward: First, we decided to give the software a more solid UI foundation so we were in the process of creating and „side-loading” a design system to work form. Feature-wise, getting to know the audience & their needs, as well as the business needs and constraints, is a natural first step.

Then, turning features into potential user flows and those into a prototype that can be validated is how I approach most problems. I don’t know what „type” of designer I am (people-first, maybe?), but I see myself becoming more conservative in my design decisions over the years. I.e. We established ‚clarity’ as the main design principle. So when in doubt, we almost always rely on a text label, even if it is not that fancy or minimalistic.

Brainster: The pandemic changed how people live, work, and consume content. Since the demand for digital viewing rooms increased enormously, did you decide to iterate and pivot your product to meet the needs of the new normal? If yes, can you give us some hints?

Victoria: We already implemented viewing rooms before the crisis started, I had seen one or two before from big galleries like Gagosian and Zwirner and just knew, that was the way to go. The crisis just showed us that we were on the right track and where exactly we want to go with it — we want to make it responsive so that viewers can interact with it in different ways (save artworks on public viewing rooms directly to their account for reference for example and more).

Brainster: What would you recommend to young and ambitious entrepreneurs that are looking for ways to kickstart their companies?

Victoria: Talk to people, grow your network, look for role models, build relationships with people from an older generation. They know and have seen things, don’t give up. Sometimes obstacles seem so impossible to overcome until you do and things flow again.

Benjamin: Just start and don’t stop. Once you decide you’re going to do it, commit everything you have, and don’t have an exit plan. Don’t focus on what you feel like you should be doing because you think that’s what people or even you expect you to do. Focus only on moving closer to delivering the value you want to provide.

Learn more about simplify.art in the video (german):

Building an app from scratch — interview with Vienna-based simplify.art

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