Slingboards Lab

Achieve a sense of fulfillment

Calendars do not forgive

In this post, I explain that despite all odds a calendar is inadequate tool for scheduling todos. By the same token, through my argument, I take this opportunity to introduce you to the most unique feature of DayTickler.

A calendar is a fantastic tool for scheduling events. It provides a very appropriate visual metaphor for time planning. This tool is appropriate because it is rare that we have to postpone an event. Events come and go; when their time come they perish like flowers.

Sunrise-CalendarThis is just the opposite with todos. Unlike events, more often than not, we are not able to complete a task on time. The accidents of life forces us to postpone the work later. Todos do not perish like flowers. They are rocks that clutter our way and that we must push ahead. Postponing a  task is a very common scenario and unfortunately calendars do not forgive. Repeatedly we need to manually edit the start and end time. A cumbersome punishment that has no reason for being.

We need a tool that will automatically move, as time progresses, uncompleted todos.

This feature is one of the most important behavior of DayTickler, the personal task manager I am working on for several months. As I stated in a previous post, the most unique feature of our software is the ability to schedule a todo and the fact that, until it is completed, it moves as time progresses.

DayTickler, a tool to pair your brain with your gut

In this post, I present the most important feature of DayTickler. I explain, for those of you who do not like lists and todos, that this feature can be used without first recorded your things to do. The whole point is to learn how to pair your brain with your gut.

I often agree with Jeff Atwood, the author of the fabulous blog Coding Horror. I read his blog with great joy since 2004 (over 10 years, wow !!!).

Tools come and go, but your brain and your gut will be here with you for the rest of your life. - Todon't, Jeff Atwood

To-do lists that only allows you to empty your brain are useless. A useful tool must help you stay focused. It must simplifies the daily challenge to pair your brain with your gut. It should empower you to get the courage to act.

Over the years, I adopted three practices that help me find the courage to act. Obviously, these practices are the core of the DayTickler tool :

  1. Establish my commitments of the day
  2. Write down and schedule my commitments of the day
  3. Stay focused throughout the day on my commitments

The easiest way to create a moral obligation with yourself is to reduce your commitments to something simple. Here is a case where a long list of tasks is ineffective and gives the illusion of accomplishment. Engage only on what is important and easily achievable in the next 24 hours.  I am of those, like Jeff Atwood, that set commitment by identifying the three things that need to be done today.

What three things do you need to do today?
You should be able to instantly answer this simple question, each day, every day, for the rest of your life. Without any tools other than the brain you were born with. - Three things, Jeff Atwood

Schedule-mockupAfter my three things are identified, it is at this moment, unlike Jeff Atwood, that I need a tool. I discovered that if I write my commitments, I am much more likely to achieve them. It is as if the act of writing my three things increase my moral obligation. In addition, the bond is even stronger if I schedule the period of day when I intend to achieve them. It is the ability to schedule my commitments that is the most powerful feature of DayTickler and what differentiates it from other to-do tools. I found no software that allows me to commit to tasks in this way. Calendars force me to explicitly set the hour. What I want is to specify a period of day (morning, afternoon, evening, overnight) with one simple finger touch. Other tools such as to-do lists, in addition to having the same constraint on time setting, make me see my three things through a long list of todos rather than a calendar view. Note, for those who do not like to-do lists, with DayTickler you can write down your daily commitments without first recording your things in a list.

Even if your brain knows what your priorities are for the day, he has the annoying habit to prioritize the pleasure over taken commitments. Unconsciously (or conciously), the brain will try to forget about your schedule for the day. This is why, to refresh your moral obligation and to find the courage to pursue your commitments, you will need to consult your schedule several times during the day. By allowing you to stay focused, a tool like DayTickler justifies its value. At any time during the day, you can track your commitments and get a reward when you tick a commitment you have just completed.

A picture is worth a thousand words

A logo is a graphic mark, emblem, or symbol commonly used by commercial enterprises to aid and promote instant public recognition. This post explains the process by which we design the logo for our product DayTickler.

The adage "A picture is worth a thousand words" refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. Logos are either purely graphic (symbols/icons) or are composed of the name of the product (a logotype or wordmark). Because the name of the software is always displayed alongside the logo, the smart phone ecosystem favors the use of a purely graphic logo (ideogram).

Logo and branding work together. A brand consists of many components that must all integrate into a seamless, functional whole. In a previous post, we explain why we chose the name DayTickler. We, humans are fond of remembering most of what we see; what we see somehow stays in our subconscious. The importance of logo in branding can be further simplified as:

  • Frontline Representation – A logo provides the software with an image and it should be able to convey the message clearly.
  • Memorizable – A simple and good looking logo will often be easier to remember than the name of a product.
  • Uniqueness – Don’t only make your logo look the best but also make it look unique and different because it’s the identity of your product which stakes its credibility.

CheckDuring our first drafts, we quickly opted for a check mark. We felt this was a good choice because this image convey a sense of fulfillment, which is the emotion that our software provides when used. Unfortunately, a check mark as a logo is far from unique. A quick glance through the major apps stores shows that almost all the “To-Do List” software uses this ideogram.

So we decided to improve the image of the check mark by adding a symbol of happiness. Here are some prototypes.


Unfortunately, no image was satisfactory. None was emanating the seriousness required for a productivity software. After reflection, we decided to give up and go back to the fundamental.

A differentiator and unique elements of our product is that it allows to easily team up with your family and friends to achieve your todos. We decided to put this forward while keeping the sense of fulfillment.

Name Logo Here is the final result with which we are very satisfied.

What's in a Name

The power of a name and its value has long been immortalized in prose, poetry, and religious ceremony. Everyone recognizes the things around them by name. Naming a product is important.  This post explains why the name of our software is DayTickler.

A name is a word or combination of words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from other. You can hardly promote a product and expect it to bring huge benefits if its name bears no relevance to the target market. Contrary to Shakespeare's belief that That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the answer to the question "What's in a name?" does not apply here. A name can make a large difference in the perception of what a product should be and how it should function.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that in recent months we have repositioned our startup Slingboards Lab and that we are currently designing a personal task planner for mobile phones. We are currently building a first version of the software. We plan to market it as a freemium application through the apps store of Apple, Android and Microsoft.

The importance of choosing the right name for software is not to be taken lightly. Not only the name of your software is an important part of its "business card" on the web and in the apps store, but the name will enable customers to remember your product. This is about making your name talk-able. An easy name will make it easier for current users to refer your name to others. It is very well known that advertising is not a trustworthy marketing tactic as much as word-of-mouth. The name is probably the first thing prospective customers will find out about your application. It is a good way to differentiate yourself from your competition.

We chose the name DayTickler. Not only it is talk-able and the domain name was available, but it clearly explains what differentiates our application of the hundred Todo apps that already exist on the market. First, it was important to have the word "Day" because our product is a daily planner. Second, we choose the word "Tickler" because it is a device that serves as a reminder and is arranged to bring matters to timely attention. But that is not all, a tickler is also a device that make someone laugh by lightly touching a very sensitive part of the body. Our product is different from competitors in that it allows to easily team up with your family and friends to achieve your todos. We can imagine that the action of chatting and collaborating online with your close ones looks a bit like the pleasure of being "virtually" tickle.

Freemium apps for our business model

Making money with a mobile application is not an easy thing. Gartner is forecasting that, by 2017, 94.5 percent of mobile downloads will be for free apps. They even predict that through 2018, less than 0.01 percent of consumer mobile apps will be considered a financial success by their developers.

Yes, they forecast that only one (1) out of 10,000 developers will make enough money to survive and stay in business. We want to be part of the survivors. This is why, last summer, even before starting the development of our mobile app, we have clearly defined a compelling business model.

Our business model is the fundamental way that we plan to make money from our application. Since we do not have thousands of loyal customers, an established brand or something very special and desirable, we believe that the model of paid apps is not sustainable for our environment. In addition, in 2013, only about 10 percent of mobile applications in the Apple app store have been paid, and this percentage has been declining for years. For these reasons (rational justification), and especially because we liked the idea of offering free software (emotional justification), we opted instead for the model of freemium apps.

Free + Premium = Freemium

Freemium is a business model in which you give a core product away for free to a large group of users and sell premium features to a smaller fraction of this user base.

Freemium-300x206The goal is to offer a fantastic product with limitations. The basic feature will be satisfying to the point that customers can remain on the product for free. However, because we will offer outstanding user experience, we believe that with time they will be hungry for more - seeking out the paid product to enhance their experience and broaden their engagement with our services.

A common misconception is to believe that all business models that involve the use of free products are freemium models. There are three other business models centered on a free product, which are commonly used; direct cross-subsidy, ad-supported and gift economy. Chris Anderson’s wrote a great post about the four kinds of free.

If you are planning to build and launch a mobile application for the consumer market, attracting users and keep them "hooked" is what you should be concerned with. Business success will depend on raving fans, customers who will buy the premium version of your software.  In 2014, mobile apps with freemium models account for 98% of the revenue in the Google app store and 95 % in the Apple app store. With such facts, and because we will be competing with free anyway, it seems that only a freemium business model can emerge with success.

Ten years of podcast

Slingboards Lab is not my sole active project. For those of you who speak French, you may know me as the host of the Visual Studio Talk Show, a podcast about software architecture. Each episode is an interview with a software development expert. This month, I am not only publishing episode #177 but I also celebrate the tenth anniversary of this podcast.


On November 22nd, 2004, I published the first episode of the Visual Studio Talk Show. Being online for 10 years now, it is probably the oldest French podcast discussing technology. At the time the word podcast was not even part of the standard vocabulary. To explain what a podcast was, I presented it as a radio show on the Internet.

vsts_300The guest for this first episode was Eric Coté . We discussed .NET certification and multilingual website programming. When I launched the podcast, I did not have a co-host so when I recorded the second episode, Eric became co-host. The experience lasted two years before he decided to leave the show. He was then replaced by Guy Barrette which is still the current co-host.

Already ten years. Time goes by too quickly. Anyway, this is worth celebrating.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our listeners across the globe. Through your emails, all over these years, we discovered that we had listeners on every continent. What a nice surprise this was, not to mention your kindness. Thank you!

Happy ten years. Let’s hope that we will still be online for the 20th anniversary.

Experiment with a new mobile OS every year

Herbert A. Simon (Nobel Prize - 1976) was interested in the role of knowledge in expertise. He was the first to say that becoming an expert required about 10 years of experience.  He and his colleagues estimated that expertise was the result of learning roughly 50,000 chunks of information.

Malcolm Gladwell highlighted this rule in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success. He states that men and women who have spent more than 10,000 hours to learn something end up being out of the ordinary in this area. In the same vein, regarding software development, Scott Hanselman recommend to ‘'read lots of code and lots of books, pick a language that fits your brain and helps you learn how to think, and when you do think, think about abstractions.

How do you become an expert in architecting mobile applications? Understanding of UX interaction patterns is a key learning for sure. You could read books (and you should) but do not underestimate first hand experiences with real devices. I firmly believe that, of the 50,000 chunks of information to acquire, the most important are the actual experiences with mobile OS. Every year you should experiment with a new mobile OS.

I used to change phones every 6 months. From the initial launch of the iPhone in 2007, I moved to IOS and I have been an enthusiastic user for many years. In 2013, having learned everything I needed to know about IOS and in a need for a phablet, I moved to Android. Last year, I wrote about my experience with a 7-inch tablet Android as a phone.

lumia1320Nine months ago, at the beginning of 2014,  I have migrated to Windows Phone. My current phone is a Nokia Lumia 1320. I am extremely pleased with this 6 inches device and I love the Windows operating system. I agree with Scott Hanselman Windows Phone 8.1 is now definitely as good as Android or IOS.

I would have kept this phone for a while longer, but, unfortunately,  I will changed for an iPhone 5 in the coming weeks. For the upcoming months, I will  thoroughly test the Personal Task Manager that we develop with IOS8. Since we expect that the vast majority of our customers will use IOS8, I want to ensure that the user experience will be perfect. In addition, this will allow me to experiment and update myself with the latest functionalities of IOS8.

So do not be surprised if you see me these days with an old iPhone 5. One day, I will be back with a Windows Phone.  In the meantime, my focus is the good of my product.

We are building our mobile app with Xamarin.Forms

Sixteen months ago, I wrote on this blog that if a startup has to build a mobile application, the entrepreneurs should never go native. At the time, there were only three options for building a mobile application:

  • Build three different native applications: Native apps are specific to a given mobile platform and are built using the development tools and language that the respective platform supports (e.g., Xcode and Objective-C with Apple iOS, Eclipse and Java with Google Android, Microsoft Visual Studio and C# with Windows Phone).
  • Build an HTML5 application: HTML5 apps use standard web technologies—typically HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. This write-once-run-anywhere approach to mobile development creates cross-platform web page that work on multiple devices by mimicking the native user control behaviors.
  • Build an hybrid application: Hybrid apps make it possible to embed HTML5 apps inside a thin native container. Hybrid apps combine the best elements of HTML5 app but, unfortunately, they do not provide a native user experience.

Since last spring there is a new option:

  • Build native applications with Xamarin.Forms: With a C# shared codebase, Xamarin.Forms is a cross-platform development tools that enable to easily create user interfaces that can be shared across Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. The user interfaces are rendered using the native controls of each the platform, allowing to retain the appropriate look and feel for each platform.

xamarinThe option proposed by Xamarin seems very promising, especially since this company is not a newcomer. Xamarin was founded in 2009 by the instigators of the Mono project. Xamarin.Forms is the result of five years of work to build a cross-platform natively backed UI toolkit abstraction for mobile development. This is a serious player in the mobile arena. In fact, last week they held their annual conference in Atlanta. With over 1,200 registered developers, the event was not only sold out but also the largest cross-platform mobile development event.

Why all the interest about Xamarin? Probably because there is a growing awareness in the industry that when it's time to write a mobile app -- something interactive, not just a document with some hyperlinks, the Web is a second-class option. I was not surprised to read this week that Tim Bray lamented that the mobile apps are leaving Web work in the dust. The reality is quite simple, native rendering is important and the three major mobile platform vendors (Apple, Google and Microsoft) are embedding this feature in their proprietary operating system not in the open Web browser.

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that in recent months we have repositioned our startup and that we are currently building a personal task planner for smartphones. Following the above arguments for Xamarin, what development tools do you think we chose to build our mobile app? The very nature of a startup is that you have little money and need to be super fast on the market to validate your assumptions (and discover that you're wrong). On the other hand, because the apps are the natural structure for mobile experience, I think native rendering is mandatory. So there is only one logical choice. Do we think that everything will be perfect and really easy with Xamarin? No, but we are confident that in the next 12 months we will not regret our decision. Anyway, if Xamarin proves unsustainable and our product is a success, then we should have the resources to rewrite the application with another option.

Usefulness come from what is not there

I read blogs not only to learn but mostly to aid reflection. On August 12th, on the blog of Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine & Smart Bear Software, there was an interesting post: In its emptiness, there is the function of a startup.

Jason refers to “emptiness” as it is defined in Chapter 11 of the Chinese classic text Tao Te Ching. One could interpret the Tao Te Ching as a suite of variations on the "Powers of Nothingness". This predates, by half a millennium, the Buddhist Shunyata philosophy of "form is emptiness, emptiness is form". According to tradition, it was written around 6th century BC by the sage Laozi, a record-keeper at the Zhou dynasty court, by whose name the text is known in China. The text, along with the Zhuangzi, is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism, and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism.

Here is my preferred English translation of chapter 11:

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

In other words, usefulness come from what is not there. Emptiness is the essential complement that create value. What I like about Jason post is that he wonders how to apply this learning in his own business startup. In summary, he concludes that what defines the startup and its purpose is not the products but, instead, it is the “values” — the inviolable constitution that create the startup’s culture.

I spent several days thinking back to this post. What I find intriguing is that we can apply the same learning when designing a software. In this particular case, if profit comes from the software features (what is there), what is the emptiness that generate real usefulness?

Here's my hypothesis.

I think software usefulness come from the navigation between screens. This is the invisible part that makes the software valuable. Unfortunately, this workflow is what is difficult to show, that is what is difficult to make explicit for users.

In recent years, one of the strategies was to put all the functionality within a single screen. In the end, I do not think this is an optimal solution. By removing the navigation we lose the ability to provide a mental context (a workflow) and, therefore we can hardly design simple screens with only one purpose.

The approach I advocate is to align the navigation between screens with the workflow expected by the user. Here is an example that I encountered this summer. For those of you who follow this blog, you know that in recent months we have repositioned our startup Slingboards Lab and that I am currently designing a personal task planner for mobile phones.

In regard with task planning, you might think, based on the list metaphor, a user wishes to make the following workflow with a task: Add, Edit and Delete. Rather, my research leads me to believe that the core workflow is the following: Prioritize, Commit and Achieve.


Even if profit come from managing a list of tasks (Add, Edit, Delete), the real usefulness of a personal task planner is through the Prioritize, Commit and Achieve workflow.

Getting a sense of fulfillment

I just finished Windows 8.1 UX Design Jump Start online training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. One of the major learning from this training is to focus on the "less is more" approach. This approach was adopted by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as a precept for minimalist design.

In the "less is more" approach, it is essential to establish the "Great at" statement.  This involves defining in one sentence what truly differentiates your software from the competition. Your product should focus on the scenarios and features that deliver on that greatness. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Hooked-How-to-Build-Habit-Forming-Products-220x222For several years, I thought that limiting scenarios and features to support the "Great at" statement was the main justification for creating this statement. A book that I read last spring has totally changed my understanding of what is a "Great at" statement. This book is Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

This book provides a fascinating process for creating products and technologies based on human psychology, persuasion, habits, needs, etc. It describes the techniques you can use to keep the users of your software coming back to it frequently. This book covers the psychological side of business, but does so for the modern tech entrepreneur and business owner, not for the modern psychologist.

When building a habit-forming product, start with the source of emotion then build the product around one habit that fulfill this emotion. Hooked is not only about making things into a habit, but it’s also about where to make things seamless, where to give a variable reward, and how to pull people back to your product through action triggers. I've never read a book that covers all of these subjects so well.

Cognitive psychologists define habits as, “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues.” In this book, you will learn that building a habit consists of four parts: the trigger (make the user realize they must take action), the action (should be easy to achieve), a variable reward (keeps them coming back), and investment (leading people to engage and create value, which keeps them coming back).

After reading this book, I changed my approach to defining the "Great at" statement. Now, I start with the source of the emotion (eg, pain, joy, fear, etc.) - then I build the product around it (and not the other way around). I write the "Great at" statement from the point of view of the users, what they feel, and how the product will fill the emotional need they have.

In a previous post, I explained that the concrete measures and tasks presented in this book had greatly helped us during our last pivot. At the end of the pivoting process, after deciding to build a personal task planner, we developed the following "Great at" statement:

  • Our product is great at getting a sense of fulfillment.

Our goal is to reproduce the positive emotion that makes you happy when you get an achievement. Our personal task planner provides a sense of fulfillment when a user acknowledges, commits and achieves a task. The scenarios and features must support this emotion. This is the narrative frame of our product.

In closing, I highly recommend reading Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It’s a fascinating book, well-written read, and honestly – if you have a startup it’s a requirement on your reading list.