Q Manning of Rocksauce Studios | Founder Interview

Mar 02, 2012 • Entrepreneurship, Mobile
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As we know the mobile industry is accelerating at high speeds with no chances of slowing down anytime soon. With this fast pace industry the elegant design we see if websites, is sometimes lost in translation. Q Manning of Rocksauce Studios, is out to change that. He and his company, Rocksauce, make sure to add high quality design back into each of the apps they create.

What inspired you to co-found Rocksauce Studios and get involved in the mobile space?

After directing a film in 2009, I wanted to get back into the design industry. Initially, my desire to go into the mobile space came from my love for design and my weariness with web or print related art. After nearly 15 years designing, there was little I hadn’t done. Mobile App Design was a completely new beast – full of its own conventions, its own needs and its own problems for a designer to solve. I loved my iPhone, but saw a significant lack of artistic merit in those early days.

I joined ranks with an Austin App developer, taking the role of Creative Director and setting up their design team and process. After about 10 months, however, I wasn’t happy with their vision for projects or their clients. Once art had left my team, I had no control over the final product and it was creating too much tension.

So in October 2010, I evaluated the competitive landscape and realized that there weren’t any app companies out there focused on what I thought mattered the most: the brand, the look, and the experience a client would have with an app. There was a distinct disconnect between apps developed by stand-alone companies, such as Gowalla or Path, versus what “work for hire” companies were producing. Peter Yoder, my long-time film producer, wanted to get involved so we start up Rocksauce Studios to focus on making beautiful, distinctive applications which gave users what they wanted and had a chance to succeed in the market place.

 What are your thoughts on the exploding mobile industry?

While few of us could foresee the app explosion happening, now that its here everything makes perfect sense. Apps aren’t going away now that the technology of having a powerful computer in your hand has reached consumers. Everyday, apps get more robust and feature everything from communication with friends to assisting surgeons during diagnosis. My goal is to continue making software which delights users and let them accomplish their goals as quick as possible.

In your opinion, why does mobile matter?

Mobile matters because it’s mobile. You take it with you everywhere you go. Just today, my mobile apps allowed me to communicate with my clients, check updates of what my friends were up to, get the latest political gossip all while I tried on different glasses and solicited feedback from my girlfriend. Our world is hustle & bustle, fast and furious – we need technology that keeps up with a society that is connected 24/7. Mobile does that.

What are your thoughts on what we can expect to see in the mobile application space at SXSW?

Refinement. The app space has been around long enough that we’re now starting to see less new ideas and more refinement and re-imaginings on old concepts. Take applications like Realmac’s Clear for the iPhone. This application is nothing different  than a to-do list, similar to hundreds we’ve seen from other developers. What Realmac has done, however, is refined the concept into something a little different. They’ve focused on the style, the animation, and the interaction with a to-do list and created something that feels fresh, even though the concept is as old as software itself.

We’ll see more of this – new competitors into existing app spaces, ones that challenge the current kings of the mountain with new takes on the same concepts. Implementations that are more refined, slicker and more exciting.

Outside of refinement, there’s going to be a big push on cross-platform apps that aren’t built in the native languages for those platforms. App makers are realizing they can get great functionality, polished animation and create a great user experience by adapting technologies like Appcelerator or PhoneGap.  Rocksauce Studios is moving into this direction for many of our clients, because having a release on multiple devices is becoming more important, but the budgets for projects are staying the same. Early in the days of devices, it was tougher to get great performance from Web Dev based applications, but as the phones and tablets grow in power, the responsiveness is becoming almost indistinguishable.

Lastly, I think the push on Reponsive Web Design is going to really take off this year. A few libraries have popped up, allowing developers to more easily create a single site that can automatically modify based on the device/aspect ratio of the device their users are surfing on. The various app stores are still the greatest place to find apps, but for many clients, it’s not economical to create a separate stand-alone experience. A smart redesign of their existing website, allowing mobile users a familiar/expected interface on their devices, is a great alternative to native or even web app development alone.

More and more, I’m looking at the projects my Business Development guys are working on, and I’m recommending we steer the client into the Responsive Web Design category. It simply makes more sense.

What makes Rocksauce Studios different from other mobile app development companies?

Rocksauce Studios treats our projects the same way a start-up company would treat that product. We see apps as a viable business endeavor like any other, and like anything else, it needs personality, branding, polish and marketing. From the very first conversation we have with a client, we’re focusing on what the market saturation of their concept is presently, who the market leader is, what a clients particular “hook” can be to make a splash, and what the most exciting, interesting and unique way that concept can come to life.

We refuse to take on a project if there’s no chance to make something truly distinctive for our clients – something that has a chance of succeeding and returning their ROI.  The experience of myself and my team has shown us this is the opposite of the other app companies out there. They wear their “work for hire” label as a badge of honor. These companies are content to simply give a client an app which gets the job done in a way which maximizes the development company’s profits, regardless of what that apps chances of success may be.

What are your thoughts on outsourced design vs. having in house creatives to work on design elements of the app?

It depends on what your definition of in-house versus out-sourced is. If by in-house, you mean that a company decides they want to make an app, so they ask their existing design team to draw something up, then the answer would be this is a terrible idea. Mobile app design is worlds apart from web design. On the web, fonts, buttons, text, links, and graphics can be any size or any color. There are no rules or expectations. Mobile design is a different beast. Users expect certain conventions to be followed. Some of these are universal across all the platforms, whether iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Some of these conventions are particular to the platform you’re designing for. An iPhone app should perform the way iPhone users expect, which is significantly different from the way a Windows Phone user wants their software to behave. A company like Rocksauce Studios is like have a Creative Team who are experts in mobile. We work with existing brands and collateral, bringing those into the mobile space and ensuring adherence to the guidelines set forth by that operating system.

If outsource versus in-house means America rather than a foreign company, then the answer comes down to culture. If you’re making an app that is specifically for a western audience, then you have to make sure the team designing the software understands the cultural conventions, the software they use and the vernacular they speak in. Foreign development can work great for a client, but in-sourced American design for an app that has a primarily American audience means there will never be any confusion about what a “supermarket” or an “apartment complex” is. Firsthand experience has shown me the massive problems that are created when the cultural differences are not factored in, with the end-result being a far cry from what the client initially envisioned.

What are your thoughts on the direction from a design perspective of application development for 2012?

Cleaner, simpler, more custom and less Human Interface Guideline reliant. Over on Android, we’ve seen a change in their interface with their newest OS release, Ice Cream Sandwich. While some of the new native controls are visually interesting, my natural inclination is to recognize how fleeting design standards can be. Apple has been relatively solid with their user interface rules and expectations, but if you’re not designing for the Apple platforms, much of this goes out the window.
Over here at Rocksauce Studios, I’ve had a few discussions with my design team about designing for overall best practices, but not being a slave to any platforms expectations. Afterall, Apple’s implementation of a selector is different than Android or Windows Phone.
So…do we design for each one, creating different experiences, based on the platform expectations? Or do we come up with a solution that works for touch technology and make smart calls that will last, regardless of changes to native control elements.
I’m moving my team into a more platform agnostic approach. A button needs to be tappable, but does that mean it has to be 44px high? Why not 40px? Why not 60px? Mobile design is more complex than web design, but that doesn’t mean we have to be slaves to guidelines that can change at the drop of the hat. Changes that could immediately make our software feel dated.

What are your predictions for the future of the mobile app industry?

Mobile technology and standard, desktop application technology will start to blur, and eventually encompass appliance integration. Microsoft and Google have both made significant headway into having an app deploy seamlessly on phone, tablet and on set-top devices. Apple allows mobile developers to feature an iPad application as a useable PC application. I see a consolidation of platforms and a “create once, deploy in multiple destinations within a platform” scenario.

Create an amazing, memorable user experience that keeps folks coming back is the key.  Make the brand worthwhile and let users have fun, no matter what tasks they are doing.

Kyle Ellicott

Co-Founder of @EventifyMe, CEO of @Codeita and Heavy Cloud Media Group. I have a strong love and passion for startups. Some say I’m a serial entrepreneur, coder, idea creator, and a nice guy.

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