Issue #16 - Kushagra Agarwal and Heidi Helen Pilypas
Happy Monday, everyone!
We made it to the 16th issue! Thank you to everyone who read last week’s issue ❤️
📆 Today I’m featuring Kushagra Agarwal and Heidi Helen Pilypas. Both of whom are designers! I didn’t originally plan on this but I’m excited to featuring two designers on Indie Dev Monday this week 😊
👉 Please make sure to follow them or support them anyway you can! 😇 I’m excited to share their indie dev stories.
Lead designer at Rainway and creator of Cone and Unwind
Heidi Helen Pilypas
Designer and co-creator of When Did I and Capsicum
1) What is your name? Where do you live?
My name is Kushagra Agarwal, and I live in Bengaluru, India.
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
I consider myself as a designer who also codes a bit on the side.
Education: I studied Information Technology in college
Background: I’ve been fascinated by computers ever since I first saw them. I remember creating wallpapers and icon packs for Windows (in around 2010) which got me interested in designing. Slowly, I started designing websites, and learnt HTML/CSS to make them alive. This is when I fell in love with coding. The idea of punching in commands and seeing it convert into beautiful art was almost magical.
Main Job: I am currently the lead designer at Rainway (rainway.com).
Interests outside of tech: I’ve been learning to play ukulele (I have a YouTube channel! https://www.youtube.com/c/KushagraAgarwal/), and learn music in general. Other than that, I recently started learning skateboarding, skiing, baking, and painting.
3) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
I’ve been creating my own stuff ever since I learnt how to use computers, so it has become kind of a habit. Whenever I get free time from my day job, I end up working on my own projects.
4) Unwind - Unwind first caught my eye in our Indie Dev Monday “Issue #10 - Indie iOS 14 Widgets” with its beautiful widgets and I have been obsessed with it ever since. How did the idea of Unwind come about? Where did you draw the inspiration from for the three different modes (“Start fresh”, “Relax & unwind”, and “Sleep better”) and their designs?
It all started when I read about the benefits of mindful breathing. I wanted to try it out, so I started looking for a simple guided breathing app to help me get started. I’d tried a bunch of apps but they were either bloated or didn’t explain the benefits of different breathing exercises. I wanted something which was super easy to get started with and didn’t feel like much work.
That’s when I started working on Unwind. I had already learnt a bunch of breathing exercises by then which targeted different aspects of the day but I decided to strip it down to just three to keep it simple for beginners—waking up fresh, staying focused and calm, and finally getting a good night sleep.
5) Unwind - The design, graphics, animation, and sounds are incredibly well done I can’t ever imagine myself build app as gorgeous as Unwind. Design is almost always an afterthought for me but I’m guessing design was the number one priority for you. I seriously want all of the designs from Unwind to be real life art that I can put in my office! What is the thought and design process like when building an app like Unwind? What tools do you all use to assist with with the designs?
Thank you for saying that, I am very happy to hear you like Unwind’s design!
I am a designer first, so good design is always the first priority for me. In the case of Unwind, I wanted the app to look very calm and relaxing. To achieve that, I collected a bunch of photos of sunrises, sunsets, night sky, etc, from Unsplash and created a unique color palette for each exercise so that they all feel different.
After finalizing the colors, I worked on all the illustrations to create some really relaxing scenes, mostly inspired from nature. Finally, I added the background sounds to complete the ambiances.
I used Figma to design the whole app from scratch, including the background scenes. For audio mixing, I used Audacity.
6) Unwind - I’m sure I’m not the only one blown away by this but the haptic feedback for “Breath in” and “Breath out” actually feels like breathing in and breathing out. They are slightly different but all I could think about during my first breathing session with haptics was how in sync those haptics were with my breathing direction. This is more of a than a question I guess but was that your intention when adding the haptics?
Yes, thank you for noticing that tiny detail :)
7) Unwind - I really love that “Deep Space” and “Night Owls” are locked sounds until you reach a 7-day and a 14-day streak. I’m sad to say I haven’t unlocked either yet but I’m trying and I’m totally okay with this! I think this adds some fun motivation to keep the breathing going and create a habit. Do you have any plans to add some more motivational feature in like this? It might be a bit evil but would almost enjoy an ambience that goes away when I have a streak of 7-days of not using the app
I definitely have more such ambiances and other unlockables planned to help the users stay motivated. Like you said, the idea is to create a healthy habit while also unlocking some fun ambiances and features.
8) Unwind - I saw on your website that there might be an Android version coming too?! I’m not an Android user anymore but I would just love it if more people could experience Unwind. Have you release an Android app before? What are the effort levels of making an Android version? I’d assume that you can reuse a lot of the assets But also, I’d gladly boot up an Android device and be a tester for you when you need it!
I am currently gauging the interest in the Android version of Unwind from the website, and it’s been great so far! I don’t know anything about Android development, so I’ll be partnering with an Android dev to bring Unwind to Android with the same experience of iOS.
9) Cone - As I mentioned in an earlier question, I struggle with visual design and especially with picking color. I took a picture of a tree changing colors the other day and I wanted somebody to turn it into a gradient for me. Turns out… Cone helped me with that by picking out the colors I needed What was your inspiration for building Cone? Did you have a similar need to my story?
Cone actually started out as a utility app for me. I am colorblind (mild protanopia), which makes it difficult for me to identify certain colors. I made Cone to help me solve that problem.
The initial version of the app was just a private tool for me which would tell me the color of the object I was pointing my phone towards. Slowly, it evolved into a product which designers and colorblind people from all around love and use daily.
10) Cone - I’ve really only been able to use Cone on trees since I’ve been able to get out and do much lately But what have been your personal favorite uses of Cone? Do you have any favorite colors that it’s found for you that you now like to use?
I LOVE capturing colors of flowers, insects, and plants. My most favorite color so far is #DB5CD4 (Free Speech Magenta) which I captured from a wild flower on a trek.
11) Unwind and Cone - What’s next? Do you have any upcoming features that you are working on that you can share?
I am currently spending most of my free time on Cone 3.0 which will include the most awaited iOS 14 features like Widgets and App Clips, a fully redesigned iPadOS app, and a brand new MacOS app.
I also have a bunch of updates planned for Unwind but I am currently collecting more feedback from the latest iOS 14 release. Once I have a fair idea of what users want, I’ll start working on the roadmap. Some updates that are going to come very soon are shareable stats, more exercises (with an option to add custom exercises), global stats, and a knowledge base where users can learn more about mindfulness in depth.
12) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev? What the most fun part of being an indie dev?
The hardest part is marketing. Being an indie dev, most of my marketing is limited to shameless self-promotion on social media. It’s hard to reach out to new potential users and you mostly have to rely on organic growth, App Store features, and press (which is very hard, specially in the early days).
The most fun part is the indie dev community and the ability to work on my terms.
13) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow / lookout for?
Yes! I love the work of @tanmays, @viditb, @emcro, @_chuckyc, @mufasaYC, @BenRiceM, @jordibruin, @ksmolka, @rajavijayraman, @jpeguin
Heidi Helen Pilypas
1) What is your name? Where do you live?
My name is Heidi Helen Pilypas and I am from Adelaide, South Australia. My family and friends just call me Heidi but online I go by Heidi Helen. I joke it is my celebrity name. 😛
2) Introduce yourself. Education? Background? Main job? Interests outside of tech? Interests inside of tech?
I grew up very creative. I loved to paint and draw and write and illustrate my own stories. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I replied a famous artist. I received a lot of praise for my art but at the same time, I was introduced to the concept of the “starving artist” and told it was really hard to make a living from it. I thought about other careers but I always came back to art. Even though I wasn’t sure what job I could get at the end of it, I decided to study a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the University of South Australia. I believed that if I followed my heart things would eventually work out for me. My initial plan was to specialise in painting and drawing, but I was frustrated at the way it was taught so I shifted to photography and digital art.
I liked that I had a lot of control over digital art and an “undo” button compared to physical art that felt more messy and mistake-prone to me. I graduated with my degree in 2010 and looked for work but there was no clear pathway to a career after graduation. I decided to do some further studies in web design in 2011. Things really opened up to me by the end of the year when I got my first iPhone. I was immediately in love with apps and obsessed with getting one for every area of my life. That led me to downloading the now retired app, Dream Journal. After recording some dreams, I thought of some feedback I would like to share with the developer, and excitedly sat down to create a document with screenshots, arrows and notes. Little did I know, that I would end up working with the developer of that app, Ish ShaBazz. He asked for my help on a few things and over the years, we eventually collaborated on our own projects together including Stamp Pack, Boomerang, and Capsicum.
I love exploring and using apps, being active on social media, watching a good TV show, and getting outside each day for a walk. Meanwhile, outside of my own projects, I don’t currently have a job job. I am still trying to figure things out. Can I make a living from just working on my apps? Can I find a job I can do at the same time as working on my apps? The answer is, I don’t know!
3) Have you ever considered yourself an indie developer?
I’ve shied away from referring to myself as a developer but I do consider myself an indie. I feel much more comfortable referring to myself as a designer. Currently, I work with Ish who writes code for our projects while I design. I am still very much a part of the app-creation process. I engage in planning, sketching ideas, mocking up screens, creating UI elements, making symbols and app icons. I create promotional artwork and screenshots. I work on the websites, write to press, create press kits, and write Tweets and App Store descriptions. Is any of that considered app development? I would say it’s part of it, although not the whole picture.
I’ve attempted to learn SwiftUI a few times but have encountered a few roadblocks. It’s something I would like to get back to because I want to be able to contribute more and I am passionate about apps! The iOS developer community also really inspire me!
4) What got you started/interested in creating your own applications outside of your “normal” job?
I’m not very conventional when it comes to traditional employment. I figured why not do my own thing while I look? To be honest, I would rather not have to look but just be able to do my own thing without worrying. As I shared earlier, an email I sent eventually led to me assisting a developer on his apps. Then we started working on our own. I already had an artistic foundation which evolved into design once I got a taste of it. I’ve gotten to keep refining what I do from drawing to painting to photography to digital art to web design to graphic design and now app design.
5) How do you balance your time between friends/family, work, hobbies, and indie dev?
Honestly, I could be much better at balancing my time. I usually have no trouble spending time on my hobbies, but choosing work is a lot harder for me. I am working on building habits to be the kind of person I want to be.
6) When Did I - This app is exactly what I need help me remember to do things somewhat on time! I’ve tried other apps that say “Do this thing now!” because I’m stubborn and I’m like “Nah”. When Did I is great because it kind of tricks me into doing things so I don’t see “Changed sheets 6 months ago” 😬 How did you keep track of tasks before this? What pushed you over the edge to be like “This thing needs to be made”?
I use a lot of different apps to track things in my life but I wanted something that let me track anything I wanted and would show me the date and time of when I last did it. I had the idea for a long time and couldn’t find an app like that on the App Store. When I met Kyle Cronin at the 2017 Layers conference, we talked about working on an app together. I shared the idea and Kyle like it and helped me make it.
7) When Did I - The ease of use in When Did I really seems to be perfect for us people (100% me) that struggle to remember to do repeating tasks. Adding actions is simple with your welcome workflow and marking an action as done is super simple with one click. It seems like the point of the app is to almost not spend any time in the app 😇 Which I think is actually genius and why people love it! Was it difficult to design, develop, and test around that mindset?
Thanks for the compliment. Users don’t have to spend much time in the app if they don’t want to. It was designed to be a simple utility to quickly log something. I use it multiple times a day and add notes to what I am tracking, so I probably spend a lot more time in the app than the average person. My main goal was to create something I enjoy using and hopefully others too. I didn’t find coming up with the design difficult although, it’s not to say the project has been without difficulties.
8) When Did I - I love the ability to add Siri Shortcuts for my actions! I have a Siri Shortcut widget that shows my four most important Actions that I want to complete. Enabling Siri Shortcuts is such a perfect fit for “When Did I”. What was your experience like adding Siri Shortcuts? I struggled so hard when first trying to figure out how to implement them in one of my apps 🤦♂️
Thanks for sharing! I’ve had help with adding shortcuts in the app, although it still needs some work. Most users are able to log using shortcuts okay, but I can’t get it to work on my own device which is weird. I don’t know why!
9) When Did I - Not a question but the “Window 98” theme is 🔥 I’m never changing away from this.
Thanks! I worked on designing the default theme, Yellow & Cyan and all the other themes were created and implemented by Kyle. I really like the bright colours I chose but we discussed early on that some may not be a fan so some other options were added! Eventually, I want to add alternate app icons that match the additional themes too.
10) Capsicum - Fun fact… I discovered bullet journalling in 2019 and I got super into it 😁 I loved having daily, weekly, and monthly tasks in one place along with my notes and habit tracking. I sadly stopped bullet journaling because had this weird disconnect between digital and non-digital that I didn’t like. But it seems like Capsicum fills that void! Was Capsicum actually inspired by bullet journalling? The selection of decorative tape makes me think so 😉
Yes, Capsicum was inspired by bullet journalling! But going back even further, Ish wanted to make a planner app ever since the iPad was announced. He discovered quite a bit of complexity was involved, so put the idea on hold and worked on some other ideas at the time. In 2015, Ish met a friend in a café and they showed him their bullet journal. Ish was seriously impressed and his previous desire to work on it came back. By this time, Ish had worked on many independent apps and was ready. We discussed making a planner app based on concepts from bullet journalling but also conventional paper planners and our own ideas of how we liked to plan. The idea wasn’t to be an exact copy. The app went through many iterations before it became what it is today. The decorative tape is inspired by washi tape, a staple in a creative planner’s kit.
11) Capsicum - Physical bullet journaling has so much freedom in the way you can design and keep track of things (which… can be either a good thing or a bad thing for people). How did you decide what features would be included in Capsicum and how they would be implemented? I can’t imagine that was easy! There are a lot of opinions out there 😛
Capsicum was built to be expandable. We have what we call Capsicum Components which include tasks, weather, titles, dates, decorative tape, and events. We’re currently working on 2.0. of Capsicum which will also include sketches and photos. We included what we felt was essential for launching and always intended the app to be an iterative process where we add more features over time. A planner definitely needs an area to add to-dos and events, but other things are more nice things to have that can be added later. We added habit trackers because that’s a big part of what brings people back to their planners. There are other things we would have liked to be in there from the beginning, like sketches, but that take considerable more time to implement. It was good we waited because since then, Apple has launched PencilKit which will save us time since we don’t have to develop our own drawing tools.
12) Capsicum - The customizations that are all available for the notebooks are 😍 I think I’ve spent more time on that screen than I would like to admit. From color, to cover, to tape, and to font… you have it all! How important were those customizations to Capsicum’s initial launch? Were all of the covers and tape designed by you?! 🤯 Where did you draw all of this inspiration from?
Thank you! All of the covers and tapes were indeed designed by me. I did a lot of research including visiting stationery stores, taking photos, looking on Pinterest, Googling washi tapes, following hashtags on Instagram related to bullet journalling, and watching YouTube videos. It was important to us to have these customisations from the beginning because paper planners are very personal to the people who use them. People buy notebooks based on designs they like and many create elaborate designs on the pages. That kind of customisation is what makes planning fun for many people.
13) What’s next for “When Did I”, “Capsicum”, and you?! Got any future features or apps that you’re working on that you can share?
We’re working on redoing Capsicum from scratch to make it even better. It will support Dark Mode, have Widgets, sketches and photos. If all goes well, it should also be coming to Mac! When Did I…? also needs a lot of love… starting with some improvements to existing features.
14) What’s been the hardest part of being an indie dev? What the most fun part of being an indie dev?
One of the hardest things is planning and dedicating time to my projects. I tend to follow my feelings a lot, whether I feel like working on any given particular day, which gets me into trouble a lot. I do my best when I make it a priority to work every day. Sometimes, I manage to keep this daily streak but I have fallen off track many times. I’ve learnt that the order of how I do things matters. If I leave working on my apps to the end of my day, it often doesn’t get done.
The funnest part of being an indie is working together in a small team, in my case with Ish who I am working on with Capsicum and who is now helping out with When Did I…? too. When we have the same ideas at the same time, when there is agreement, when we’re both happy at where a design has landed after several iterations, it feels so great. I also really love launch days where all your hard work has finally come together and you’re ready to share it to the world. I love the support I receive and when others are genuinely excited and love something I have worked on.
15) Is there anything else you’d like to tell the indie dev community about you?
Nope, this is getting a bit too long already. 😛
16) Do you have any other indie devs that readers should follow/lookout for?
I recommend readers follow my co-worker, Ish ShaBazz (@ishabazz) who’s been a great mentor to me and is very supportive of others in the indie dev community. I’m also inspired by Charlie Chapman (@_chuckyc), who’s done great work on his app Dark Noise and sharing his progress on Twitter. You can learn a thing or two about marketing from watching him. He also has a great podcast called Launched where he interviews makers. Shihab (@JPEGuin) is another person in the community I find so inspiring. He’s so creative and so quick to get things out there, whether that be a new app idea or an update with new features. He doesn’t play, if he contemplates launching his own custom icon set or a book on development, he gets moving on it. I’m also inspired by Kaya Thomas (@kthomas901), who works on We Read Too, who I see saying yes to podcasts and writing blogs and putting herself out there in a courageous way. Becky Hansmeyer(@bhansmeyer) is another person to follow. I am really proud of her after she recently had her widget app, Scribblet, featured by the App Store on Twitter. Also, look out for Vidit (@viditb) who works on Lookup. One thing I find super cool is that he designs artwork for his app’s Word of the Day every day. That takes consistency and dedication which I admire.
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