We’re very pleased that our new iPhone app is finally out. It’s been rebuilt from the ground up, and is – quite objectively – a big leap forward.
Here’s what new:
The log screen
Swiping between hours/minutes is now done vertically, and this screen is overall less busy and easier to scan.
You're now able to see the latest entries from the activity screen. There's also some nifty stats at the top, which can be really handy when you need a birds eye view of your business.
A new look
This version features a lighter color scheme and a more refined look. We’ve also licensed a new typeface – Calibre – from KLIM Type Foundry. You’ll see this moving into other parts of Ding in the time to come.
Apart from these things, the code's improved under the hood as well, which will make it easier for us to update the app with new features. If you're missing the timer, we can assure you that this feature is coming in the next version, which shouldn't be too far away.
We're always trying to make Ding as easy to use as possible, while at the same time packing lots of powerful features into it. Inputting hours is a good example of that: simple at first glance, yet more advanced under the hood. Typing in "2" will log two hours on your selected project, but if there's minutes involved, or you want to input time intervals, give these options a try:
Let's start off with our favourite: Input time in a digital clock format, and you'll be accurate down to the minute with as little as four characters.
Technically more work than 2:30, but it's kinda zen to see the hours and minutes divided nicely like that.
Minutes, min, m. Doesn't matter.
2.5 or 2,5
If math is your strong suit and you want to reach the very minimum of typing, you can divide your minutes into decimals. 0.75 = 45 minutes, 0.5 = 30 minutes, and 0.25 = 15 minutes. Other fractions gets complicated real quick, so stick to other formats if you want to keep your sanity.
This one's a beaut. Put in the start and stop time, and Ding automatically calculates the hours you've spent. A timestamp will also appear in the comment after you've logged it.
The latter works with the 12-hour system as well. If you want your timestamps to be AM/PM, you can change it in Settings > Your Profile.
It's funny how things live their own lives on the Web. We experienced a pretty slow period for Ding recently, when all of a sudden – in the middle of the night – signups kept pouring in. It turned out that Ding had made it to the front page of Hacker News, and activity was at an all-time-high.
As far as visits and signups goes, this was by far the best days since launch, and we thought it'd be interesting to share some of the data.
This is the period between the 15th and 17th of February:
Mixpanel's Live View kept us entertained for longer that we'd like to admit. Not exactly productive, but pretty fucking fun. Having people use Ding is the best motivational boost we can get, and we hope many of you stick around.
Today we're pleased to fulfill our most common feature request: the Timer. It's now possible to start, pause, and stop a running timer to keep track of your minutes and hours. Everything is in sync across your different browser windows and computers, so there's no need to keep browsers open for the sake of preserving the timer.
We've placed it in a tab of its own within the Log box, which makes it easy to switch between the new feature and the manual entry. If you're a real hustler, you can even keep the timer running while logging hours manually.
When you submit your time, it'll be automatically rounded up to the nearest 5 minutes. If you need a more precise result, you can either edit the entry afterwards or log it manually based on the timer.
Last summer, we'd been using an unpolished beta version of Ding for about half a year. One evening we discussed the way forward with our board members @johanhal and @geirarne, and agreed to set a hard date for a proper launch. Johan suggested to book a podcast sponsorship to make sure we couldn't escape the date, so we sent some emails right away to investigate this. A few beers later, we'd booked two sponsorships (ATP & The Talk Show) worth of $5,000. If there was nothing to promote at the end of September, we’d flush five grand down the drain.
The next two months were spent on finishing our current client work, and the first two weeks of September on revamping the UI, finishing up the iOS app and getting the payment sorted. But little had been done on the landing page — the place where we actually sold our product. We'd long planned to shoot some custom images for it, and there was now only one week left.
I called my buddy Øystein Moe in Helmet. He's a cinematographer with a brilliant eye, and they had the equipment and studio space required for this. I made a quick sketch of what we were aiming for, and he agreed to help me out. There wasn't any time to lose, so I hopped on the train to Trondheim the same night.
After arriving the next morning, I met up with Øystein and Stian Eriksen and got to work. Since we were creating the workspace of a creative freelancer, I'd brought a few office props with me: An 11" Macbook Air, some Offscreen magazines, a couple of pens and a sketchbook. We needed more to be able to experiment with the office setup, so we hopped in the Helmet-van and drove around Trondheim to see what we could find. After three hours, we'd gathered a shitload of stuff:
Beer and chips. It's a freelancers desk, after all.
All the expensive stuff was borrowed. I'm pretty sure people underestimate how easy it is to borrow stuff for a photo shoot or a film. Not one of the stores we visited said no — which I'm really grateful for — though we had to use all our boyish charm to get hold of the driftwood table. It was part of the storefront, and a pretty significant piece of the store.
I don't know why there was a bed setup in the back of the van, but it proved useful for protecting the table while driving.
We built a temporary studio in the middle of the Helmet office, with a Red Epic on a tripod, their studio lights above the table, and a TV to live-preview the end result.
I wasn't sure about using the Epic at first, since we could've pushed the quality and resolution even further with an SLR. But since Øystein and Stian had more experience with the Epic, we didn't want to risk fumbling around with the equipment during the limited time we had. In retrospect, this seems like a wise choice, and 4800x2700 pixels turned out to be sufficient.
We went on for hours, and tried all kinds of different setups. Here's the moneyshot:
...and here's how the raw version looked:
A few other untreated ones:
Looking back, there's a few tricks that proved useful:
If a laptop is the motive, use the smallest, good-looking one you can find to get as close to the interface as as possible. The UI would drown in an iMac, but an 11" Macbook Air worked well.
If you're placing the interface on top of the display digitally (which you should), try having a 50% grey background (#808080) on the display during the shoot. This way, you're able to cut it out in Photoshop, place it on top of the interface you've added, select Soft Light as blending mode, and adjust the opacity to something that looks good. This grey layer will then simulate the natural lights/shadows of the environment onto your flat interface, and you'll get some of the photo grain back. For that extra touch of realism.
Take loads of pictures, and experiment with different scenes. It takes a lot of effort to prepare a shoot like this, but when you're all set, it costs you little to shoot 50 images instead of 5. There's nothing worse than discovering later that something's out of focus, an object looks like a dick, the framing is wrong, etc.
Clear your schedule. This kind of stuff always takes longer than planned.
I'll save the Photoshop process for a future blog post.
When your product is called Ding and you're making an iPhone app, a certain sound is expected. We knew all along that we wanted the Ding! for when you successfully logged an entry, but hadn't really done anything about it until two days before our app submission deadline. To make matters worse, it was a Friday at 2pm.
I had only one name on my list, so I crossed my fingers and called up our friend Audun in Ambolt Audio. We'd worked together on Drops First Aid, and I knew that if anyone might be up for the task, it was them. I lucked out big time, and Audun agreed to look at it right away. A few hours later he'd come up with these suggestions:
At first we leaned towards number 2 – screwdriver against wine glass. Audun tried exploring this further, but we realized it didn't really say Ding! It was more, ehm, Dong, so we went back to number 4 and 5.
Alternative 4, version 2:
Alternative 5, version 2:
After discussing this back and forth, we figured no. 4 wasn't quite appropriate. It was a nice sound, but a bit too high pitched, and not as friendly and discrete as its competitor. The difference was even bigger on an iPhone, so we went further with no. 5:
Alternative 5, version 3:
Alternative 5, version 4:
These two are almost identical, but with a slightly different tempo in the ending. After tweaking this a little, and testing it thoroughly, we'd shortened the ending and landed on this:
Alternative 5, version 5:
This was a winner. It shipped with the app, and is still the sound we use.
This was the second app where I've filled the role as sound producer, and I've noted a few guidelines for myself and anyone else about to embark on the same thing:
Play the sounds on an actual iPhone – it's the only place it's going to be heard. We found that the easiest way to do this was through placing the sound files on a Dropbox folder and accessing it through the app.
Take your time to adjust the volume of the sounds. Nothing is more annoying than if it's too high, yet it has to be heard. It should be mildly annoying if your volume is at max.
Make sure your sounds doesn't fade out too slowly. You'll probably have to fight your instincts on this one. It sounds better with a long and smooth fade, but it's usually not the way to go for an app. Not only can it give an illusion of a slow interface, but there's something noisy and off-putting about the last phase where the sound is barely audible.
A big thanks to Audun and Ambolt. If you need a score for your film, music for your game or sound effects for your app, get in touch with these guys.
Of all the feature requests we've been getting, the majority has asked for two things: an OS X app and a start/stop timer. While we can't promise any of these at the moment, it's now possible to pair up Ding with Eon. It's a menu bar app for OS X with a timer, and the fine folks at Fuelcollective added Ding-integration in their latest update.
If you own an iPhone and use Ding, you should go grab the app.
We're using the app for our own projects, and it's by far the fastest way to log time on the go. As of now, its sole focus is on time tracking, but we're working on adding more features. Priority #1 will be the activity stream.
Apart from the app, a lot has happened with Ding over the last few weeks:
A shitload of tweaks. Mostly on the UI, but also a sizeable chunk on the backend.
We've done nothing but run our own companies, yet neither me nor Anders are "business people". We just loved — and still love — to make websites, and had to start a company to take our hobbies full-time.
When you're a freelancer in your early twenties that gets paid to do you what you love, it's easy to lose track of time and budgets, and just dive deep into a project. For the most part, that's a great thing. There's no better way to hone your craft than to be holed up in whatever office you have, with coffee and without responsibilities, motivated by every sign of progress, spending the night on tweaking something that wasn't even part of the spec.
At some point though, stuff gets more serious. When we joined forces and started Tight, responsibilities kicked in, and we needed better tools to run our business. Especially within time tracking.
For us, tracking time is not about spending fewer hours on a project. It's about knowing how much time something takes, so we can price ourselves accordingly. It's too easy to give clients the benefit of the doubt if a project takes longer than planned, and you didn't log your hours.
Getting into the habit of doing this can be hard, especially if you use a shitty piece of software. After fiddling with home-grown spreadsheets and trying every tool we came across, we decided to create our own. We envisioned a time tracker that was tailored for people running their own show. Like us – not the economy software made for middle managers. Then we came to our senses, figured it was a crazy way to spend our time, and aborted the project. So we tried the spreadsheet-route a bit longer, realized how miserable it made us, and started working on Ding.
After using Ding for almost a year, we're proudly letting everyone in. Our business runs smoother with Ding, and we hope yours will too.