App design business evolving

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 05:00, April 2 2014
Smudge app designers Reuben Bijl and Toby Vincent.

Smudge app designers Reuben Bijl and Toby Vincent.

School-friends Reuben Bijl and Toby Vincent began designing phone apps in their 2008 university holidays, when the first iPhone was released to New Zealand.

Their first attempts were simple - a halloween app that played spooky sound effects, a music aid that taught guitar chords.

But what had begun as a summer experiment soon turned more serious, and in that 3-month holiday period, they designed 50 apps, and released most of them onto the online Apple store.

"It turned out to be fun, and then we realised we were making more money off the apps than in our day jobs," Bijl says.

Soon they began developing full time, and created their own app-design company: Smudge.

Since then, the pair have designed hundreds of apps, which have been downloaded more than 7 million times.

While most of their first app experiments were created and released within a 24-hour period, they've now completed large-scale corporate projects which take up to 3000 hours to produce.

And with contracts for Coca-Cola, Sky TV, Hoyts and Air New Zealand under their belts, the Christchurch company has come a long way.

Vincent says some of their success has come from entering the industry when apps were still in their infancy.

"We are young, but this industry's five years old, and we've been doing this for five years. So we're actually quite mature in our industry, even if we're quite a young company," he says.

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As the app market has matured, Bijl and Vincent have shifted their focus to execution of ideas, rather than novelty.

"It's about the way you do it now, rather than one larger new idea," Bijl says.

Many products are designed in collaboration with existing business teams. It's a process based on observation - seeing what a business is already doing, or attempting to do, and designing solutions to make it simpler.

"We go in and watch people do their job, and then say: ‘That's something that's slowing it down, or that people are tripping up on - how can we make that easier'?" Bijl says.

Smudge has experienced 30 per cent growth every year since 2008, and Bijl and Vincent now employ seven full-time staff.

Vincent and Bijl believe their youth has helped them.

"We didn't really know the proposal process you were meant to go through. So we would just walk into Sky and say: ‘You need this app,' Bijl says, and laughs.

"We've been quite naive, but I guess it's kind of worked in our favour."

 - © Fairfax NZ News

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