Unlocking the minimalist app
When I set out to build CARROT, I needed the todo list to get out of the way so that CARROT’s twisted personality could shine.
That meant designing the simplest todo list on the App Store. Just pull down to add a new task, swipe right to complete it. That’s it.
No completed tasks to manage, no lists to get lost in, no UI walkthroughs to memorize. And gestural cues, like the launch animation that reminds you how to open the menu and create a new task, are there to help out just in case you haven’t used her in a while.
CARROT’s launch trailer.
After CARROT launched, I inevitably got a bunch of feature requests from CARROT’s admirers. “CARROT’s adorable, but why can’t I see my completed tasks?” “I’m in love with CARROT, but I need to be able to edit tasks before I can ask for her hand in marriage!” “I am interested in worshipping CARROT as my new god. But first, I want push notifications!”
App designers, myself included, have fallen head over heels for this minimalist trend. Flat design is beautiful, and it’s new and different in the iOS world. But the minimalist apps we’re producing are sometimes so devoid of features that it’s difficult to use them for anything beyond the novelty factor.
Adding a bunch of features to any app is a tricky proposition, of course, let alone to a minimalist one. At least with a skeuomorphic design, you can get away with having a bunch of different buttons on one screen; with a flat design, you just can’t.
So what to do?
As with many of the things that make CARROT unique as a todo list, I looked to games for inspiration.
When you play a game, you start out with only one or two basic abilities. New ones are introduced over the course of the game, once you’ve gotten used to messing with the old ones.
Plants vs. Zombies, for example, starts you off with just the simple peashooter. All it can do is shoot a little pea at the approaching undead. Every few levels, though, a new plant gets added to your arsenal; one explodes, another acts like a magnet, and another swallows zombies whole. You have plenty of time with each plant to learn how to use it.
PopCap never would’ve hooked the casual market if they threw all 40+ plants at you in the first level and expected you to figure out what they all did. The slow ramping up of features is what makes the game so easy to get into, even for people who don’t normally play games.
This same thinking is easily carried over to CARROT. You start off with the ability to create and complete tasks, then you unlock additional features as you kick ass in real life and level up in her game.
CARROT’s 2.0 update trailer.
You’ll have already used the basic pull to create and swipe to complete gestures for a day or two (or for five minutes if you’re cheating) by the time a long-press-and-drag gesture for rearranging tasks is introduced at level 3. Your brain’s ready to learn that new gesture.
A couple levels later, I can get rid of the animation that plays when you tap a task. If you’ve used CARROT for that long, you’re not going to forget how to complete a task; the animation, used as a cue to remind you about the swipe-to-complete gesture, is no longer needed. So now that tap gesture can be repurposed for a more advanced feature (editing the task, in this case).
This system also allows me to do a bunch of crazy stuff that I could never get away with in any other app.
Once you hit level 7, for example, you can type “CARROT I’m bored” into her command line to get a suggestion on something for you to do. In any other app, if it was included at all, a feature like this would be buried in a help screen, destined to be unearthed only by the poweruser. But because I’m meting out each unlockable over time, I can highlight it as a reward for hitting a specific level. It then becomes just as prominent as any other feature because everyone who has reached that level will have been forced to read about it. This prominence, and the fact that it’s presented to you separately from other features, makes it much more likely you’ll actually try it out.
Another example – I wanted CARROT to be able to send you amusing/creepy/amusingly creepy push notifications when you haven’t used her for a while (i.e., “You look so peaceful when you sleep.”). I knew that new users to the app would likely get annoyed with such a feature, however; it might even cause them to delete her. But it works great with the unlockables system: if you’ve made it to level 13 and unlocked the alerts, then you probably like CARROT enough to get messages from her every once in a while.
In addition to filling out her feature set, unlockables also give you agency. You’re not a passive user of CARROT. Instead, your actions are actively making her a better app. You want to unlock your list of completed tasks? Or the new bonus round mini-game feature? You’d best get some shit done in real life.
The unlockables thus give you something to work towards – and a reason to keep coming back to her. That was one of my main goals in building CARROT in the first place: to create a todo list that gave you a real reason to keep using it (as opposed to a toy that you open once, enter in a few tasks, then promptly forget about and never launch again).
Finally, the unlockables reward the people who matter most: CARROT’s dedicated fans. After spending 5 minutes with most productivity/utility apps, you’ll have seen everything there is to see. CARROT, meanwhile, has surprises waiting around every corner. You could use her for a year and still not see everything she has to offer. (And that’s not counting all the new content I’ve got planned.) So, while the majority of users might not reach the higher levels, those who do will be delighted by the rewards waiting for them.
Some people will undoubtedly be annoyed that they have to use CARROT for days just to unlock features that’d be standard in any other todo list app.
But that’s fine. CARROT isn’t like other todo list apps.
She’s an experiment. She’s ever-changing. And she’s never going to be perfect or complete.
That, to me, is the most exciting thing about this sadistic little app.
Take her for a spin if you haven’t already.