Week 2. Functional prototype
This post is part of a series of posts in One experiment a week project.
This week was fun and exciting! This week I was building a functional prototype. Although it's not yet a prototype of the tool I have in mind for the endgame (crochet pattern builder), it's a prototype of what the output of such a tool could look like.
Why start backward? Hear me out.
Working assumption: Crochet Designers want to sell as many patterns as possible to as many people as possible
The most considerable value of each pattern is its uniqueness. It doesn't matter how easy it is to follow the pattern if it's one of a kind and Casual Crocheter wants to make that piece.
However, if you find a great pattern to crochet, it's very frustrating for Casual Crocheters when instructions are written poorly or hard to follow. It causes them to lose track of their progress, make mistakes, and ultimately spend longer time crocheting each piece while not buying new patterns.
So in many ways, the interests of Casual Crocheters will inform the needs of Crochet Designers and the requirements of the app's output.
Working assumption: Casual Crocheters want a better experience interacting with patterns
Some common problems with patterns I've noticed:
- Instructions for patterns are also usually written to save space and time for the Designer, so they are full of abbreviations, repeats, shortcuts. Instructions for multiple sizes are often written as "all in one." It makes it hard to follow the patterns without making mistakes.
- The math in patterns, while rudimentary, can be hard to follow in written format. Final stitch counts per row are not always provided, but they are a helpful tool.
- Because of all the repeats, shortcuts, etc., sometimes it's hard to keep track of the progress even if you print the pattern out, so Casual Crocheters utilize various row counters (both digital and analog).
We could quickly address most of these problems by using spreadsheets instead of written instructions: math is a piece of cake, abbreviations and repeats are just a matter of a click of a button, and keeping track of progress is easy with boolean functions.
Currently, the app can use the app to:
- View a couple of patterns (posted with permission of creators!)
- See all related stitch abbreviations, materials, related information
- See row-by-row instructions
- Keep track of your progress with the pattern by marking completed rows
- Jump straight to the next uncompleted row
- Share links to patterns
Learning as fast as possible
I've also posted a link to the app on Ravelry, the biggest community of crocheters and knitters I could find. Some lessons learned through this experience:
- I made the classic mistake of only testing the app with my admin access level 😅🤦♀️ Obviously, there was a permissions issue, so the first few people who tried to access it couldn't see anything. Luckily, one of the testers sent me a message, and I could fix it within an hour or so of posting. But lessons were learned, and three testing users were created. Now I'll be mindful of testing any recent changes on all three accounts.
- At the same time, the sky did not fall onto the Earth 🤣 There weren't thousands of pissed-off people chanting my name in anger and demanding access to the new hot app.
- Shipping fast requires a lot of discipline! Building something is very fun, so you need to timebox yourself to limit the feature creep. Even though since the beginning of the project I wanted to go as lean as possible for as long as possible, as soon as I started building something, my scope started creeping up on me 😂 Oh, I can add this cool feature! And how cool would it be if this list was formatted nicer?
- At the same time, adding even a little bit more functionality increases complexity and creates additional barriers to entry. For example, when I first started the prototype, I only wanted to test if the presentation of instructions row by row would be helpful. But then I thought that a checklist of rows would be that much more practical. As soon as I added checklist functionality, I had to add login as those checks need to be user-specific. Login is a daring obstacle for many, no matter how many disclaimers you post, the process is easy.
Those are process learnings, but what about the value for users?
- While StitchEase is unlikely to revolutionize people's lives any time soon, there was some excellent feedback: it seems like the majority of those who checked it out understood the premise and liked the row-by-row instructions.
- Although, as expected, the app's value will be directly correlated with the number of patterns available through the app.
Next steps: HMW make adding patterns to the library as easy as possible?
Growing a library of patterns would be the logical next step if my goal was to acquire as many Casual Crocheters as possible. That is also one of the most challenging tasks I could imagine. The value proposition of many accessible patterns is very sticky and riddled with the network effect: I have to keep my final goal (pattern builder for Crochet Designers) in mind not to get distracted by this very ambitious and hard-to-pull-off goal.
- Ravelry has a library of whooping 1.1 million patterns as of Dec 2021. Those are divided between various crafts besides crochet. Still, getting anywhere close to that number would take years and years of content development.
- Ingesting existing patterns also seems problematic. There are a few technical constraints — patterns currently are distributed as PDFs with no single standard of formatting or structure. As well as copyright implications, unique patterns are designers' intellectual property, so we need their permission to rewrite and publish those.
So while I don't exclude the possibility that the pattern library will have to grow to provide value to Casual Crocheters, I want to focus on my initial idea: making an app that helps Crochet Designers design patterns faster and share them easier.
My next step would be to prototype the experience of adding patterns to the StitchEase library from the Crochet Designer's perspective.
See you next week!
Have an idea for an experiment or would like to be a part of the project? Or maybe you’re a crocheter yourself? Let me know your thoughts and ideas! I love collaboration!