Simple Can Be Damn Hard: UX Design for Nine
10 minute read
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Iain Reid

NINE is an app built for visual thinkers. Think: those of us who use photos snapped on the go as a way of remembering things we want to take action on . It lets you capture quickly, organise simply and find easily. No more scrolling through your entire photo library to find that elusive picture you saved once upon a time...

The app started as a side project by one of our team members who identified a problem with how he used his phone camera. He was using it as a quick way to capture information :  labels on clothing to buy, movie posters of films to see, even typeface examples for some of our projects. The problem was that  all of these ‘actionable’ photos ended up as tiny thumbnails — and worse, the only way to navigate them was by date and location in a long, long scrolling list. We discussed this amongst our team and discovered that we ALL had exactly the same habit - and exactly the same problem. In a sea of holiday photos and dog photos, there were also a bunch of scattered photos taken here and there to serve as reminders for something - I want to go here, I want to travel here, I want to buy this, etc.

A few of us had come up with our own solutions to the problem. Let’s call them semi-solutions, at least.

  • Some had attempted to organise photographs into folders, which helped the searchability aspect of things but not so much with organisation and categorisation. What should each folder be named? Is each folder going to end up  with a single image in it? How do you differentiate from holiday albums? Plus, this solution required a good amount of effort.

  • Others had adopted apps like Pinterest to organise content, but the ability to upload images you captured on the go felt like more of a chore on these platforms. The ability to find the content again quickly wasn’t particularly easy either.

  • Others kept their images until they remembered to write down what about the image they wanted to remember on their to-do list. Then they’d delete it from their camera roll. This process made it easy to forget things, and again required some serious effort from the user.

As we starting looking into competitors, decision paralysis was the biggest factor we were seeing that we wanted to remove for NINE users. This paralysis is something we’ve all experienced —whether you’re  trying to choose what to watch on Netflix, pick a pricing plan for your mobile phone, or figure out how to ‘tag’ your items in Evernote. When offered an endless supply of options (or an empty box, which is sometimes worse), we find ourselves unable to make that decision easily, or quickly - and then we give up.

When it came to NINE, we felt that we needed to address this head on and present users with only a few category options. This would be a key part of our value proposition: we’d offer a highly limited choice of ‘tags’, but they would be flexible, relevant to everyday life and recognisable . You’d instantly know where you wanted to put things. Though we were convinced this would be a big selling point for NINE, it was also the hardest part of the design process for us.

We knew that most of the things in the list would be ‘actionable’, so we started with a list of the most common verbs in the English language and began to group those that were similar and remove verbs that were not really appropriate (e.g. ‘to lose’ or ‘to become’). The list was great, but still much too long for our needs. We also explored visual mechanisms for tag selection that might assist users to remember them -  and the lightning bolt hit when one of us looked at their phone and saw the screen for entering telephone numbers. Not only did it work visually, but it limited the tags to a simple grid where your fingers begin to remember where things are. You use this all the time — on your phone, your keyboard, or bank machine. NINE was the magic number.


The discussions over which nine tags would cover everything proved to be pretty difficult — personal opinion began to creep in and skew things. We ended up with several versions of the app over the course of development which were tested by friends, family and anyone we met along the way. They offered some fantastic insight into how others were using the app, and what tags were being used the most.

After a few rounds of testing and lots of internal discussion, we had to remove some of our favourite tags. For example, ’Eat’ was removed as we decided that this could be captured by ‘Love’ (great dishes that inspire you), ‘Make’ (recipes and cocktails) and ‘Go’ (restaurants and cafés). A few other features were added as a result of user testing:

  • We added some additional flexibility by allowing our users to label items. Initially, this felt like a step away from the NINE vision, but we made sure this feature would be completely optional . Plus, when we tested it the labels looked really cool on the parallaxing list. We were sold.

  • We included were a subtle HDR style filter to the camera as it made any text captures really stand out, and brought some consistency to how the item lists looked.

  • We added a feature to allow users to import from their photo library in case they took a photo on the go and wanted to add it to a NINE list later on.

  • We added the ability to capture location, which we would be particularly useful for photos of places that you wanted to remember . NINE now also tries to locate where older photos from your library were taken.

There were three things we wanted our app to do: capture quickly, organise simply and find easily. Though we went through rounds of testing, design sprints and iteration, these goals kept us focused — particularly from a UX perspective. Today, NINE has over 34,000 users and has been featured by Apple in 37 countries and praise by Wired, Stuff and Gizmodo magazines. Try it out for yourself and let us know what you think!