We’re focusing on apps to help you with writing this month, and software art practice Dark Heartfelt Software makes some of the best. They’ve already had great success with minimalist writing apps Grandview and Launchwrite, which force you to focus on the current word and sentence rather than the entire document. Now they’ve released a new app, Notesdeck, which allows you to edit and consolidate notes across four different cloud services and between your Mac and iOS devices.
We got the chance to interview the man behind Dark Heartfelt, Michael Petruzzo, about his apps and design process. Read on to hear about Notesdeck, software design as art, App Store frustrations, and more.
Tell us about your latest app, Notesdeck. Why build an app for consolidating notes stored across multiple cloud services?
Before we start I want to say thanks to you and to Mac.AppStorm for the opportunity and the great questions you’ve asked. It’s my pleasure to shed some light on my process.
Notesdeck is three things:
- The fastest note app on Mac, iPad and iPhone
- Access and edit point for all your notes from Evernote, Simplenote and Dropbox
- A easy, elegant word processor with Markdown preview
Let’s say I get asked by a lovely writer at Mac.AppStorm to be interviewed about my apps and my design process. Say he’s really, really nice and even gives me a few weeks to answer his great questions while I drive across the US. Moving across the country is self-defining and dredges up a slew of feelings, notions and shifts in perspective. So as I’ve been traveling I’ve been collecting thoughts in Notesdeck and Evernote for iOS and occasionally sitting down at my Mac to relate these thoughts to the questions in this interview.
Fragmentation is an essential concept in software design today. There are so many solutions and products and each individual service is valuable for different actions. Maybe you use Evernote to organize your recipes and inspiration, Dropbox for work-related information and Simplenote for more personal notes. Notesdeck exists to align these services, highlighting the value inherent in each by putting them into a cohesive perspective. And it’s a great space for writing. I’m really proud of it.
I read that you don’t actually do any coding. Is that still true? What problems did you run into outsourcing the programming?
So I have a buddy who lives between Russia and Bali who’s been managing coding for me. He’s been amazing, but we lack the benefits of in-person communication. I had a few problems early on with other developers, but these were likely miscommunications caused by my own lack of experience. I’ve been learning how to communicate more specifically and directly. I’m finding it’s almost always best to look inward when I’m not seeing the results I want.
Could you explain your process for creating apps, and what your role is post-conceptualization? Am I right in thinking that it’s still a part-time endeavor? What else do you work on?
I’ve mainly been designing for myself. Writing is an activity that aids in my personal development and it’s a big part of my process. That writing piles up in different services for various reasons and I can’t get a good perspective of it all. Having to jump back and forth between Evernote, Simplenote and Dropbox is was disrupting my flow. Notesdeck is a solution to that problem and a space to make navigating these services easier.
I work as a scenic artist for film and television — I try to take jobs while I have big batches of coding being written. I also make sculpture, photography and writing and I’d like to make more time for that type of work. There is definitely a loss of momentum when I switch back and forth between different modes, but I do this because I enjoy it and it enriches the development of my software, specifically of Notesdeck. I think it’s essential and has differentiated me from a funded startup or programmer who is breaking out with something awesome.
What does the name Dark Heartfelt mean? Also, why do you refer to Dark Heartfelt Software as an art practice rather than a development studio?
The words “dark” and “heartfelt” are the types of films that Netflix was recommending for me when I started out making Mac Apps. Also I have sort of obnoxious, dark flowing hair. Most of my life has been experienced through the lens of art and Dark Heartfelt Software is a somewhat personal space to do my “research.” It’s not exactly Xerox PARC.
I love the way that your apps focus on the words. It’s easy to get caught up on the mechanics of writing, but when you only see one word at a time (like in Grandview) that’s not really possible. Every word has the same weight and importance, and you’re driven to look forward rather than backward. Is that the intended effect? What do you hope people will get out of Dark Heartfelt’s software?
Grandview displays word one at a time as you write. It literally alters your consciousness by being extremely reactive — emphasizing each word as quickly as you can type it. The experience is an emphasis on the present, what you are writing each moment.
Word processors have a long and rich history. If WordPerfect is Michelangelo’s David, Grandview is Salvador Dali’s Clocks.
What inspired you to create your apps? I understand that Grandview came out of difficulty finishing a screenplay. What about your other apps — Launchwrite, Live Subtitles, and Notesdeck?
Live Subtitles was originally a custom app created for a production company. It allows you to write words over your screen for screencasts and live performances. With Launchwrite I wanted to combine the “moon-world” feeling of Apple’s Launchpad app with a word processor. This makes for a super simple notepad that is now available for free.
There’s a huge number of writing apps for the Mac, many of which are brilliant. How do you stand out in such a strong and crowded field?
That’s easy: I don’t focus on standing out, I focus on offering solutions that are unique. There always has to be variation.
You’ve written before about frustrations with Apple’s Mac App Store policies. Do you feel restrained by any of its limitations, or is it just the long approval times? Have you considered selling apps outside the App Store?
I waited for two months for Notesdeck to be reviewed for the Mac App Store only to be rejected, then another two months after I resubmitted to finally be approved. Four months is a long time, and something like that would have destroyed me about a year ago. I used to get really bent out of shape.
Lately I’ve been reading the I-Ching and trying to be more patient, so I decided to take a job on an independent film for very little money while I waited to be approved. Sometimes the answer is to just give more to the universe and help others.
The App Stores have their downfalls but they allow me to manage users and updates in a really simple way. I’ve experimented with selling outside the App Store with Grandview but the fragmentation of releasing updates eventually overshadowed the small bump in sales. I’m gracious to finally have users, and though I wish I had more avenues to communicate with them, I am thankful for Apple’s App Stores.
Could you talk briefly about your workflow? What apps help you get things done?
Writing every morning is something I picked up from Julia Cameron (she calls this “morning pages”) and helps with everything I do. By letting my mind wander I can dissolve barriers rather than over-analyze them.
I am a big fan of OmniFocus and certainly all of the apps I support with Notesdeck. I have no idea how I survived without Siri and Reminders. I can’t even make tea without talking to my iPhone. It’s kind of embarrassing.
What are you working on now? Do you have plans to make any new apps?
I’ve got a full plate — Notesdeck has just reached the App Store a few months ago and I know that this solution is only going to be as good as I can communicate with my initial users. My primary focus is working with users to create a great product.
Many of my friends are musicians, and I really dig the variation between avenues they create music for — they have albums, EP’s, remixes, collaborations and live shows — all of which work “in concert” to inform each other. Notesdeck is an opus and my primary activity is enriching it’s feature set and making it a more stable and useful piece of software.
You’re headed across the country from Maryland to California soon. Which city are you moving to and why?
I’m a fairly all or nothing guy and I’ve learned that I need to place myself in the right situations or I stagnate. I like to be in an immersive environment. I got a chance to stay in Berkeley for about a month and I never felt so surrounded by focused, solution-driven individuals that were eager to not only succeed but also to lend a hand. That’s why I’ve decided to move to the bay area this year as I work on this application.
We’d like to thank Michael for taking the time out of his cross-country travels to do this interview. We’re big fans of Grandview and early signs suggest that Notesdeck is a winner too.