Red Pen is a much-needed single purpose tool created by a designer, for designers. The site allows you to upload your design, share a short URL, and receive live, annotated feedback. No project management, no complexity, no bullshit.
Designers create practical things for real people, so they need others to test the design during the development phase and provide thorough feedback to ensure they’re on the right track.
You can always email large files back and forth, and receive written feedback that doesn’t quite make sense in the context. Then again, you can use Red Pen.
While there are other solutions in the market that allow designers to get feedback from clients and colleagues; Red Pen is VERY light-weight. Why bother with extra buttons when you don’t need them?
Founder of Red Pen, Matthew Farag says he created the tool to scratch his own itch. Farag and his designer friends – who like to call themselves The Pistachios – are always critiquing each other’s works and find themselves pointing at certain areas of the design to give precise feedback.
But it isn’t always possible to physically meet up with someone for proper feedback, so Farag decided to search online to see if there are easy online solutions. He found that many of the apps were “excessively feature-rich”.
“They all tried to cater to every kind of customer, and in doing so failed to cater to any of them. They were bloated, complicated, had initial learning time, and—most importantly—had high resistance for friends you wanted to invite,” says Farag.
And so he sat down one weekend, got out his red pen and put on his creative cap to visualise the simplest solution to the feedback problem.
Building Red Pen
When it came to building Red Pen, Farag says he employed a “fuck it, I’ll do it myself” approach. After hours, he taught himself Ruby on Rails and built the entire tool in two weeks.
“I built it myself in nights after work. I’m a designer by trade, so I didn’t know backend code before this project, but it seemed like a nice time to learn,” says Farag.
The advantage of building the tool himself, Farag adds is that he didn’t have to spend a cent until he had a working product.
“I learned simply by reading Why the Lucky Stiff’s Ruby ebook, watching the Rails for Zombies video series, and annoying my developer friend Ben,” he says.
“I deployed it to Heroku, which has been absolutely excellent at helping me scale the service. It’s literally a button-press to get the code from my computer to the internet, and the servers grow with me as Red Pen’s sees increasing demand.”
Red Pen was designed so users can try out the product straight away – no sign up necessary. Just upload, share, and comment.
“We were never fans of services that hid behind a signup form. That was just another layer of resistance,” says Farag.
Another interesting element of Red Pen is that it doesn’t impose on workflow. Farag says designers don’t have to leave their comfort zone and change the way they design just to use the app.
A minimalist marketing strategy and business model
Ensuring a superior user experience, has been the biggest marketing tool they’ve had.
“We do very little direct marketing. It grows because people use it, immediately see use in it, and come out delighted. That’s not me assuming; that’s what people email me every day to say,” says Farag.
They are currently working towards a pro tier subscription to compliment the existing core free version. The pro version – which they call ‘Gold Pen’ – will include more features to improve designer and team collaboration workflow.
Successes and challenges
Red Pen now has 50,000 users, who keep coming back again and again.
But embarking on the venture as a one-man startup was a huge challenge.
“You’re essentially five departments in one— business, design, dev, support, and ops. It’s demanding and stressful, but crazy-rewarding when good comes out of it,” says Farag.
Another challenge has been choosing how to grow as a business.
“With limited time, resources and manpower, you need to choose what to work on wisely. You also need to make sure you stick to your original philosophy. Ours was “fast, minimal, and only there when it needs to be”. Everything we do has to pass that test,” says Farag.
He acknowledges that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to make Red Pen a designer’s go-to tool.
“There are some huge pain points in how designers work that we can fix. And we will, to make it faster and more efficient,” says Farag.
Check out Red Pen via www.redpen.io.