We interview the designer behind a new tool that makes creating interactive website and app prototypes a doddle.
Marvel is service born of failure. The web-based tool was created by a team of designers and developers in response to the problems around how agencies pitch digital projects to clients using mockups - problems that lead to accounts being lost. So instead of being disheartened, the team went away and created a free and super-simple service that allows live-seeming prototypes to be built quickly using visual tools for a more impressive client package - while still being easy enough for an account manager to demo unaided.
To use the service, you first need a series of mockups of the different facets of your website, app or other interface you want to demo. You upload these to the Marvel site, then use the hotspot tool on the site to link them together to create a 'working' mockup. The service then packages these together with a custom URL that you can use within presentations - or send over to client with apparently live buttons or links.
It's designed for designers who use Photoshop to create mockups, but even if you've moved over to a dynamic tool such as Sketch, it's still possible to output the different stages of a project walkthrough as still images ready for uploading into Marvel. What it creates isn't up to the grade of a full HTML prototype, but it's for an earlier point in the pitch process than that - and a lot less likely to throw up errors mid-presentation.
At the backend, Marvel is using the popular file-syncing service Dropbox to store your projects - and taps into its sync service so that files saved out are automatically updated in the prototype.
We caught up with Marvel co-founder Murat Mutlu (above, left on the sofa) to find out more about the thinking behind the service, when it's going live and what we can expect in the future.
DA: Tell us a bit about the team behind Marvel
MM: "There's three of us that started Marvel: Brendan Moore (top, right on the sofa) who's in charge of all the backend wizardry. He plays guitar and has just returned from trekking in the Amazon. Jonathan Siao is in charge of building the iOS app. He lives in Martiurius and constantly depresses us by sending pictures of beaches.
"I'm in charge of doing all the design and UX stuff. I'll make any excuse to have a business meeting in Nandos. New feature needed? That requires a discussion over some wings.
"We've also hired Oleg Tsvplin, a super talented student to code the front-end.
"[We've previously worked] at a mobile tech/marketing start-up in London called Enpocket (later acquired by Nokia), and built a shakable browser-based snowglobe and a free app called InstaBAM! which finds Instagram pictures around your location . It has been featured by Apple on several times and has now been downloaded 135,000 times, with 10,000 active users.
"I think at this point we all realised that we needed to step up our game and create something that could solve a problem.
DA: How did you come up the concept for the app?
MM: "The idea came about whilst I was working on an iPhone app pitch for a digital agency. It was for a pretty big brand so everyone was working really hard on putting our approach together.
"I was spending all my time designing the app for the presentation. There was tons of attention to detail in the screens, all done in Retina resolution. The whole 'pitch like you've won it' attitude was in full-effect and I had practically designed the entire app, so a lot of time and money was spent.
"Then - as is typical within an agency - you hand over the designs to the account manager or whoever is presenting it and they shove it into a Powerpoint and throw loads of text next to the image, then present it on a screen 5 metres away from the client. Any impact in that design is lost.
"After hearing we had lost the pitch and how the work was presented, I was thinking there must be a better way to for us to get work into clients hands. So for the next pitch, I put all the images on a mobile device's photo roll and gave it to the client myself. They were over the moon; the difference it makes when you get a design into someones hand rather than as an email attachment is unreal.
"Not only that but as a designer you want to be able to play around your designs are quickly and easily as possible. This helps you make decisions or communicate the designs to developers. The trouble is many designers like myself can't code, I'm all for the 'designers will code' movement but the reality is you don't wake up and suddenly have hordes of designers who can put together prototypes in code.
"I spoke to Brendan and Jonathan about how we can solve this and the idea gradually built up from there."
DA: From a user's perspective, how does using Marvel work?
MM: "It's really simple, you select the design files you want to turn into a prototype, upload them to Marvel (above top). Then use the hotspot tool (above bottom) to draw areas which you would like to link to other images you've uploaded.
"Each project is given a unique URL which you can either open, email or SMS to anyone you like, on any device. When that person gets the link, it opens up in the browser and they tap or click through the images you just turned into a prototype."
DA: Is it really going to be free?
MM: "Yep! Free, unlimited projects and files. I originally came up with several plans, limitations etc - then I explained these to Jonathan, who looked at them and simply said 'I think it should be free". Brendan agreed, so we made it free.
"We pitched the idea to Ubiquity Servers during development. They loved the product and decided to sponsor us by providing some extremely powerful cloud servers. Alongside using Dropbox for storage, our costs are low - which is great because we can make the service free.
"In the future, we'll introduce some business-centric features that may form a pro account but the [underlying] service will always be free and unlimited.
DA: Why are you tapping into Dropbox?
MM: "Dropbox is used on a daily basis by designers, agencies and businesses to store their design files so it made perfect sense to use this as the foundation for the service. The closer Marvel can get to the natural behavior of a designer the better it will be to use.
"This also means Marvel can seamlessly update prototypes on the fly, soon as a designer saves their file in Photoshop, the prototype updates. [There's] no need to save out PSDs, PNGs and JPEGs then reupload. We're harnessing the power, convenience and scale of Dropbox to provide a better experience than the other services out there."
DA: When are you going to launch and where do you see the service developing from there?
MM: "We went into private beta on Monday and we're gradually letting 100 people use the service to start off with. If all goes well, we'd expect to release it next month as our MVP. The most important thing right now is to see if it's something that designers love.
"We've just applied to a couple of incubators and we're thinking about getting a small bit of seed funding so we can work on Marvel full-time.
"We have some killer things planned over the next couple of months. I can't give too much away just yet though, but we'll be announcing more on our Twitter account very soon.