I always enjoy a quick, visual "making of" post. Hopefully you do, too -- because this is Bugle's.

Bugle App Screenshot

The idea

During my first week at Skookum, my co-conspirator Jon Roes and I were eating lunch together in a group (a daily occurrence here that I really enjoy), and I mentioned in passing the idea of doing Rails Rumble, a programming competition where teams have 48 hours to build a webapp using the Ruby on Rails framework. I had participated in the 2009 Rumble with fellow Charlotte-ian Jim Van Fleet and had been thinking about doing it again. Jon was interested and asked if I had anything in mind. I told him, "A weekly snippets webapp."

"Weekly snippets" was an idea I took from my time at Google. At Google, every Monday morning, you get an email asking you what you did last week and what you hope to do this week. Later in the day, everyone's responses are combined and sent out in a followup email. Its a quick, transparent way to see what everyone in your company or division is doing, and its caught on outside of Google with companies like Yahoo!, Facebook and Foursquare.

There's an open source, weekly snippets Python solution available on Github, but I always thought a webapp that could get less tech-savvy businesses up and running with weekly snippets would be useful. More importantly, it would be something we could accomplish in 48 hours and immediately start using at Skookum Digital Works. Jon said he was in.

The name

I brainstormed on the name for a while. If at all possible, I wanted something that conveyed the app's simplicity, touched on the idea of "updating" or "notifying", and --since I would only be able to spend a few hours on the actual brand itself--would be easily brandable with a fun logo and some personality.

After several starts and stops I had temporarily settled on Update All, but one of my fellow SDW designers, Corey Daniels, wasn't down with it.

Skookum Updateall sketched logo

After a couple days he asked me when I came in one morning, "What about Bugle? It's one of the simplest instruments. And there's the idea of trumpeting your accomplishments." And bugleapp.com was available. Perfect.

Sketched Bugle Logo

Sketches and wireframes

One of the rules of Rails Rumble is you can brainstorm and sketch and wireframe, you just can't create any production-ready mockups or graphics. I wanted to make sure I'd thought through the different screens as much as possible, so I sketched and wireframed every screen I could think of.

Sketches to wireframes

By the Friday of the competition, we were as ready as we were going to be.

The actual competition

Bugle on iPhone

Thanks to our planning ahead of time, the actual building of the app went relatively smoothly. I came into Skookum's office Saturday and Sunday while Jon worked from home.

By Saturday morning, Jon had the basic functionality built out and I had all the major graphics done and had started on the HTML/CSS. By Sunday afternoon, we were mostly done, and I even had some extra time leftover to make the homepage responsive.

Once the competition was over we got lots of great feedback and ended up finishing 5th out of 500 Rails Rumble teams! It was 48 hours of hard work, but I already can't wait to do it again next year.

Lesson learned

With a competition like Rails Rumble, where there are a lot of projects launching at once, you want to make it as easy as possible for someone to try out your app. This year's winner, findthin.gs, was nothing but a search box. The 3rd place finisher, Deploy Button, needed just your Github and Heroku accounts and you could immediately start deploying sites with one click.

So even though we placed, if there was one area where Bugle struggled, it was in ease of use for judges. In order to really try us out, you needed to add at least a couple of email addresses (which probably held us back a bit during the judging portion). When we participate again next year, we'll still make sure to build something really useful, but we will make it absolutely drop-dead-simple to start using.

If you enjoyed reading about Bugle, make sure to signup for the 30 day free-trial and give it a spin. Follow Bugle updates at Bugleapp on Twitter.