It’s time to start talking about the future of Handcraft!
Handcraft began as a HTML prototyping tool aimed at designers and developers with little to no coding experience. And it’s worked really well: we use it all the time to prototype and mock up quick sites and interfaces. Thousands of people have used Handcraft to learn the basics of HTML with our getting started guides. So Handcraft is a success! We’ve really enjoyed the ride, from experimental product struggling to find its identity to a great way to learn and explore ideas through code from inside your browser.
But Handcraft was based on an internal prototype and we never found the time to take a good look at how we’d keep growing. It turned out that to offer the best security, stability and options for future growth, our server-side architecture needed some serious reworking. So at the end of 2011 we decided to rewrite Handcraft from the ground up on a different platform. We tried to avoid common pitfalls and keep the team lean and we think we have something cool to show you now.
Although the original goal was to redesign our platform architecture, we also ended up taking a close look at how Handcraft works. This new version comes with a completely new logo, visual style, and user interface. We’ve been using it internally and we think it works pretty well, but we’d love to hear what you think.
On top of the visual and architectural changes we made, we also decided to reorganise how subscriptions work. Previously, you had to sign up for a paid subscription in order to use Handcraft for more than one prototype. Over time, we realised that that was making it hard to really use Handcraft as much as you wanted to. So in the new Handcraft, we’re flipping things around: from now on, on free plans you can create as many prototypes as you need, add as many users as are necessary, and upload as many files as you want. If you want to make your projects private, you can upgrade to a paid subscription that allows you to do so.
The new Handcraft, which we’re calling “Handcraft 2″ for now since so much has changed, is available for beta testing starting today:
Some things to keep in mind:
- Handcraft now uses Google for sign in
- You can test our subscription-only features during the beta, but once we launch you’ll have to actually pay
- When the beta ends, we’ll begin a migration of the existing Handcraft to Handcraft 2, ultimately replacing the old one. We’ll keep you updated during this process.
- The beta will last at least one month, if not longer, as we iron out issues and make sure everything works smoothly.
We hope you like the new Handcraft. Have fun!
For all you European businesses with web apps and services that have been having as hard of a time getting your payment processor up and running as we have, Braintree have apparently now announced their international expansion starting this autumn. Hopefully this means fewer headaches for everyone!
Braintree appears to be a good solution because it’s one of few payment processors that offers a “full-stack” solution. That means that you sign up with them and pay them a monthly fee and they handle all of your problems: processing, card handling, merchant account, gateways, recurring billing, etc. Currently there isn’t an existing service available to Europeans that matches that kind of offering, so it’s great to see them taking the next step into the international market.
Here’s the list of countries they’ll be supporting: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom.
Head over to their site to see their setup, including which currencies they accept, and sign up for their newsletter – they’ll be giving people access to their beta within the next few months.
UX thought leader and speaker Stephen Anderson weighs in on whether you should focus on wireframes or push forward with high fidelity, interactive prototypes early on. I like his use of internalising over skipping:
I think there’s a difference between skipping a phase versus internalizing a phase. As young students, we go through a very formal writing process in order to learn the skills needed to be a good writer; I doubt very seriously that any of us go through that same, explicit process as mature writers. We’ve internalized those things we were taught.
At Q42 and on the Handcraft team we frequently do sketches and then immediately move on to interactive prototypes. Not because we want to skip wireframes, but because that part of the process is kind of redundant. It doesn’t add anything of value when you can just get on with the things you really want to communicate to your client, namely the refined details of the interactivity you’re mocking up.
Stephen comments on communication as an important stage in the process, too:
Asking someone to comment just on the interaction or just on the structure–independent of the other pieces — is a bit like asking someone to judge a chocolate chip cookie based on only a handful of ingredients. “Here, these are the wet ingredients (eggs, sugars, vanilla)–what do you think of this cookie?” How can we possibly expect to get good feedback on such an incomplete experience?
Fully interactive prototypes allow the client or stakeholder to comment on the actual experience rather than a picture of it. That way you get a constructive discussion going early on about the final product instead of wandering around in idea land for too long. Getting to this stage as fast as possible means you can spend more time testing with real people, which is another point Stephen makes:
I’d argue for an integrated, holistic approach to UX that serves up as complete an experience as possible, as early on in the process as possible. I’m talking days, maybe even hours in some cases. This is not so we can be done more quickly, but so that we can use this new found time to iterate more frequently with actual users, leading to better, more user focused experiences.
We talked about this in our presentation at UX Brighton last summer: focus on the details rather than skipping over them just because you want to be done sooner.
Stephen’s a great thinker and writer and it’s awesome to see a gradual move towards this kind of thinking in the design industry overall. Read all of Stephen’s thoughts on the subject at The Pastry Box Project: Wednesdasy, 4 April. Here’s hoping he works this angle into a future talk!
We just recovered from some major downtime with Handcraft caused by an error in the configuration of our http://handcraft.it domain name. Handcraft was unvailable sporadically yesterday and finally went down completely for ten consecutive hours overnight.
If you were affected by this downtime we’re truly sorry. Please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you ran into any trouble and we’ll work something out.
The cause of the problem
Late last night we discovered that handcraft.it was not responding. After looking around we determined that it was because the handcraft.it domain name appeared to have expired. This sounded very strange because it had been set up to auto-renew. Unfortunately, it was already past business hours in the Netherlands when we discovered the problem and our hosting provider was unavailable for support. As a result, Handcraft was unavailable overnight in Europe.
Early this morning we immediately contacted our hosting company and let them know about the problem. It turned out that the domain name had expired due to a combination of unlikely events that happened last year when we originally registered the domain name. A payment error combined with administrative errors from two different hosting companies led to us believe the domain name was registered correctly when it was in fact set to expire. Our hosting provider had also contacted us to let us know the domain would be expiring, but their emails were filed as spam in our inboxes and we didn’t see them until it was too late.
What we’re doing to prevent this from happening again
We’ve now recovered the domain name and will be moving it to a hosting provider that provides better support and with whom we have a longer relationship. We’ll also be (doubly) confirming that all of Handcraft’s domain names are functioning completely and set to renew correctly.
Again, we’re incredibly sorry this happened and we’re doing everything we can to prevent it from happening again.
We use Handcraft every day. It’s incredibly important to us that it be available 24/7 and we understand if that’s the case for you as well. Again, you can reach me at email@example.com if you want to discuss any problems you’ve faced during our downtime.
Thanks for using Handcraft.
Check out this review of Handcraft by AppStorm’s Darren Meehan:
Using Handcraft has been an interesting experience. Building a web site directly in a browser is something I never thought I’d be doing, though looking back now it doesn’t make any sense not to. I regularly use web apps to write posts for Appstorm, whether it’s on Appstorm itself powered by WordPress or using Google docs, so I might as well use a web app to create my own sites or write up web code anyhow! If you’re looking for a text-driven website designer for the web, give Handcraft a try. You might find yourself addicted to your new favorite online text and web editor!
Darren even noticed that we built the Handcraft website with Handcraft:
Both the site and editor have an intuitive functional design, which looks awesome! And while building sites on a website is a funny concept to get your head around, this next interesting fact will make that all the harder – the Handcraft website is built in Handcraft itself as a prototype! It’s great to know the developers themselves use this app themselves, never mind using it to build their website!
Stephanie Miles has written a lovely article about Handcraft for Appvita:
If you work in a field that requires collaboration for success, then Handcraft could be a tool worth checking out. After you start a 30-day trial, Handcraft will guide you through all the steps to create your first HTML prototype. Give your first prototype a name, select the URL where it will be located, and then get to work perfecting it using the Handcraft editor. Handcraft’s editor was designed in a way that lets you skip repetitive work across multiple pages and automatically completes commonly used HTML and CSS codes. The editor also includes an error-handling tool, which scours your prototype to help you figure out what’s not working correctly. Copywriters, meanwhile, will appreciate being able to write their text directly into the HTML code, rather than emailing back-and-forth with developers.
That’s great! Thanks Stephanie and Appvita!
Last week’s release of a renewed Chrome Web Store by Google increased signups to Handcraft by 1000%. What happened?
Update: Stripe responded below, and if you want Stripe in Europe you can leave your name and country here
Dear people at Stripe,
Stripe sounds lovely and I wanted to add a voice from Europe calling for you guys to hurry up and get over here. The payment processing industry is probably a mess in the US, but I can almost guarantee you it’s even more of a mess over here if you’re not in the UK. Sounds like a great business opportunity, right?
In getting ours set up we went through a 3-month long nightmare/adventure and finally settled on Ogone+Spreedly. I’m sure you know of both. Spreedly is like Stripe in its elegance and simplicity, but it’s not full-stack, which means we’re required to suffer through the terrible UX and customer support of Ogone. Seriously, if there’s a company I could say I actually hate, it might be Ogone.
I wrote some blog posts about our experiences that I’d like to share with you in an attempt to hopefully convince you to expedite your trip across the Atlantic:
People in Europe who want to make money off their web-based software
Andy Rutledge wrote a blog post saying that web design is product design:
The key quote here is “the functioning code is the design”. All too often people view “design” as just describing something visual. But the design of a building isn’t the picture of the building, it’s the blueprint. The design of an iMac consists of more than just an illustration of the iMac, it involves all the specifications and internals. That’s design. To wall in design within the visual is to misunderstand all the skills designers must have to do their jobs well.
In the case of web design, as Andy says, the code is the design. The beautiful thing about that is that you can work on just the design, writing HTML and CSS, and suddenly you have the end result. You don’t need to go into, say, mass manufacturing. You just publish your code (and maybe clean it up a bit). This is why we made Handcraft.
It seems like there’s a neverending debate over whether people should be allowed to call themselves “user experience designer”. On one side of the fence you’ve got people assigning themselves the title because they feel that it represents best what they do, or have done for years. On the other there’s a crowd calling the former group names because they don’t feel they “deserve” to call themselves something they appear not to be.
But wait just a second. Has no one noticed what this argument is really about? About what the consequences are of everyone left and right wanting to call themselves a user experience designer?
That’s right. It’s becoming cool. Continue reading →