Lisa Bettany came to the App Store from the world of photography. Her outsider perspective gave her an edge to the design process that her coder-collaborators didn’t have, helping propel her app Camera+ to 10 million users and growing on iOS.
But when she was just starting out in app design, Bettany was shocked to find she had to learn to resist pressure from the engineers, who often wanted to make changes that would sacrifice the user experience she wanted.
Today, she’s bringing her design ethic back home to small-town Canada and breaking away from the hustle of the tech world. “I’m more of a creative mind, and the coders were really tech-minded. Designing was an unpredictable process. Now that we’re all in the same place, we can communicate better.”
When Bettany had the idea to create a photography app on the iPhone, she wasn’t completely unprepared for developing the product. She had immersed herself in digital photography for years, which made her the expert on the design functionalities that eventually came out in Camera+.
But working with coders meant they didn’t see well eye-to-eye all the time. “I was more interested in getting the user aspect right than they were. They were very tech-minded. When you’re the creative force, you kind of have to battle that,” Bettany says. “But being naïve helped that process. It helped me focus on that singular purpose of answering that question of how to make a great photography app.”
Her collaborators frequently rushed the process and tried to block some of the features that Bettany preferred. “With most of the filters, we had some nodes and even the one-tap button that just makes things better. They didn’t have the skills to know how to make things aesthetically better,” she says.
Keeping up on getting the functions right proved to Bettany that even the most tech-minded coder didn’t have the chops to perfect the design process. Camera+’s prized filters are an example of how no amount of tech experience can make designing painless.
“At the time, there were no clear-cut ways of creating filters. So I said, ‘Filters look like this.’ The first ones looked horrible. Those were a battle. Most of the filters we developed were unplanned,” Bettany says.
Creating Camera+ has made Bettany a veteran of app design, in a world separate from coding. But she still credits her unique attributes to her success in the tech world, those of which are not limited to her passion for photography. Bettany also has a master’s degree in linguistics.
“I think having that background certainly helped with marketing aspects, just being able to write well,” she says. “I think a lot of people with a coding background might not want to communicate as much.”
After having experienced Camera+’s success, Bettany is now busying herself with launching a new set of apps under her own company. The name is currently under wraps, but it matches the name of its flagship app. And with the new company comes a change of scene.
About a year ago, Bettany gave up hectic-city life, having once called Manhattan home, and set up shop in her hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. “The tech world sapped the life out of me. Maybe it’s taken away my innocence,” she says of her past. Victoria’s comfortable surroundings are a quasi-satellite Silicon Valley that is breathing new life into her current projects. She was ready to move back home and regroup. “I was ready to settle in and start my new company. And get away from big cities.”
There are a handful of tech companies that like to operate out of Victoria, she says, since Silicon Valley is not too far away. “I guess the proximity to Silicon Valley really helps since it’s a two-hour direct flight,” she says. “And it’s really relaxed.”
Plus, she wanted to actually see her coworkers in the same room. While working on Camera+, she collaborated with coders across the world, but rarely had in-person meetings. “I wanted to work with people that I could see face-to-face. When I was working on Camera+, we were always just all over the place, using Skype. But I didn’t want it to stop there,” Bettany says.
Bettany hesitates when I ask her if her new company could replicate the success of Camera+. “That’s what keeps me up at night. Camera+ was the right app for the right time. I had no idea where that project was headed. I would like to do well, but there are a lot of factors,” she says.
“I know more now than I did before, and I still focus on the end product rather than the process,” Bettany adds. “But before, it was more day-to-day, you know, ‘How is this going to work out?’ But I have more control over the design process now. I guess that’s a good thing.”