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The creative process is a conversation
Niice was born 4 years ago and we’ve been there since day one. We’ve been there when it was launched as a free tool, when we built a beta version, then a paid launch. Now it’s a fully blown SaaS company and is used by thousands of creative teams every day, including companies like Nike, TIME and Airbnb.
Development , Interaction
Web, iOS, Ruby on Rails
Strategy, Concept, UI, UX
This makes sense when you consider that all of our communication tools are designed for words, not pictures. Chris Armstrong Founded Niice in 2013 with aim of improving the creative workflow. Backed with a stellar background, he was part of the renowned web agency, Design by Front, before working on Typecast, an early product by the studio that re-invented the way fonts were used in the web browser. Typecast was later acquired by Monotype. Chris however, was always obsessed with the creative workflow.
“We needed a tool that’s designed for free-flowing, creative discussions; that enables us to present and critique our ideas in a visual way without having to be in the same room at the same time, or even the same timezone.”
Table of contents
“The creative process is a conversation. When creative projects fail it’s rarely due to a shortage of ideas or talent: it’s because communication breaks down.”
– Chris Armstrong, Founder of Niice
Chris set out to solve the ‘Creative Block’ problem by building a tool to help with inspiration. It started with ‘Search’; a search engine for images. Or as a famous tech journal called it ‘Google Images with Taste’. The subtle smarts of the search were the algorithm that takes some creative license to show you the abstract (one or two steps removed). It can almost artificially manufacture serendipity.
The Moodboarding Feature was Niice turning towards building revenue and launching a SaaS product for Pro and Team Features via monthly and annual subscriptions. On the lead up to launch we figured it would be best practise to open up a Beta offering to ensure we had a grace period for bugs and a patient audience to help us in our product discovery. The site received 11,000 requests for access to its beta version. In June 2014 we launched. We had just launched visual discussions that didn’t require everyone to be in the same room at the same time or even the same timezone. This was the start of something new for Niice. Nice currently has 330,000 live mood boards.
Feedback is an essential part of the creative process, but too often it becomes a bottleneck. One of our goals was to streamline the process of asking for & giving feedback so you can always get the right input from the right people at the right time. Whether you want depth feedback or just a year or a no, Niice makes it easy to set the context for the kind of input you want.
A way for you to keep the conversation all in one place, and never lose sight of what you’re discussing with your team.
We integrated with slack… but we built internal chat too.
Live boards is a pretty critical feature if you want creative teams in different locations collaborating together in real time.
“Every now and again I’m pitched a startup that I “get” instantly because it addresses a problem I’ve faced in the past and solves it in a simple, laser-focussed way. Niice is one such startup.”
- Steve O'Hear, TechCrunch
Going API first is the most robust way to build a scalable product but it wasn’t where Niice started. In the early days the app was very tightly coupled with the interface on the same server as the backend along with multiple others. This effected performance, scalability, and our ability to move faster and develop quicker. We had to stage our API builds according to capacity and budget to keep the business moving forward while we were gradually moving over to a solely API-based product.
“Our software doesn't exist in a vacuum, it's critical that we understand our place in someone's workflow and play nice with all the other tools they're using.”
Officially an Adobe partner, Niice has linked up with Creative Cloud to move content between Adobe and Niice. There aren’t many applications that allow you to send an image from an iPhone straight into Photoshop and back again in the seamless manner Niice has achieved. It seemed like a small idea at the time but these integrations have become a vital part in integrating Niice into the creative workflow.
Integrating with Slack allowed Niice to seamlessly slip into existing workflows of creative teams. On-boarding a team internally to a new tool is incredibly challenging, the Slack integration was a small helping hand we were able to provide at very little development cost.
As Niice transitioned from a tool for individuals to an enterprise platform for teams the Dropbox integration allowed two-way sync to get lots of content in and out of Niice quickly. This is vital for non-design team members who want to contribute fast - just put it in Dropbox, Niice does the rest. We can’t take much credit for most of the brilliance of Niice but we especially can’t take credit for the iOS app, however, our API development is the foundation that it’s built upon.
“Powered by Behance, Dribbble and Designspiration, Niice pulls in content from these srouces and displays them in a simple, easy-to-consume grid.”
- Harrison Webber, The Next Web
Niice’s backend and API is built upon Ruby on Rails using Postgres for its database, with the majority of its frontend structured around Backbone JS. Over time we have extracted features such as the search API and media uploader out into micro services in order to give the app more stability, making it more maintainable and scalable.
Smart Search; Building a Machine Learning Engine
Niice scrapes images from all around the web, and currently processes up to 40,000 images a day, holding nearly 6.5 million images in its database at the time of writing. Dealing with such large amounts of data isn’t easy, especially when you want to minimise the time it takes to return accurate and relevant results. We opted to implement Elasticsearch as a way to index all the information that is gathered into structured format that is easily, and quickly queried.
Powered by Artifical Intelligence
Every image we collect goes through our machine learning engine to help generate more relevant and suggested images. We use a service called Imagga to process each image, returning an array of suggested ‘tags’ which relate to them. Along with this we also collect the most dominant colours and other metadata such as dimensions, giving us various different avenues to compare images against each other. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the potential AI and machine learning technology has to offer.
We like to move it move it
Content Creator - Plan Your Instagram Feed with Niice
Content Planners in agencies all around the world use the smart layout engine to storyboard and plan social media campaigns on platforms such as Instagram.
Unlike with most clients, we weren’t the one’s dreaming up product features, designing the roadmap and taking the product lead. We really just provided design and engineering resources to execute on Chris’s vision and under his direction. Normally this would be annoying when working with a client but for us we just feel lucky.
Chris’s time of working with us is probably coming to an end as he continues to build out a stellar product team internally but in the meantime, we’re continuing to work on some pretty cool stuff together.
If you are a scaling startup and are looking for the same kind of partnership we’ve enjoyed with Niice.