When was the last time you heard someone say they love working with spreadsheets? If it was any time recently, you probably need to re-evaluate who you're surrounding yourself with. For most of us, organizing, let alone working with data in a spreadsheet is about as fun as waiting in line at the bank.
Despite that, on any given day, thousands of businesses around the world spend their days neck deep in a swath of spreadsheets.
Walk into any business and you might see them being used to track projects, or recruits, or even as a light-weight CRM. And who’s to blame them? It’s pretty much been ingrained in our minds that any time we think about data collection, the first place we should turn to is a spreadsheet.
For Fieldbook founder Jason Crawford, this was an issue.
“I was at a startup several years ago and we were working on a data collection project. It was sort of a Yelp/Foursquare competitor and so we needed to build a database of local businesses and we were building an internal system to do this data collection and manage the workflow.
“Eventually, I looked at this thing we were building and said ‘Why are we spending all these developer resources to create this thing from scratch? It isn’t much more than some forms on top of a database with a bit of workflow logic.”
The germ of the idea was there, but it wouldn’t be until a few years down the road that a second major observation would propel Jason to create his own cure for the spreadsheet pandemic. You see, it isn’t just companies building databases that need a solution other than spreadsheets, it’s almost every single one of us.
“As soon as I realized it was an existing user behavior and that everyday people were getting along with sub-optimal tools and cobbling together solutions that didn’t work super well, I just knew there was a huge opportunity there and I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I knew I had to do this.”
‘This’ would become Fieldbook—a web app that provides an easier solution for organizing, managing, and working with any set of data.
Open up Fieldbook and you’ll see rows and columns ready for you like any good spreadsheet app. But dive a bit deeper and you’ll quickly see just how different it is.
Instead of a static page, Fieldbook lets you link columns in your ‘spreadsheet’ to other sheets, quickly building a custom database in seconds. This has such wide-reaching use cases, but let’s look at one in particular:
Let’s say you’re an agency with dozens of clients to whom you offer several different services. Now let’s say you want to track what services you’re offering to which client, for how many hours, who’s the lead on each project, and the hourly rate.
In a spreadsheet your eyes would be going all over the place, but with Fieldbook, just click on the client’s name and link it to a dedicated sheet that shows the project, lead, price, and whatever other info you want, all in one place.
And if that data changes? Unlike a spreadsheet where your best option is to download the data as a .csv and pump it back into the spreadsheet, Fieldbook will update automatically as the data changes, meaning you’ll never be stuck looking at the wrong info.
Pretty ingenious, right?
“We knew design was going to be important and that’s why we decided to do an overhaul before we put it out to the public.”
But that’s to be expected. Jason’s an engineer by trade. He studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. He was a team lead at Amazon for years. And his previous startup, Kima Labs, where he was co-founder and CTO, was purchased by Groupon back in 2012. No one here is debating his technical prowess and abilities.
He’s run hundreds of usability tests on Fieldbook with groups of beta testers and early adopters, tweaking its functionality and ease of use. But the one thing that kept coming up, and that was out of his skill set, was design.
“It looked decent, but we could tell that the design was hindering us. One of our main goals with Fieldbook was to make it a joy to use, because information tools and tracking tools aren’t the things you usually love to use, and we wanted people to love using Fieldbook. So, we knew design was going to be important and that’s why we decided to do an overhaul before we put it out to the public.”
The million-dollar make over
Design and data manipulation rarely go hand in hand, and while Fieldbook was technically there, it needed a little facelift before it could be presented to the world.
Jason had worked with Crew in the past on the original landing page for Fieldbook, and came back to us when the web app needed its million-dollar make over (we’re speaking hyperbolically here, of course!)
“One of the challenges of a project like this is that the designers are coming in with a lot of design sense and knowledge, but without having the deep understanding of the product and user base—what parts of our design were carefully chosen to deal with specific issues and which ones were just because we didn’t know any better?”
Jason was looking for someone to not only tweak the designs of the app, but to also create a new visual identity that was unique to Fieldbook. Up until that moment they’d been using a logo from The Noun Project with an open book (Fieldbook, get it?) but one of their investors kept saying he thought it was a reading app, and so that had to go.
And the kicker? They had 4 weeks to get all of this work done before they posted Fieldbook on ProductHunt.
We looked through our group of designers and connected Jason with Mario, a London-based designer and studio owner who specializes in branding, UI/UX, and front-end development. Knowing that the logo would tell the story of the company, Mario and his team started banging out iteration after iteration, trying to find that one image that would be iconic, simple, and easily recognizable.
They started connecting the ideas of Fieldbook together: the grid of a spreadsheet and a folded piece of paper to show the depth and usability of it. Mario brought these elements together with the ‘F’ for Fieldbook, so what looks like a simple lettermark is really a glimpse into the features and functionality of the app.
Next up was the wordmark, which Mario made slight changes to, lowering the weight slightly for readability and slightly changing the typeface.
Then, after a visual overhaul of the web app, cleaning up the pages and making it ‘just right’ like a only a good designer can, they were ready to hit launch.
Going for that #1 spot
Mario and co. hit their deadline and Jason hit his, launching Fieldbook on ProductHunt last November and hitting the #1 spot for the day (and staying in the top 5 products hunted that month!)
And with that attention brought in a ton of more users to help them make Fieldbook even better.
In the next year Jason and his team will be building out mobile and native mobile Fieldbook apps, as well as integrating with all sorts of 3rd party systems from Stripe to Shopify, so that no matter where your data is, you can bring it into Fieldbook and get the most out of it.
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