Pencil by FiftyThree

Paper from FiftyThree is easily my favorite iPad app. You can guess it's importance for me from the fact that it was the sole reason for me to not get the iPad Mini and go for the Air. For the last few weeks I have been using their new product [Pencil], a beautiful stylus that is brilliantly designed.


It comes in a cylindrical cardboard box that efficiently puts in the Pencil, spare parts like the rubber tip and a manual.

Pencil by FiftyThree

The subtle alignment of the outside print with the real Pencil inside the box is a nice touch.

Pencil by FiftyThree


The Pencil itself is beautifully designed. I went with the walnut wood body, but there is a choice of black brushed aluminum body.

Pencil by FiftyThree

The body is well balanced in terms of weight distribution and feels good in hands. It feels like a tool that you can keep fiddling with as you are sketching or drawing.

Pencil by FiftyThree

The front tip of the Pencil itself is similar to other stylus, only rougher. The rubber end is however smoother.

Pencil by FiftyThree

In terms of size, it is longer than the other two stylus I have tried, namely the Bamboo and the Maglus stylus. It is lighter that the Maglus (which is ridiculously heavy) and a tad bit heavier than the Bamboo.

Pencily by FiftyThree


To actually use Pencil, you need to do a digital handshake with the Paper app. This gets annoying and even after using it for a while, I keep forgetting this and realizing it midway during a sketch. I wish they had found a better way to do this automatically based on proximity or some other signal.

Pencil by FiftyThree

Once the app registers the device though, it pairs beautifully with the experience of the app. There is a sense of fluidity that persists between the interface and the hardware.

Pencil by FiftyThree

Draw a line. Pinch to zoom with fingers. Move the viewfinder around using the Pencil. Sketch the details. Erase mistakes by using the other end of the Pencil, just as you would using an old-school Pencil. Or just Rewind. Use your fingers to blur things (which ends up great to create base colors or give a sense of distance). Repeat.

My biggest gripe is when the app thinks that the Pencil is my finger instead and ends up blurring a sketch instead of adding a detail. I have still not found a way around it but it is annoying to say the least.

Pencil by FiftyThree

You also need to remember that Pencil needs to be charged about a month or so. I have not yet reached that point despite my usage, but it is something that it needs to do because of using Bluetooth.

Pencil by FiftyThree

Overall, if you had to buy a stylus and use the app Paper, definitely recommend the Pencil. It is suffice to say the app and the device exist in harmony, in perfect synergy with one another.

It has helped me get back to sketching as a hobby.

Sketch Sketch Sketch

Hack Design Lesson

Hack Design is an amazing resource for people to learn more about design via simple lessons covering different topics ranging from typography to animations in design.

I was asked to write the final lesson of the course and curated the lesson around developing self awareness as a designer.

Read the lesson here

Pescadero State Beach

Last evening, me and a bunch of other friends made a short trip to Pescadero State Beach alongside State Route 1. Got some good shots despite the foggy weather and low light including a pod of sea lions by the rocks.

What kind of a designer are you?

No! I said…what kind of a designer are YOU?

In the short time since I started designing, I have had a bunch of titles to describe my role; some I chose myself when freelancing, and some were given by the companies that I worked for. I have been a web designer, a user interface designer, an interaction designer, a user experience designer and most recently, a product designer. As I have moved from one title to the other, the industry has evolved and it is much easier to see some of those patterns in hindsight. What does your role, really encompass when you say you are a designer at a startup, or more importantly what all can it encompass that will help you be better at what you are trying to be? What does it mean to be a designer for the digital medium? What does it mean to design a digital product?

The startup is the new agency

It is not the biggest surprise that some of the finest designers of products happen to work at tech companies and startups. I would argue that a startup or a larger tech company that cares deeply about design (I can definitely attest for Facebook being one) is a better place to bootstrap your career in design than any traditional design agency. There are lot of reasons for this but the biggest and most obvious ones in my head are the breadth of projects and the quick learning curve. Today you could be designing the logo and the larger brand of the new app that is about to launch, and the next day you are back to tweaking the flow of the app based on new user testing nuggets that your CEO passed on from one late-afternoon coffee shop testing. I traded my two year course in ‘interaction design’ for a crash course in design at Pulse. Never made a better decisions in my life.

Products—not just apps or websites

What the hell do I even mean by that? Mostly that our work is no longer confined to interfaces inside a viewport in the browser or on our phones. The apps & the websites are just the means of interaction we enable. We are here to design the larger system of which the apps and websites are one aspect. It is equally our job (or should be, if it is not) to understand how they fit into the larger sphere of things. What is the product market fit? What do the release cycles of the app look like in terms of features? Does it make sense to launch feature A without sub feature 1, 2 and 3 which are part of the next release cycle? How similar do the app and the website need to be? Do they need to be optimized for particular use cases versus being at feature parity? What about our iPad app? How does the account creation flow work if a user connects via Facebook on iPhone but closes the app before they complete their profile? How do we handle this edge case if they open the app on a desktop device next? How does their data sync across platform and what are the design affordances for it? In a world of A/B tests and instrumentation of design, how do you tell the stories that need telling.

…[In] situations where the product is facing an incumbent and there are complimentary network effects, it’s simply not enough to launch a well designed product. - Johnnie Manzari


For most cases in the past, designing something meant working with a client on a project for a few weeks and giving a ‘final deliverable’ and working briefly with the engineers in some case. The client could always hire for the next project, but as far as the old project was concerned, that was it. Welcome to the world where the job is never done. The job really starts from What we are trying to build and ends on how what we released has been performing—which is arguably for as long as the product exists. Are there any major drop offs in the funnel? With tools of today, it is easier than ever to be in the know of the story that data has to tell about the product. What about the things that are not working as you had hoped, can we do a quick revision and submit to App store in 2 days? The feedback loop is shorter and tighter. This also means we have to be okay with things not being perfect. This one in particular is at odds to the perfectionist in us. The thing that makes it better to wrap our heads around is that you have forever to make it perfect. Keep iterating.


When you see a live, polished, interactable demo, you can instantly understand how something is meant to work and feel, in a way that words or long descriptions or wireframes will never be able to achieve. And that leads to better feedback, and better iterations, and ultimately a better end product. - Julie Zhuo

This is a medium that is not static. This is a medium that enables affordances that other mediums of the past did not. This is a medium for which photoshop should not be the end, but merely a milestone in the journey of creation. Use what you are comfortable in, Quartz, Framer or good old HTML/CSS/JS. The end goal is to get more insight and feedback and be able to better envision how the design works and not just what it looks like. Use all means necessary and at your disposal.

Own the product: Being proactive & executing

This might seem like an odd item to add to the list, but of all the above mentioned qualities, this has to be the one that is the most important. Gone are the days when someone will be carrying over a spec document of project requirements and leaving it on your desk for you to look at. You are responsible for the product. Think of it like your own baby. Does it need caressing, go do it. Nobody will be sending you emails about it, but it is implied that this is YOUR job. Worry less about the ideal process and more about the outcome—the impact. Hack your way around traditional UX practices that make it feasible for a 2 person design team to do everything from user research to communication design, while always knowing the magic sauce is the product and it’s execution and not the process. Maybe even ditch the traditional notion of UX for a far more opinionated product. Follow what works for you and your product.

We don’t have our journal of record, our vocabulary is splintered and vague, our processes are inconsistent, but this is the beginning of something important. - David Cole

The field of designing digital products has just begun to come together. There are common grounds and there are disagreements. New mediums are being added, while old ones fade away. In the coming years, what do you want to see when you look at your phone or through a pair of glasses or glance at your watch or stare at that screen that mimics the TV in your living room? What kind of products do you want to design for this medium?

What kind of a designer will you be?

Originally posted on Medium