Neven Mrgan, Panic


Neven is a designer at Panic, Inc.

  • What do you currently do?

I’m a designer at Panic, Inc., a Mac-and-iOS software company in downtown Portland. I mostly work on designing the UI of our apps.

  • How did you get started in Mac and/or iOS programming?

I designed for the web for a few years before I got into iOS and Mac development. I had always wanted to do it, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be good at it. What gave me confidence was the arrival of the iPhone: it was such a new platform, I figured I could learn at the same pace as everyone else.

I learned mostly by studying my first iPhone very, very carefully. I looked at Apple’s apps with an engineer’s eyes, trying to understand each decision they had made. When is it appropriate to use a button with a text label, and when is a graphic better? When do you use a tab bar? These may seem like small concerns, but in my experience, it’s easier to build up a good app from dozens of good, small decisions than it is to patch up one big, mediocre idea.

  • What was the first app you created and what did it do?

I really wanted to build an app for the iPhone, but two things stood in my way: 1. when the iPhone launched, there was no official way to develop apps for it, and 2. I didn’t know much about Objective-C and Cocoa. My solution was to do what I was good at: make a web app in HTML and JavaScript.

  • Where did you get the idea for the app?

I started with a personal need: shopping lists. I reasoned that users would prefer to type as little as possible on the iPhone, so I based the app around predefined lists of the most common grocery items.

  • What went well? What could have gone better?

Since I made the app before the iPhone even came out, I was surprised to see that it worked at all! It was very cool to hear from people who used it (and still use it!) for their everyday trips to the store.

One thing I didn’t consider is that “lifestyle apps” of this sort need constant updates. The shopping-list-app market is full of excellent apps, and they’re constantly outdoing each other with added features (shared lists, recurring items, location-based reminders…) I made my app mostly to satisfy a simple personal need, and as a programming exercise. Those are both fine reasons to make an app, but in the future, I’ll think more carefully about how much time I want to dedicate to supporting and updating the app. It’s not fair to the users to abandon an app they’ll expect to see steady updates to.

  • What is your favorite among the apps you’ve developed?

I was part of the team that developed Diet Coda, a web-programming tool for the iPad. It is, in some ways, a translation of Coda, our Mac app. That’s a very large and complex app, so the idea of putting it on the iPad seemed daunting. We had to re-write, re-design, and re-think nearly everything about an already demanding project. In the end, I think we produced an impressive and genuinely useful tool.

diet coda

  • What advice do you have for young people who want to make apps?

Keep things as simple as possible. Given the choice between showing two buttons or one button, do your best to make the one-button solution work. This doesn’t mean you should make apps so stripped-down that they’re no fun; remember that with jokes, a good one should be short and simple.

You can usually learn more from a weekend of hands-on work with the assistance of a smart and nice mentor/friend than from a dozen books. Books will help you learn how to do things after a hands-on experience has prompted you to want to do them.

Software development should be fun. But in programming—as in soccer, hiking, or a puzzle game—this “fun” often contains elements of frustrating repetition and challenging difficulty. If you stay strong and keep hacking away at the problem through these (unavoidable) rough patches, it’ll be that much more fun to finally solve it.

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Help more girls learn software development. Contribute to the App Camp For Girls Indiegogo fundraiser, get a cool perk, and enjoy the feeling of having helped the next generation of software developers.


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