The origins of our company are grounded in user research and collaboration. Gravity Sketch started as a research project with the idea that there was an easier way to ideate and bring ideas to reality. Before writing a single line of code we studied, observed, and interviewed designers and creatives to better understand a variety of workflows, from ideation to final delivery. Collaborating with creatives was easy, because the act of creating is an act of problem-solving. For many it was natural to share their process and challenges they face. Through the early development of the tool we continued this spirit of collaboration through holding long user testing sessions with artists, designers, and engineers, growing a community of collaborators who believed in the work we were doing and supported us along the way. The project was shaped by the insights and feedback of this community of users from day one. As the productization of the tool became a viable next step (the release of the Oculus Rift) we looked to continue in the spirit of this collaborative approach. In the first month of launching on Steam Early Access we reached out to designers and artists one by one, to give them access to the tool, expanding our small network of collaborators into a small community of creatives. We set up a Slack channel and shared ideas and product developments daily.
Since then, the community has grown steadily. We’re privileged to have a community of dedicated users, who engage with our developers to give feedback on our product. These users have no affiliation with the company, and there is no financial incentive for them to take time and effort to give constructive feedback for the continual improvement of Gravity Sketch. That’s why we wanted to take some time to thank our community for all they do for us. It means so much to us that we thought we should talk about why.
First of all, why are we building Gravity Sketch? The company founders – Oluwaseyi Sosanya and Daniela Paredes Fuentes – are both designers who see major gaps in the process of exploring early ideas in 3D. The digital tools available to designers constrain their ability to express their ideas in 3D and follow their creative impulses. With Gravity Sketch, we’re providing a tool which will fundamentally change design workflows, and introduce a whole new population of designers to creating their ideas in 3D. And, although this may seem frivolous, we genuinely have fun creating tools and experiences that are fun to use, and have a positive impact on the work of designers everywhere.
Our community has been integral to the development of Gravity Sketch right from the beginning. We have Beta testers who have given their time to rigorously trial and comment on our toolset, as well as an active base of super-users, using Gravity Sketch in a personal and professional capacity. Both groups help to push the tool forward, by using their creativity to stretch the limits of the tool, and more importantly, by giving feedback to us on what they would like to see. This community includes our lively, active Discord channel, who report bugs, suggest improvements to UX/UI and request new features. All of this is invaluable to our team for deciding the direction in which Gravity Sketch should go.
This is not just our dream, because sharing Gravity Sketch with a community of passionate users has made it a much bigger dream – a shared dream. We want to make a powerful product that can be used by a wide range of users from a variety of design backgrounds. We are not building a game, we are building a tool, a tool we want as many people as possible to use. To do this, we need to work with far more creatives than just the ones in our own team. The input from our community and astounding creativity they display when using the tool are what makes us excited to push forward and continue improving Gravity Sketch.
We feel privileged to have an active community, who invest their time and effort, based on a personal connection to the tool and the desire to improve it. We released Gravity Sketch on Steam and the Oculus store, to allow the greatest number of designers to use Gravity Sketch, not just those who work in large enterprises. We don’t aim to make money from our community, but we do build features for them. The monetary contributions of users who have bought Gravity Sketch on Steam and the Oculus store have gone back to the community in the form of Landing Pad, the release on Oculus Quest, and developing SubD modelling.
Both Landing Pad and Quest were built expressly for our community of users, in order to give them the best experience possible on Gravity Sketch. Neither of these features were requested, or even needed, from our enterprise customers who have closed firewalls and therefore do not receive the feature updates until some months after our community of users have had them. This work was 6 months of our time and seed investment money, which we felt was a positive investment for our community of users. The reward was growing the user base and making the tool more accessible. All the hard work was well worth it!
Many users speak directly with our developers on Discord and we have a responsibility to engage with our users and better understand how they use Gravity Sketch, so that we can build a more powerful, versatile, and inclusive feature set. We have a “feature request” channel on Discord, and each and every request is noted. There are three people that need to look at each request: designer, mathematician, and developer. If we see the same request crop up more than once we log it. Just because it is logged does not mean it will be developed. For example, we really wanted to add in VR glove support, but we decided to focus on what users have at hand, and now we have hand tracking available on Quest, which users can develop with. We want to match great UX with powerful features. If we struggle to make a feature request fit into the elegant, gestural creative flow of Gravity Sketch, then we may shelve the investigation of that feature. Sometimes we need to make calculated decisions.
This leads to the question of having a publicly available developers’ roadmap. While a published roadmap showing the upcoming features we are developing would create total transparency about the future direction of Gravity Sketch, we won’t publish one (at least, not in the foreseeable future). We are a small, passionate team, and our developers have to balance their time investigating and developing features with actively taking part in our community of users. “We aren’t building Gravity Sketch for ourselves – the community and people using it every day are a big driving force for us,” said Daniel Thomas, Chief Technology Officer. “The team is extremely passionate and self-motivated, which can be a little bit unpredictable, but we believe this is the best way to really push innovation forwards.”
We capitalise on our successes as a business to make a better product. As we are growing the business, circumstances affecting product development can change at the drop of a hat. We like to be agile and to change our course quickly, in response to the needs of our enterprise customers and the features requested by our community. Publishing a roadmap online would hold us accountable to delivering one feature set, when it may be more advantageous for the whole user base if we can change course quickly. To quote John H Patterson, “Only fools and dead men never change their minds.”
That being said, if any of our users want to know what we are working on now, the Beta program is the best indicator. The Beta software releases are a representation of what the next 3-6 months of the software may look like. The beta has all of the current developments, bugs and all. We can only be thankful that when we do release a new beta, our community is always enthusiastic about trying new features, gracious with their feedback, and patient while bugs are fixed and new releases are configured.
We are a small team with grand dreams, but the amazing work from our community continues to help us achieve those dreams. We truly value all of the support we receive from our community; our tool wouldn’t be as good as it is without you. We are honoured to have each and every user join us on this journey.