Five years ago, István Csanády hung a piece of paper on the wall of the new company’s oversized office. Scratched over it: “Simple should be simple. Hard must not be impossible. “
Although this phrase was written on paper, it could well have been etched in stone. It became the basic principle of Csanády’s app, Shapr3D – a reinvention of system-assisted design (CAD) systems, created exclusively with Multi-Touch and Apple Pencil in mind.
While inspirational phrases have created a weightless office poster for many (and a smattering of snarky variations), this one was truly weighted by the frustrating digital design experiences of Csanády’s family. “We have eight or nine architects in three generations in the family,” he says.
As a child, he remembers his mother shaking over the difficult multi-month process of acquiring new CAD software, which often involved enrolling in an expensive school to understand how the program worked. “Instead, in the end, she [would just hire] a couple of CAD cartoonists. ”
As both a 3D modeling enthusiast and a budding software engineer, Csanády was immediately drawn to the problem. “A great product is characterized by a minimal tool life,” says Csanády. “Nobody really wants to [take time to] learn how to use their software.
He founded his first CAD startup in 2010 after a brief stint as an iPhone developer. While this initial effort was unsuccessful, Csanády continued to think. He took long bike rides. He pondered the problem in the late hours of the night. And he started making the first prototypes of a touch-based 3D modeling system for the iPad.
“I became obsessed,” he admits. In 2014, out of sheer faith in the effort, Csanády quit his job as a senior software engineer and came to work. While the iPad Pro and Pencil were not yet introduced at the time, he began exploring what a touch-and-stylus interface might look like.
“The best interactions are always those that have physical analogies,” says Csanády. He drew inspiration from tactile tools, and created digital controls for each modeling operation that mimicked their true counterparts. And when the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil launched, Csanády and team quickly brought the drawing tool into the planning.
“What makes the Apple Pencil and its stylus interaction super powerful is that both are metaphors for the real world,” he says. “And because they are metaphors for the physical world around us, we just do not need to educate [someone] about the function of these input devices … It radically shortens the learning curve. “
Csanády and his emerging team used Multi-Touch and Apple Pencil to build a solid foundation for Shapr3D. To perfect it, however, was a years-long affair. “There are no shortcuts,” he says. “We made hundreds of prototypes.”
The team interviewed professional 3D modelers and architects, ran case studies and invited them to use – and sometimes break – their software. “You have to see them fail a thousand times,” he says. “And based on these mistakes, we can refine tiny little things, and step by step come to the right solution.”
Csanády has more than a few lessons he and his team have learned when it comes to designing a professional multitouch interface. “Explicit is always better than implicit,” he says. As an example, he cites Shapr3D’s push-pull interface, which shows arrow handles on items that people can ‘grab’ to move around the screen. “Until a couple of years ago, we did not show the arrows,” he says. “It was one of the greatest learnings of all time … if we explicitly show these handles, it increases the success rate by two orders of magnitude.”
Four years after launch, Shapr3D maintains this obsessive focus on building the perfect tool for its professionals. “What works for Shapr3D works because we have a very specific audience in a very specific context,” says Csanády. “The product works for our audience because we designed it with them in mind.”
The Shapr3D team has grown significantly since it was early in the cramped office. Csanády employs a staff of 55 in Budapest, all of whom work tirelessly to continue to iterate and improve the app to make it an even better tool for professionals. They have added exhaustive tutorials, contextual and adaptive controls, keyboard shortcuts, and continue to adjust the workflow to become an even smoother process for anyone using the app. “It’s about always raising the bar and always being a little unhappy,” he says. “You can always do 10 percent better … Never be happy with what you’ve built.”
In addition to field studies, the team integrates analytics, usage data and App Store evaluations into its long-term product planning. They continuously evaluate opportunities, identify the gaps where the company is now and look at where they will be in the future. It’s a complex multidimensional puzzle, but Csanády’s vision is clear – and just a little ambitious. “We want to be a verb, like Xerox.”
Learn more about Shapr3D
Read about Shapr3D in the App Store
Download Shapr3D in the App Store