Dawson Andrews

an independent digital product firm


Monday 01 January 1900

Niice Logo

A visual collaboration platform for creative teams

Niice was born 4 years ago and we’ve been there since day 1. A testament to the longevity of our partnerships and testament to Chris’s patience. We’ve been there when it was launched as a free tool, when we built a beta version, then a paid launch. Now it’s a fully blown SaaS company and Niice is now used by thousands of creative teams every day, including companies like Nike, TIME, Airbnb and more.

Niice app on an iPhone

Used by the world’s most creative teams

Airbnb Logo
Time logo
Apple Logo
Google Logo
Nike Logo
Levi's Logo
Sky Logo
McCann Logo
Fox Logo
UO Logo

Dawson Andrews builds and designs digital products from three offices in Belfast, Berlin and Sydney.


The creative process is a conversation

“The creative process is a conversation. When creative projects fail it’s rarely due to a shortage of ideas or talent: it’s because communication breaks down.”

Chris Armstrong, Founder of Niice

This makes sense when you consider that all of our communication tools were designed for words, not pictures.

Chris Armstrong (Founder of Niice.co) had a stellar background. He was part of the renowned web agency Design by Front before working on Typecast, an early product by the studio that re-invented the way fonts were used in the web browser. Typecast was later acquired by Monotype. Chris however, was always obsessed with the creative workflow.

We needed a tool that’s designed for free-flowing, creative discussions; that enables us to present & critique our ideas in a visual way without having to be in the same room at the same time, or even the same timezone.

Niice Studio Photo
Chris, the founder and fanatic of Niice.

Contributions

Our Product Team included:


Search

In the beginning, Chris set out to solve the ‘Creative Block’ problem by building a tool to help with inspiration. It started with ‘Search’; a search engine for images. Or as a famous tech journal called it ‘Google Images with Taste’.

The subtle smarts of the search was the algorithm that takes some creative license to show you the abstract (one or two steps removed). It can almost artificially manufacture serendipity.

Niice Screenshot

How Niice Won the Hearts of Creatives


A selection of Twitter testimonials

Boards

The Moodboarding Feature was Niice turning towards building revenue and launching a SaaS product for Pro & Team Features via monthly & annual subscriptions. On the lead up to launch we figured it would be best practise to open up a Beta offering to ensure we had a grace period for bugs and a patient audience to help us in our product discovery.

The site received 11,000 requests for access to its beta version.
In June 2014 we launched.

We had just launched visual discussions that didn’t require everyone to be in the same room at the same time or even the same timezone. This was the start of something new for Niice.

Nice currently has 330,000 live mood boards.


1000 Ideas in your Pocket

We can’t take much credit for most of the brilliance of Niice but we especially can’t take credit for the iOS app however, our API development is the foundation that it’s built upon.

Feedback

Feedback is an essential part of the creative process, but too often it becomes a bottleneck. One of our goals was to streamline the process of asking for & giving feedback so you can always get the right input from the right people at the right time.

Whether you want depth feedback or just a year or a no, Niice makes it easy to set the context for the kind of input you want.

Niice app

Great Minds Sync Alike

Comments example
Live Boards example

API and Integration

Going API first is the most robust way to build a scalable product but it wasn’t where Niice started. In the early days, the app was very tightly coupled with the interface on the same server as the backend along with multiple others. This affected performance, scalability, and our ability to move faster and develop quicker. We had to stage our API builds according to capacity and budget to keep the business moving forward while we were gradually moving over to a solely API-based product.

“Our software doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s critical that we understand our place in someone’s workflow and play nice with all the other tools they're using” - Chris Armstrong, Founder, Niice.

Slack Integration

Integrating with Slack allowed Niice to seamlessly slip into existing workflows of creative teams. On-boarding a team internally to a new tool is incredibly challenging, the Slack integration was a small helping hand we were able to provide at very little development cost.

Dropbox Integration

As Niice transitioned from a tool for individuals to an enterprise platform for teams the Dropbox integration allowed two-way sync to get lots of content in and out of Niice quickly. This is vital for non-design team members who want to contribute fast - just put it in Dropbox, Niice does the rest.

Niice + Adobe

The Technical Bit

Niice’s backend and API is built upon Ruby on Rails using Postgres for its database, with the majority of its frontend structured around Backbone JS. Over time we have extracted features such as the search API and media uploader out into micro services in order to give the app more stability, making it more maintainable and scalable.

Smart Search; Building a Machine Learning Engine
Niice scrapes images from all around the web, and currently processes up to 40,000 images a day, holding nearly 6.5 million images in its database at the time of writing. Dealing with such large amounts of data isn’t easy, especially when you want to minimise the time it takes to return accurate and relevant results. We opted to implement Elasticsearch as a way to index all the information that is gathered into structured format that is easily, and quickly queried.

Every image we collect goes through our machine learning engine to help generate more relevant and suggested images. We use a service called Imagga to process each image, returning an array of suggested ‘tags’ which relate to them. Along with this we also collect the most dominant colours and other metadata such as dimensions, giving us various different avenues to compare images against each other. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the potential AI and machine learning technology has to offer.

Niice’s Secret Sauce

What makes Niice.co such a great software company is not the Search Algorithm. It’s the not the AI powered Image Library or the API that allows the iOS App and a whole bunch of integrations work such as Slack, Dropbox and Adobe Photoshop. It’s not even the Smart Mondrain Layout Engine.

It’s the tiny features that look easy. Niice contains several small ‘delighter’ features that bring great satisfaction to the creatives that use it every day.

It was about building features that were all about time saving for creatives and taking away the rubbish jobs that they hate doing. Some designers were taking hours on menial tasks.

Niice's HSL feature


Mondrian - The Smart Layout Engine


We like to move it move it.
Niice’s layout engine makes it easy to add context to your content & present your concepts clearly. this needs 2-3 short paragraphs on the layout engine. Originally Niice’s boards utilised Packery to help create and manipulate its boards. Packery is a superb open source javascript library for making gapless and draggable layouts, however, over time, we became more and more frustrated with its limitations.

This prompted the creation of Mondrian, a completely custom built layout engine built directly into the Niice architecture. Mondrian is built using modern technologies such as Javascript Web Workers to allow all the heavy lifting and calculations to be done in the background - leaving the site to focus as much processing power on any UI changes. This results in an incredibly smooth and seamless experience for the end user.



Niice examples

Chris - pun here plz

Unlike with most clients, we weren’t the ones dreaming up product features, designing the roadmap and taking the product lead. We really just provided design and engineering resources to execute on Chris’s vision and under his direction. Normally this would be annoying when working with a client but for us, we just feel lucky. Much as Metalab got to work with Stewart Butterfield on Slack and Teehan&Lax got to work with Ev Williams on Medium… DA got to work with Chris Armstrong on Niice.co.

Chris’s time of working with us is probably coming to an end as he continues to build out a stellar product team internally but in the meantime, we’re continuing to work on some pretty cool stuff together.

If you are a scaling startup and are looking for the same kind of partnership we’ve enjoyed with Niice please reach out.

DA logo + Niice logo

We show you the processes and techniques we used to design and build a better user experience for Niice. Get insight into the workings of how we tackled problems and generated solutions. Get an all access pass behind the scenes of how we worked with Niice.