Design

Restructuring an Evolving App: Part 1

Jan 23, 2018

Cushion is coming up on 4 years soon. With the anniversary approaching, I’ve been reflecting a lot. I think about how this side project has become my full-time job. I think about how I’ve been able to employ people. I think about how incredibly far we’ve come since the original idea of Cushion.

I’d like to focus on this last thought—how far we’ve come. As positive as it sounds, there’s also a negative side to it. In a positive light, we’ve built dozens of useful features that help freelancers every day—I’m proud of this. However, while building these useful features incrementally, we’ve squeezed a lot into an interface that wasn’t designed with the new features in mind. This resulted in several compromise-based implementations—specifically regarding the layout, routing, and UX.

While it’s easier to release features and improvements little by little, there comes a point where we need to take a giant step back and make sure everything fits together as best it can. After years with a layout that worked, we eventually found ourselves playing a game of jenga with the UI—carefully placing new pieces on top, rather than rethinking the layout to consider all the pieces at once.

To make matters worse, the current routing system was structured with complete disregard for hierarchy. Rather than following a breadcrumb pattern with levels, like schedule > overview > projects, we have something like projectsScheduleOverview—a single route that defines all of the route’s views from a flat perspective. I still shake my head at the original dev who I inherited the code from—me from 4 years ago.

layout comparison

In an ideal world, a route’s views would cascade down, like a Russian doll. A child view wouldn’t know about its parent, nor would it need to know. If we wanted to separate out a specific part of the app, we could extract the view at any point and it could function on its own. Instead, the routes are tied directly to each level of navigation. Extracting a view would be like pulling a piece from the bottom of the jenga tower.

steps

In addition to the layout’s UI, its UX didn’t age well, either. As Cushion grew beyond a single view, common workflows that once involved a single step now became two steps, or three. Creating a new invoice for a client now meant navigating to the invoicing section, knowing to click a button halfway down the page, then being taken to an entirely new page. Not only is this cumbersome for anyone familiar with Cushion, it leaves a terrible impression for anyone evaluating the app for the first time.

UI/UX aside, these are common workflows that freelancers are likely to experience at any given moment—meeting a new client, learning about a new project, sending an invoice to get paid, starting a timer. In the instant a freelancer needs to act, the last thought crossing their mind should be “Oh, I need to switch to the time-tracking section in order to start a timer.” Instead, this should involve one step—“Start a timer.”

I could go on and on about the issues that pile up over time, but that’s to be expected of any app that’s been around for years. Fortunately, we’re in a position to correct these flaws, and I’m determined to do so, instead of living with them. In the next post, I’ll detail the redesigned layout we’re working on, including the design process and technical challenges.


I criticize Cushion quite a bit in this post, but at the end of the day, I’m thrilled with what we’ve been able to accomplish as a nimble team of three. The fact that anyone pays for Cushion is a win in my book.

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Archive

  1. Restructuring an Evolving App: Part 1
    Design
  2. My Typical Week as a Startup Founder
    Story
  3. Building Components in a Sandbox
    Dev
  4. Reactive Time with Vue.js
    Dev
  5. Visualizing Daylight Saving Time
    Dev
  6. Recording Screencast GIFs
    Dev
  7. Writing a Job Listing
    Story
  8. Using Feature Flags to Run Betas
    Dev
  9. Our First Company Lunch
    Story
  10. How to embed Vue.js & Vuex inside an AngularJS app... wait what?
    Dev
  11. Funding Cushion
    Story
  12. Hiring a Team of Freelancers
    Story
  13. Taking a Real Break From Work
    Story
  14. Slack as a Notification Center
    Dev
  15. Document Your Features
    Story
  16. 300
    Story
  17. Vacations
    Design
  18. Offering Discounts
    Design
  19. Waves of Traffic
    Story
  20. Less Blogging, More Journaling
    Story
  21. Retention Through Useful Features
    Design
  22. The Onboarding Checklist
    Design
  23. Spreading the Word
    Story
  24. From Beta to Launch - The Subdomain
    Dev
  25. From Beta to Launch - Sign up
    Design
  26. From Beta to Launch - Messaging
    Design
  27. Launch
    Story
  28. Authenticating with 3rd Party Services
    Dev
  29. Intro to Integrations
    Design
  30. Inspiration vs Imitation
    Story
  31. The Emotional Rollercoaster
    Story
  32. Designing Project Blocks
    Design
  33. Everything in Increments
    Story
  34. Deleting Your Account
    Design
  35. Designing the Subscription Page
    Design
  36. Rewriting the Timeline
    Dev
  37. Restructuring the Individual Project Page
    Design
  38. Project Blocks
    Story
  39. Redesigning the Homepage
    Design
  40. Multiple Timelines
    Design
  41. Archiving and Estimate Differences
    Design
  42. Multiple Financial Goals
    Design
  43. Zooming in on the Timeline
    Design
  44. Currency
    Dev
  45. Preferences, Accounts, and a Typeface Change
    Design
  46. Sending Out the First Email
    Story
  47. Currency Inputs, Notifications, and Invoice Nets
    Design
  48. Dots and Lines
    Design
  49. Calculating in the Database and Revealing Tendencies
    Dev
  50. Improved Form UX
    Design
  51. Cushion is Online
    Story
  52. Schedule Timeline Patterns
    Design
  53. A Slimmer Schedule Timeline
    Design
  54. The Schedule Timeline
    Design
  55. Plugging in Real Data for the First Time
    Design
  56. Transitions and Project Lists
    Design
  57. Death to Modals
    Design
  58. The Individual Project Page
    Design
  59. Estimated Incomes and Talks with Other Freelancers
    Story
  60. Statuses to Lists and the Paid Beta
    Story
  61. The Timeline
    Story
  62. Invoice Terminology
    Dev
  63. Modal Forms
    Dev
  64. Wiring the Backend to the Frontend
    Dev
  65. Balancing Design and Dev
    Story
  66. Timecop, Monocle, and Vagrant
    Dev
  67. Going with Ruby and Sinatra
    Dev
  68. Ditching local-first and trying out Node.js
    Dev
  69. Switching to AngularJS
    Dev
  70. Building the Table with Vue.js
    Dev
  71. Clients, Projects, and Invoices
    Dev
  72. Introduction
    Story

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