Seminar Reflections

Paper & Pencil

This was the only reviewed app that had some sort of hardware component to it. Actually, Paper is the app while Pencil is a separate stylus that has some cool synergy with the app. The artistic feel of the app was the stand out for me. I had a chance to try it out when the Pencil and iPad was being passed around, and it certainly felt premium and fitting of the Apple brand.

For the reader’s benefit, I will start off with a brief recap of the app’s function. Paper is a combination of a note-taking app (text) and a sketching app (freehand). Pencil is a stylus with a pressure sensitive tip that allows for more realistic brush strokes, with a cool “eraser” at the back. Paper is a free app, so the profit maker is on the Pencil which costs a hefty $60.

The presenting group started off by talking about the niche market that this app targets, which are artists. Then, they compared this to the Apple Pencil, a more accurate stylus that comes at a higher cost. I guess this is still justifiable the more expensive one can target the professional artists, while this can target the casual artists. However, I do feel that they might actually be trying to target even non-artists. I am using a Note 5 currently, and frequently use the stylus for note-taking (for this seminar too, heh). The tiny Samsung stylus is definitely awkward to write with, and I can see people forking out $60 for a more comfortable digital writing experience. Considering that Apple users have already paid over $600 (?) for the iPad, I guess 10% more for a peripheral is reasonable.

The group also mentioned that Paper and Pencil’s team comprised of 50% developers and 50% artists. I actually feel that this really shines through in their UI/UX. I played around with the drawing feature, and the way that the brushes and colour choosing tools are placed is nicely spaced out and pretty intuitive to use. There is this swirling circle where you can turn around to choose the gradient of your colour (e.g. if blue is the selected colour, turn it clockwise for a darker blue and anti-clockwise for a lighter blue). This is certainly much better than the rectangle drop down of a rainbow spectrum you get with most other apps.

The artists’ contributions actually extends beyond the UI/UX. The group also shared a cool feature (iirc it was called Mix!). If you are familiar with Reddit’s /r/writingprompts, then this is actually the drawing version of it! So the app (and maybe users?) will provide a small starting prompt of a drawing, which artists can then use as a seed for their creative mind to come up with different interpretations of the initial picture. I think this is actually a pretty cool way to get their users to have a reason to draw, as well as a casual platform to share their work and get reviews.

The last point brought up was actually a pretty cool feature that I believe my Note 5 (and any stylus compatible device really) is also capable off but rarely do apps take advantage of. Having both a stylus and your finger as two separate ways of inputs actually allows for interesting features like the blend function the group showed. Paper reads the stylus as a pencil stroke, while it reads your finger as a smudging action. This is something that will be hard to reproduce with a single-input device (still possible, but arguably a different user experience). This actually reminded me that my “Write on PDF” app actually differentiates between stylus (for taking notes) and finger (for scrolling). There are probably more ways to leverage on this concept for a smoother user experience.

My own original thoughts are kind of already mixed in above, but I would like to bring up an additional point. It is partly a re-raise of a point by one of the TA’s which I feel the group neglected to answer. He mentioned something about the technical difficulty of the hardware implementation, whereby the Pencil’s ergonomics and pressure sensitive tip would be different for different users (e.g. left/right-handed). My take would be that this might be solvable with software, by letting users sort of calibrate their actions at the start. I vaguely recall that my old Note 3 required a stylus calibration (albeit just for accuracy) before the initial usage, though I can’t seem to find this feature on my current Note 5 anymore… I guess we can borrow this idea and make it work for the pressure sensitivity too.

Finally, I would like to end off with a feedback on this 20 sec/slide style of presentation. No doubt it saves time and made the presentations more focused. But experiencing it for the first time made me feel a little lost at times. Perhaps it was the lack of transitional slides or words which made it hard to have an overall view of the presentation flow. #rant

Thanks for reading! Apologies to the presenting group if I misinterpreted some of your points… I might have filled in the gaps (when I was lost) with my own imagination. =/


5 thoughts on “Seminar Reflections

  1. Hi, one of the presenters for Paper & Pencil here. Thank you for your kind words. I think you hit upon most of the points we mentioned. The ergonomic question raised during Q&A confused us slightly, because to us the Pencil (and most digital stylus on the market) are modelled after actual pencil and pen, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone complain about the handedness of their pen and pencils. We thought the comment was directed more at the slightly awkward shape of the Pencil, since it was a cuboid rather than a cylinder as most stylus are.

    Slightly off topic, but the one big ergonomic issue that discriminates against left-handed people is actually the writing process itself, because it goes from left to right. This causes the ink to smudge if you were left-handed since you’d naturally rest your palm on the left side of the page, smudging the ink on the words you’ve already written and blocking them. This can be avoided by using a top to bottom direction instead like the Chinese does, but that does come with a number of other issues. Paper resolves this by simply using palm rejection to ignore the presence of your palm, regardless of which way you’re holding the stylus.

    And we’d like the apologize for the presentation itself. During rehearsals I found that I had at times ran out of things to say, so I think I might have overcompensated and ran out of things to say instead. You can find our slides posted on Slack together with some additional notes on each slide that may be helpful.


    1. Interesting insight on the left-handed writing causing ink to smudge. The right-handed me won’t have realised =p

      The palm rejection is definitely something I would like in my phone’s doodling app now… Often times there will be dots on my notes due to my palm resting on the screen. So I will have to raise my palm and write using a chinese calligraphy style =.=


  2. Hi, the other presenter for Paper & Pencil here. I guess we’ll do a group meeting in your blog lol. I like one word that you mentioned very much, that is “casual”. Although 53 is changing their focus to the productivity use of business guys, their primary user group is still the “casual” artists. These are not necessary real artists who lives on their drawings, but in fact could be anyone who wishes and tries to express their feelings in a artistic way. And what Paper did is to make the drawing process so easy so that even random drawings can be turned into aesthetically pleasing works.

    And for the presentation style, personally I really don’t like the 20sec/slides way. Although it saves the time, but too little flexibility can easily turn the presentation into a script reciting meet-up. After all, the presenter should be the one who controls the flow, not the computer.


  3. Hi Ryan!

    I like your mentioning of drawing prompts, it was one of the main factors that pulled me to use Paper back when it first started in 2013. Not only were the prompts beautifully designed, they introduced the different styles that was capable of being used in the app and it was part of a very intuitive user onboarding experience for me because the first thing I saw was a beautiful half-drawn canvas that was waiting to be completed, instead of a blank canvas that I would mostly likely fill it with ugly stickmen. And for just a brief moment before I started drawing, I felt that I was also capable of drawing beautiful art. I really liked the user experience with Paper and it was always one of the apps that comes to my mind when I think of great user experience. They really go all the way to give users a realistic experience of drawing/ using their app -the way they use the stylus and finger to draw and smudge goes to show the intricacies they have been through.

    Nice critique 😀


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