How and why Threadless stitched together an official iPhone app

Jul 1, 2011
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While Threadless in many ways pioneered the notion of crowdsource-based e-commerce, the company waited until May of this year to develop and release its official iPhone app. Longtime members and others just catching on will like what they have to see. Threadless became a national phenomenon inviting users to submit T-shirt designs for a weekly […]

While Threadless in many ways pioneered the notion of crowdsource-based e-commerce, the company waited until May of this year to develop and release its official iPhone app. Longtime members and others just catching on will like what they have to see.

Threadless became a national phenomenon inviting users to submit T-shirt designs for a weekly contest judged by other members. Thereafter, they sold the shirts to avid fans who already signaled their desire to sports the merchandise.

Now a multimillion dollar business with an offline retail presence, Threadless (more accurately its parent company SkinnyCorp) is now pursuing the mobile frontier. Appropriately enough, the company’s first iPhone app is revolves around an iPhone case design challenge.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, we check in with Threadless User Experience Director Brock Rumer to talk about the app and company’s comparatively modest mobile expecations. Rumer also explains why Threadless won’t create Android or iPad apps anytime soon, how the company drives downloads and why he loves the unofficial Threadless app also available in the App Store.

Appolicious: Threadless for years has maintained a loyal and vibrant community on the web with so many offerings. When conceiving the iPhone app, tell us about the discipline involved in curating what features to promote to a mobile-specific audience.

Brock Rumer: The impetus for the development of the Threadless mobile app was an iPhone case design challenge with our friends at Griffin Technology. We decided to create a mobile application that enabled our community to submit designs for a Griffin iPhone case, which provided our basic parameters. Of course, we’re not going to create something that doesn’t reflect the Threadless ethos or that isn’t fun, so we added additional features to the application for function and amusement. We came up with a long, healthy list of possibilities, but time, budget, and mobile-ness helped pare them down into a fun, useful mobile application for our community.

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APPO: What can users do more easily on the app at this point? What isn’t working as originally intended?

BR: Users can score designs for our partner design challenges, get updates about upcoming design challenges, and shop our one-of-a-kind tees and other stuff. Users can also practice their doodling and drawing for future design submissions or “Threadcam” their face, friend’s face or dog’s face onto classic Threadless designs. We have a minor update with a few interface features that will be released shortly.

APPO: How many people with the company worked on the app, and did you outsource any of its creation to third parties?

BR: The visual design was conducted primarily by Threadless interactive designer, Glenn Cochon with direction from VP of Creative, Sean Donohue. Chris McAvoy, Threadless VP of Technology, helped guide the project and developer Luke Opperman got everything connected to our systems. We used a third party to handle the app development.

APPO: Are there plans to develop an Android app? If so, when? If not, why not?

BR: There are no current plans. Less than 25 percent of our mobile traffic is on Android, and at present, we think the best way to serve them is to continue to enhance our mobile web offerings.

APPO: What about plans for an iPad/tablet specific offering?

BR: We don’t have plans for an iPad/tablet app, but similarly, it’s likely we’ll continue to add features to the tablet version of our mobile web site to ensure we serve this audience in a user-friendly manner.

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APPO: Beyond promoting the iPhone app on your site and other owned and operated channels, what are you doing now to drive downloads?

BR: We’ve promoted the launch of our V1.0 mobile iPhone app through the Threadless email newsletter, social media channels, and our design challenge partners like Griffin Technology. We also feature the app on our homepage of Threadless.com and on the Threadless blog, encouraging downloads. So far, we’ve had a great response with 58 ratings averaging 4.5 stars.

APPO: What is your position on the unofficial fan-developed Threadless apps available?

BR: We love ’em. The creativity, ingenuity, and passion of our community are what make Threadless awesome. We think it’s great to see that extend into mobile and hope in the future to add more access via API. We’re excited to see where we can go together!

APPO: What are the three things about the mobile space that keep you up at night and why?

BR: Angry Birds sometimes keeps me up at night – especially the nights that updates are released — because I have to get three stars on every level. But as far as Threadless goes, mobile isn’t keeping us up at night. We’ll continue to add to our mobile offerings with new features and capabilities that offer a blend of function and fun, but it’s not make-or-break for our business.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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