Figuring out when to take photos outdoors can be a real nightmare. Rizon is an app that alerts you when Golden Hour is approaching so you never miss out on that perfect light.

2014—PresentProduct, Interface, Branding, Marketingrizonapp.co

The idea

I had the idea for Rizon while browsing a small book store in New York. I saw a calendar with beautiful illustrations of sun and moon phases when I remembered how frustrating it was to find the best time to take photos outdoors. There were a plethora online tools, but they were clunky and lacked focus. I wanted to change that. Taking inspiration from the calendar I'd seen in New York, I did some sketches/planning on the flight home and started putting it into pixels.

Ideas & inspiration
Ideas & inspiration
First Designs
First pass of screens after sketches

Looking at the first set of mockups, it was clear there wasn't anything that users couldn't get by going to an existing tool. There was more focus but it still wasn't as useful as it could be. I loved the idea of getting notified when the sun was almost in the perfect spot, and thought that would be really useful as a photographer. I built a web prototype but soon ran into the probletm that if I wanted alarm style notifications, I would have to go native.

I also knew I had to simplify the interface, so I made the main circle interactive which allowed me to clean up the list of times. By rotating the circle, you could access the information for that moment.

Web Prototype
Some screens from the web prototype


I had a stab at making this version as a native iOS app. Despite trying a few courses, Objective C was still too alien to the time. If I wanted Rizon to be as feature-rich as it needed to be, I needed some help. I found a developer who was willing to work on Rizon in exchange for some future design work on one of his ideas.

Malolan was in Boston, and I was in London so the time difference was difficult at first. We made it work by using Slack. I could make improvements to the designs in the evening, and then Malolan could build them over night. Using Slack meant he could leave any questions, and I could answer when I woke up in the morning. To keep conversations focused, we had specific channels for things like animations, notifications, and user feedback.

Design improvements
Design improvements
Spec sheets
Spec sheets painstakingly created before Zeplin was a thing

Marketing & the Beta

Once we had the main functionality working, we went into beta. I shot some photos of the designs on my phone so people could get an idea of what the app would do, and what it was intended for. Then I built a simple website to capture emails for beta testing, and also get a sense of interest surrounding the app.

Rizon photography
Rizon website
Marketing site after launch

We posted the link to photography websites & forums, and a few design sites too. In the first week of the website being live, we had a little over 700 people signed up for the beta. We split the 700 into smaller buckets so we could get more focused feedback. Most of the feedback was fluffy, but it definitely highlighted some common themes. We also got a lot of feature requests for things we'd never thought about.

Due to it being a project we could only work on during evenings and weekends, most of the requests had to wait. We had a Trello board full of feature requests which helped us prioritise what to ship first, and kept us focused on getting it out to the world.

The features we prioritised for first release were a couple of onboarding screens, reminders, and saved locations. We wanted users to be able to use Rizon no matter where they were in the world, so saved/offline locations were really important to us.

Going Live

Then came the mammoth task of getting screenshots and preparing App Store assets. Luckily we could automate most of this with a sketch plugin and some open source tools. We used Fastlane Snapshot to generate screenshots at different device sizes. I then generated some JSON for the Sketch plugin to use, and made a large Sketch file with placeholders for the JSON replacement. This made generating screenshots for new versions take around 15 minutes altogether, a real time saver when you're trying to release fast!

Asset prep for the App Store
Asset prep for the App Store
Asset prep for the App Store
Some campaigns for social
Some small campaign images for social

We went live! Before that though, we got approached to launch Rizon on Product Hunt which would help us get a bit of extra visibility. I'm glad we did as we got featured on the front page, and held the second spot for the entire day!

About a fortnight after being live, Apple then asked us for some promotional artwork. I got rather excited as I assumed this meant we were in line to be featured somewhere on the App Store. I submitted the artwork and spent the next week furiously refreshing the App Store. Nothing came of it until around a month later when Rizon was featured in the Photo and Video category. Our downloads boomed a little, but nothing major. We also got featured a few times on the main home screen of the App Store which saw much larger spikes.

Rizon has been featured in the Photo and Video category pretty consistently since that first feature, and in the first 2 years on the platform, it's been downloaded more than 10,000 times which I never would have imagined!

Featured placements on the App Store
Featured placements on the App Store

Future plans

We've paused work on Rizon as we both have little free time now, but that hasn't stopped me updating designs every now and then. Hopefully we'll get to build all the things on our Trello board some day!

Future plans for Rizon

A great learning experience

I've learnt a lot about what it takes to launch a product. I never realised how much work goes into managing a beta, marketing, and even getting things ready for the App Store. I also learnt a little Objective-C! Overall, I've loved working on Rizon despite it initially being a small side project.