Taskflow - Keeping your GTD flow looking good

If there's something true about personal organisation is that you must feel comfortable with it to keep using it. At some point in Getting Things Done David Allen stresses the fact that "one of the best tricks for enhancing your personal productivity is having organising tools that you love to use".

The App Store isn't short of productivity solutions and I would find surprising if any iPhone use hasn't chosen their favourite one yet. If you haven't, don't worry too much. There's something for everyone and if you're looking for some extra level of customisation and eye-candy, this app might be the perfect match for you.

Taskflow [iTunes Link] by Icetap is the all-in-one tool for your personal reminders, alarms and to-do lists. Unlike most task managers for iOS using a simple list view, the app uses a grid-type main menu to access the three standard options plus everything else you want to through in there. No more digging in menus and sub-menus.

The approach can be confusing when you launch the app for the first time, since Taskflow works with multiple lists (called tabs), instead of the more traditional unified inbox you see in most GTD apps. This means that when you create your task lists, you have to limit your “brain purging” to one single category - say organise a BBQ with the family - instead of jotting down every thought pending about work, car insurance or holiday plans, for instance.

As you can see, this is basically making simple checklists of actionable items (either “tabs” or “notes”), which makes for an interesting way to collect your thoughts, but that might fall short for hardcore productivity users. 

Having said this, let's move on to the tasks themselves. Every item can include a due date, notes and an assigned priority, which you can sort for your own uses. Unfortunately, Taskflow doesn't have a search function or meta tags that could make all the information manageable. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that every task goes into it's folder, making them easier to track, but I would have liked some search options.

It’s all about looks and presentation

First impressions count and without any doubt, the most striking area in Taskflow are the graphic elements, animations and effects. Everything has been designed with looks in mind and it's not surprising to see that the app promotional website cites UI as one of it's best “features”. After all, it's all about enjoying an app so you are always motivated to check your lists or add new ones, right?

The level of customisation is impressive for an iPhone app since you can include your own glyph for a task or tab from no less than 100 options. The app icon is quite a looker too. 

I feel, however, a bit overwhelmed by the amount of eye-candy thrown in it with any obvious reason. It’s like the fairy of UI design was sprinkling some beautifying powder and accidentally dropped the whole bottle on it. This wouldn't be a problem per se, but the baroque interface is in constant fight with ergonomics. Let me explain: the text entry notes have a minuscule font size, something also noticeable in many list views. The main menu with the gorgeous grid doesn't fit the iPhone screen in height, forcing you to scroll down every single time if you have more than three projects - which is the philosophy of the app anyway. 

The app designer certainly didn't follow Apple’s human interface guidelines, making buttons confusing (shuffle icon to edit?) or very small elements to be either noticed or tapped comfortably. These inconsistencies may pass unnoticed during the first days of use, but there is a patience limit when you realise that the top third of the screen in every view is... wasted space. It turns out it was only designed to impress and making the app elaborate and pretty, but there’s actually no use for it. Since this is a first version and their first app, I hope they can implement some user feedback on this.

Also related to ergonomics and UI is the amount of taps to accomplish something. Remember that the main purpose of a GTD app should be adding new tasks easily. It turns out that the plus button on the main menu doesn't do this: it’s currently being used to create a new project/folder. Really? That was surprising, since I guess filling in buckets with ideas is more important than labelling buckets. When I think of user interface, these things should be considered and not just skill with Photoshop.

Developing for the user... in a saturated market

Overall, I get the impression that the developer is trying something new in an overcrowded category such as productivity on the App Store. Honestly, I can't blame anyone for that. If you are looking for a lightweight solution combining multiple lists, basic journaling and timers, Taskflow checks all the boxes. The impressive looks will definitely convince undecided users to give it a try, considering the cliches and more boring approach in other alternatives. Also, lovers of dark interfaces could finally find their thing.

My hope is that Icetap decides to revise this initial release and consider tweaking some of the issues I have mentioned. I understand the daunting task of nailing it on a first version, let alone the first app, but simple mistakes could have been avoided with some beta testing and research of the competition.

The designer can be proud with the result: it will work great as a portfolio app to showcase skills, but Taskflow is lacking an iOS centric approach and definitely some respect to Apple’s guidelines - they’re out there for a reason. The first step should be changing that loading banner to a blank background of the app so it's not so obvious the app is loading.