Swedish Startup Space

Ex-Spotify UI Designer launches new game SpellRush

Written by on April 15, 2013

I recently found out about a new iOS game called SpellRush via my Twitter feed, so I checked it out. Impressed with the slick UI and ease of gameplay – I reached out to the creator. I found out that it was Tobias Ahlin, a former UI Designer at Spotify and we caught up for a brief chat. You can check out the game (it’s free) here.

Hi Tobias, tell us about yourself?

I’m a designer and developer who’s trying to make a difference by creating fun and educational apps. I recently left my job as a Product Designer at Spotify to start Tappily. It’s currently a one-man studio, but I’m looking to expand during the year.

Tell us about your time at Spotify?

Spotify was an amazing experience. At 21, I suddenly found myself as the only UI designer at Sweden’s most exciting startup. I started the same week as the former designer, Rasmus Andersson, left, and he handed over all Spotify projects during two or three days. It was the best crash course I could’ve asked for. When I wasn’t completely swamped with work, I spent a lot of time working closely with developers to fix small issues. Tweaking. Thinking about the details, giving our apps some well needed love. Working with the things that separate a good product from a great one. I had a great time.

But towards the end, the company had grown at a incredibly fast rate, and I saw first-hand how constant top down decision making and bureaucracy could make a team of amazingly talented people perform well below their potential. It made me think about culture a lot. It made me realise that without a great culture, you can’t produce great software.

That’s why as Tappily grows, my number one goal will not be to build great software, but to build a great culture. I believe that eventually, great software will come out of a company that focuses on the why and how, rather than the what.

Have you always had an interest in game development, or is that something you’ve stumbled upon more recently?

I studied Game Design in Karlshamn, at BTH, but left after only 6 months. I had just discovered the possibilities of front-end development, and spent my days playing around with HTML, CSS and Javascript instead. At BTH, you were encouraged to find your specialty. That thing that you were supposed to be the best at—maybe it was texturing, or character design. But I’ve always found that way of thinking limiting and boring. I want to learn it all. I want to have control over the entire experience. With front-end development, I could. I could have a vision, design it, and then develop it.

So I decided to leave, and went to Stockholm to study at Hyper Island instead. In hindsight it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made, and I was sure I would not work on another game again. But here we are.

How did you come up with the idea for SpellRush and how has the response been so far?

I keep a book with all my ideas. It’s full of things I want to build, but it’s also full of crappy ideas. I jot down whatever comes to mind. When I was about to start a new project, I wanted the project to fulfil certain criteria: Can I build everything myself? Will I learn something? Do I want to use this product? Can I finish it within a couple of months? For SpellRush, the answer to all these questions was yes.

The response has been amazing. People seem to really like the game – it already has 40 five-star ratings in the swedish App Store – and I’m beginning to hear great stories. A friend’s daughter, after seeing her father play, wanted to learn how to read and write so that she could play. That’s the best review yet.

What’s next for you, more games, another startup or?

SpellRush was a product that I envisioned in a certain way, and then built it exactly like that. The next project is another game, but this time I’m going to try something new. I want to build a high quality game, but it should not take more than a week. The project has to be formed to fit within that timeframe. That comes later, though. Right now, I’m supporting SpellRush, fixing bugs, and adding more polish.

Thanks Tobias!

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