MEET THE DEVELOPER
Tap to learn how a scientist formulated a new way to take notes with Agenda.
Date-focused note taking
Agenda is a 2018 Apple Design Award winner. This award celebrates the creative artistry and technical achievement of developers who set the standard for app design and innovation on Apple platforms.
Unlike Alexander Griekspoor’s other apps, Agenda wasn’t cooked up in a lab.
While working toward his PhD in cell biology in the Netherlands, Griekspoor (pictured above) and his friend Tom Groothuis developed a number of successful apps, all sparked by their needs as scientists: 4Peaks and EnzymeX (both for Mac) help molecular biologists; Griekspoor built Papers to elegantly organize the research papers he wanted to read.
After publisher Springer Nature bought Papers, Griekspoor stayed on to lead the growing team. He wasn’t entirely happy with the transition to full-time manager—or with the note-taking apps he was using to track all of his meetings and projects.
So he partnered with Drew McCormack, a former theoretical chemist, to create Agenda, a minimalist yet powerful notes app. Its premise is that when matters: Dates are the primary organizer. In addition to being able to organize by project or folder, you can attach a date to your notes so they pop into view when you need them. Here’s how he overcame dismal initial feedback, a crowded marketplace, and a coding hiatus to create the note-taking app of his dreams.
What problem were you trying to solve with Agenda?
In a professional environment, almost all your notes are related to some event or date, and there wasn’t an app that solved that. You have note-taking apps and you have calendar apps, but you don’t have anything in between.
What was your biggest challenge?
It took us a year to get to an alpha version. We gave it to about 30 friends we trust, and the feedback was disastrous. A big part of the problem was it was attuned to my card-based way of working. We had to give it a completely different look and feel. It set us back another year or so—but it was the right thing to do.
What turned out to be easier than you expected?
Adopting Swift. For two years I was looking at code, but I was not actively coding anymore. Swift came out and I was like, “I have to get back into it.” It went pretty fast.
How did the app come together logistically?
We’ve always worked on it remotely. I’m from Holland, but my wife and I moved to Portugal. Drew is from Australia, but he lives in Holland. Our designer, Marcello [Luppi], is Italian but also lives in Holland. Drew and I both work from home, but we’re always on a Slack channel, so you feel like you’re in an office. We meet maybe two or three times a year physically.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Follow the gut feeling of what you think is important. When you work with a bigger team, you’re making decisions with all these people, and things get kind of gray. You start to think, “Does what I think makes a good app actually make a good app?” Sometimes just stick to what you think. You can have a product where five people say, “It’s not for me,” but you have 90 very enthusiastic people. You need that excitement, those people spreading the word.
What’s next for you?
Agenda, for the next five to 10 years. We don’t want to totally change it or blow it up into a million features, but there’s so much cool stuff to do.