Holding Pattern Screensaver

Sometimes people need a 40,000 foot view.
I designed a beautiful airplane window screensaver, first as experimental art, then as a human-centered software product.

Independent product design for screensaver
Solo entrepreneurial project
My Role:
UX Research, Lean UX Design, Market Strategy, Product Design

A few choice scenes from Holding Pattern screensaver. In the software version, thousands of combinations were possible.

Birth of a product

Holding Pattern screen saver was an accidental success. As a graduate student, I created a free screen saver for Mac OS that emulated the view from an airplane window. Using gentle and dreamy transitions, the view switched through different viewpoints, landscapes, and times of day.

I submitted the application as a free download to the predecessor to the app store: Apple's software downloads site. The next day, Holding Pattern was an Apple Staff Pick, and by the end of the week the download first crashed my academic server, then burned through a friend's hosting bandwidth.

Editing schematic shows how the algorithm generates the flow of scenes in the screensaver

With Success came... Viruses

As the numbers of downloads ticked well into the six digits, I knew something about the software was resonating for users. Soon a friend told me he had stumbled upon a repackaged copy of my screensaver that had been loaded with ads and viruses. Turned out there were several of these, and even ripped copies available for sale on eBay. I suddenly had financial and legal responsibility to my popular free download.

I knew I had an opportunity to improve the screensaver by creating a human-centered product that fit users needs, and perhaps even make a sustainable business. Idle Time Software, my sole proprietor garage software company was born!  I began the process of developing Holding Pattern as a fully-featured software product.

Evolving Features and Content

An online user questionnaire helped me ideate new features, think through content, and determine the all important price point.

Feature prioritization led to:
Tons more photographs: more than four times the visual
content, with aerial views from unique places around the world
Times of day: night, morning, sunset and day, each with distinct color palettes and moods
User control over transitions, flight path, and flight speed
A multiple monitor feature that let users match views
on more than one screen
Easter egg surprises and rare views

I finessed every detail: the installer package, the application icon, the End User License Agreement. I added an advertising funnel within the popular free download. Holding Pattern was ready to launch!

David Byrne contributed this self portrait enjoying the view from an airplane window.

A Special Collaboration

After Holding Pattern's launch, I was asked to create a special edition of the software for David Byrne and Brian Eno's collaborative digital album, EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS WILL HAPPEN TODAY. The special screen saver was available with the deluxe digital edition of the album, and had very special content:  beautiful in-flight photos taken by and featuring David Byrne.

Happy Users...

Fans wrote me emails explaining why they loved the screen saver: it fit into their environments in a gentle way, it was meditative and it reminded them of their own travels and airplane experiences. A pastor used it to help addicts in recovery. An architect praised it for its ability to create ambience instead of distraction.

...But Time to Fly

By the late 2000s, technology was rapidly moving away from the need for ambient screen graphics. Low power mobile devices killed the need for screensavers. Holding Pattern's main sales channel, Apple's software store, evolved into the App Store. It was time to pack up the product. (insert sad face emoji.)

Great stuff I learned from Holding Pattern:
As a scrappy one-woman garage software company, I practiced Lean Product Design!
If you make a good product, people will pay you for it.
Providing support is a huge part of the ongoing life of a product. Plan for product maintenance and life cycle.
Whatever users tell you is golden, and it is never a waste of time!

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