Designing a tool for writing and outlining fiction (very much in progress)

Quill is a personal project intended to solve several problems I have run into as a writer.

On this case study I’m working in public, updating the page as I complete each part of the project. It’s entirely subject to change.

Problem definition

Fiction writers need a low-distraction tool that helps them focus on drafting while allowing them to flexibly outline their work and directly integrating the review cycle with beta readers and editors.

The primary users will be the writers themselves, who need to outline, take notes, draft text, and revise it. Secondary users include beta readers and editors, who will be reading the text in part or in whole and commenting on it.

I plan to build this for my own use, and that’s certainly driving my interest in the tool, but my goal is for the design to be useful to other people as well.


I began with some lightweight competitor analysis, looking at writing apps like Scrivener, iA Writer, Final Draft, WriterDuet, Ulysses, and Google Docs. None of the tools I surveyed met all of the following criteria:

  • Distraction-free (focus mode, Markdown)
  • Real-time collaboration
  • In-tool outlining (folding, summary cards)
  • Fiction-focused (as opposed to screenwriting)
  • Clean, user-friendly design (and this is admittedly more subjective)

I put together some fictional personas for two writers, an editor, and a beta reader (see below). Ordinarily, by the way, I would aggregate actual user data to develop these, since I’m unlikely to get it right on my own.

Fictional personas of two writers, an editor, and a beta reader

What’s next

One of the fundamental ideas I’ve had for the app is a pane-based layout system, similar to what Blender and tiling window managers use. Since this will affect almost everything else in the design, I’m currently working on interaction design prototypes for the pane system (both mobile and desktop). My blog post about the mobile design has more details.

To be continued…