Smile Politely

An interview with local creative pro Matt Hutton

The world is app-crazy. According to Apple and Google, a total of over 110 billion (yes, billion) apps have been downloaded to date. One Champaign-based company is doing its best to grow that number, one child’s educational app at a time.

Matt Hutton, CEO and co-founder of Spinlight Studios, “fell into” app development while running the initial rendition of Spinlight as an advertising agency. From the moment he and his partners, Candace Hutton, Chris Phillips, and John Turner, laid their hands on the iPad, app development seemed like the most logical course to pursue.

Since 2011, the company has released 11 top-selling titles for the iOS, Android and Mac OS platforms, and has garnered multiple honors and awards, as well as major recognition by Apple. Spinlight apps have received national media coverage in broadcast and in print, including the NBC Today ShowFox NewsUSA Today, and US Weekly.

On April 23rd, as part of the Meet the Pros series, Matt Hutton will tell Spinlight’s advertising-to-apps story. To whet your appetite for the presentation to come, we asked Matt to provide a little background about himself, and Spinlight’s rise to app stardom…

Smile Politely: You graduated from Eastern with a degree in graphic arts. What happened between graduation and starting Spinlight in 2000?

Matt Hutton: I did quite a bit of freelance design work while in college. Many of those relationships continued after graduating in ‘98. For about a year, I worked as a full-time designer for an e-commerce software company in Champaign. After that, I became senior designer for an agency in Champaign called Buerkett Marketing. In 2000, Spinlight was launched.

SP: What was the first app you developed… and why?

Hutton: The first app was called Swapsies Jobs. That was released in 2011. We were inspired by a magnetic wooden puzzle that Chris’s kids were playing with at a Christmas party. It seemed like something that would make a great digital experience. That app has really evolved quite a bit since launching.

SP: What kind of research goes into developing educational apps? How do you ensure that they’re “educational”?

Hutton: Most of apps are covering fairly basic information so our team can research and develop the content internally. We are parents and have a pretty good feel for what our kids like and need. Intuition drives most of our decisions. So far that has served us well.

SP: Do you have a testing/review team of educators and parents? Or kids – like in the movie Big?

Hutton: We test them over and over internally. We take builds home to our kids and watch them play with them. We enlist friends and family too. You have to have a very high tolerance for repetition to make a project like this. I think my kids are pretty sick of my apps by launch.

SP: How long does it take to “develop” one of your apps?

Hutton: Typically it takes about 1-3 months. It all depends on the scope of the project.

SP: Can you walk us through the process?

Hutton: The process ends up feeling very similar to website design. Ideas often start on paper and evolve into a wire frame or schematic. After that, we start building mock-up screens to get the look and feel established. After the majority of the screens have been designed, we start coding. From there, it’s a high speed and iterative process. Build, test, refine. Repeat. There is a constant team dialogue during the process.

SP: How many apps do you have in development at any given time?

Hutton: No more than two are in a serious stage of development. But we have a rapidly growing list of concepts and ideas that we continuously discuss as a team. As the best ideas rise to the top, we develop them.

SP: Have you thought about branching out into other app areas?

Hutton: We have ideas for many kinds of apps. We try to steer the discussions back into our area of focus. It’s possible that we’ll explore other categories, but for now, we have a lot of work to do where we are. More ideas than time for sure.

SP: Are you your only client? Or do you also create apps for hire?

Hutton: For now, we are the client. We’ve had some discussions with some BIG kid’s brands. We would be interested in working with well know characters and properties. I think that may be in our future at some point.

SP: What is going to be the main focus of your upcoming Meet the Pros presentation?

Hutton: I’d like to just tell my story. I have a job that didn’t even exist when I decided to become a graphic designer. Spinlight has been reinvented. We’re now a software company with investors and ambitious goals.

It’s been quite a ride. And I think we’re just getting started.

Meet the Pros Presentation, Wednesday, April 23rd

Learn more about Matt Hutton, and Spinlight’s rise to the app apex, on Wednesday, April 23rd at 6 p.m., at Pizza M inside of Cafeteria & Company in Urbana. Matt’s presentation is the final event of this season’s Meet the Pros creative-focused lecture series presented by Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College and sponsored by CUDO and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators, and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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