An artist focused app that allows artists to keep track of their references, sorting by project, uploading by link, and editing them straight from the ease of the app.

Duration: Apr - May 2022
Role: Team of one
Type: Passion project case study


I keep losing my art references!

Many artists don’t have access to art programs with large canvases like Photoshop or Illustrator! Having to frustratingly navigate between 5-15 tabs per art project just became the norm for me every time I was in the mood to create. It’s incredibly hard to keep track of which tab contains which reference, and they’re easy to lose when I take a break and step away. This is a solution to this ancient pain point of mine!



I started off with a few user interviews to really gauge the field to see artist pain points in storing and viewing their references. While I see the struggle parroted often among Procreate users such as myself, I wanted to see if the pain point was relevant to other types of artists as well. The scope of the app will be defined to include visual references only.

I digitally interviewed 14 artists through Discord and Google Meets. These artists volunteered through Twitter and came from all over the world (from Canada, USA, Britain, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hong Kong) and use different types of artistic media (digital [CSP], digital [Procreate], 3D modeling, pixel, watercolour, acrylic, and crochet). 

I asked these artists about their creative process, when and how they use references, how they view and store these references, and what difficulties or ease of use they’ve experienced with such. 

​Some key takeaways:​


User Persona

With the insights gotten from the research interviews, I've developed a primary persona representing our target users. Some main points I wanted to capture were the tasks they needed to do, their goals, and some of their struggles.




Wireframe Sketching

My favourite part — wireframe sketching, done in a local cafe with coffee and a brownie. Sketched on procreate, I tried to focus on the main features first. One of my biggest struggles during this phase was deciding the flow of adding and deleting refs. I wanted it to be extremely easily accessible but still have a home page to browse. I opted for having an “add ref” banner right on the home page to streamline the experience. You can see some of my final sketches below:


Product Features

The main features I wanted for Refr were to address the pain points artists had in storing and viewing their refs. These include having simply editable and viewable albums, an easy way to add refs on the downlow, and a way to address the ever-present art block.


Add and Sort Refs

This is the life and main goal of the app: to address the pain point of artists losing their references. Through simple link adding, users will be able to yoink any inspiration-inducing piece of media off the internet and add it to their album!

Additionally, Refr allows for album sorting, letting artists save and track refs by project.


Browse Inspo

Ah, the hated artblock. Refr takes a stab at addressing this headache of a roadblock with a homepage filled with inspo.

Artists will be able to see possible inspo right when opening the app to get those creative juices flowing. If that isn't enough, they can continue scrolling to see more where that came from!


Responsive Split Screen

Clicking into any image in your media will pull up a responsive split screen gallery view. Flip through your refs but drag at the ref corners to look at your other refs at the same time!

No more back and forth flipping!


In-App Ref Editing

Artists who need to edit their refs, adding notes, highlighting areas, or cropping their image can do it all in app in Refr. Instead of having to install and be onboarded to another app to edit their images to their liking, Refr allows for editing through the gallery view.



Again, coffee, a brownie, Figma on blast. This is time to bring the ideas together and putting it into a navigable product to be tested on!

Super exciting stuff. I wanted to give the app little bursts of colour and cute icons in order to be more attractive to artists.

Feel free to click around the mock-up here:​


Moderated Testing

After finishing up the prototype, it’s time to move onto some testing to see if I’ve addressed the issue I set out to address.

Most importantly, I wanted to test if the app was intuitive, and if users immediately understood how to perform certain actions with ease. To test this, I arranged 4 moderated testing sessions, each with a different artist, in order to test the ability and speed they are able to complete two pre-arranged tasks:

  1. Add a new reference in the album “Certified Cringe” using a pre-copied Twitter link
  2. Edit the flower image and circle the rose with the pen tool

Each participant was provided with a prototype of the app and the task they are to complete. The order of the tasks given alternated between participants and the main findings are recorded below. 

Key Takeaways:



After the discoveries with the user testing sessions, I’ve set out to re-define some of the designs and improve using the comments made. First off, users were offput when they saw there was only adding through media links instead of their camera or gallery. 

Additionally, I wanted to address the issue with users not expecting to have to tap again on the image right after adding it to edit. Most social media sites give the user the option to edit images immediately upon upload, so I have tried to reflect that. 

These are added as a feature to Refr:


Photo & Gallery Adding

For artists who are struck by inspo in their daily lives or those who want to import from their saved gallery - your solution is here!

Add refs to Refr no matter where you are.


Next Steps

My next steps for this project are definitely to start working on a search and tagging function for Refr. The search would take some more time to be optimized so I wanted to leave it as a separate step compared to the other main features. To combat art block, I not only want the search to be done by user tags, but also general concepts to help give artists the beginnings of an idea before they can start polishing that off with more specific searches.

Make sure to keep your eye out for the updates!