Having played Fantasy Football for the better part of a decade, I immediately took interest when two friends started DraftSmarts, a tool to assemble and maintain the perfect fantasy team. After their initial launch on Product Hunt, I put together a few design concepts for the duo to mull over during the 2014 NFL season. Eventually, we agreed to work together and take DraftSmarts to the next level.
For our brand and identity, the challenge was standing out in a heavily saturated market where billion dollar behemoths like ESPN, Yahoo, DraftKings, and FanDuel have the upper hand.
Our product had a lot of difficulties to overcome. For starters, we were just a team of three who all have full-time jobs at growing tech companies. On top of that, draft optimization tools had a short window of usefulness before becoming obsolete. We needed to solve this or else DraftSmarts would continue to have a month long life cycle. The biggest challenge was an inevitable launch date as I doubt we would have been able to convince Roger Goodell to push the NFL season back for us.
Develop an approachable brand that earned us the trust of our users who often have money on the line.
Increase the number of fantasy football players using DraftSmarts.
Increase the length of DraftSmarts life cycle.
When DraftSmarts initially launched, I thought doing a native app would be valuable. Competitors had one and on the surface, it made sense for us to follow suit. However, our research showed that an overwhelming majority of our users drafted, scouted, and set their teams on Desktop.
This was one of our ideas to get users returning to DraftSmarts after drafting their team. Even though the three of us are passionate and knowledgeable about fantasy sports, there was little we could surface that bigger brands weren’t in a better position to report.
Unfortunately Yahoo and ESPN restrict developers from pulling in their data without a formal contract. DraftSmarts didn’t have the leverage to negotiate a contract with these platforms. We decided not to make this a goal and instead, focus on features we had the power to improve.
For both the brand design and product design, I needed to establish user types. Were these diehards who travel to New Orleans every year to draft as a league? Are these casual office pool players looking to earn trash-talking rights? Even more important, does our current user base have an interest in daily fantasy? That was critical to our idea for overcoming our four week product lifecycle.
Below are a few of the questions I reached out to over 1,200 users to answer.
Why did you use DraftSmarts last year?
How did your team perform?
What platform do you use for traditional?
What’s the hardest part about drafting a traditional fantasy team?
Do you play daily fantasy? If not, why?
What’s the hardest part about drafting a daily fantasy team?
How much do you spend every month on daily fantasy?
What sources do you use to learn about your players throughout the season?
From platforms like FanDuel and DraftKings to content publishers like Rotowire, consumers are faced with a wide variety of options in each facet of fantasy sports. One of the first projects I tackled as part of Draftsmarts was the brand and identity.
Before sketching logo concepts, it was crucial we understood how DraftSmarts would be positioned. Researching competitors, we saw a plethora of dark, masculine sites and experiences that seemed more robotic than human. Our team wanted DraftSmarts to be approachable and human. The tone and language needed to feel like your smartest friend who’s always the first to know everything.
The biggest challenge we faced when crafting the new identity for DraftSmarts was to make it appeal to everybody from the ultimate fantasy warrior to the casual office player. We went through countless iterations including logos that reflected the periodic table, playbook, and pop art.
Ultimately, we decided to go with a modern twist on an old school classic. Interlaced lettering has been around since the Dutch East India Company and was commonly used for the early sports teams. Even today, teams like the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals use this style of mark. We’re really happy with the result but more importantly, our users love it.
DraftSmarts knows that time is critical when deciding between Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. That’s why we’ve made it faster than ever to compare and draft players by stripping away the unnecessary and focusing on what counts.
Our suggested picks helped users avoid the busts and make the most of their drafts. It’s the difference between being the Browns and the Patriots.
We designed a new tagging system to help users balance their team with last year’s best and this year’s sleepers. Icons helped avoid overwhelming users with yet another set of numbers.
Previously, there wasn’t a way to save drafted teams. It seemed a no-brainer as the average DraftSmarts user was drafting over 4 times.
DraftSmarts recommends who to start each week and suggests waiver wire pickups. Winning the season starts by winning games.
Understand the risk associated with each player so you can make the right moves for each daily game type.
DraftSmarts recommends one lineup for each combination of platform and game type. Users can then lock players or blacklist them before generating a new roster with the new constraints.
As daily players ourselves, we knew that generating lineups wasn’t enough functionality. Similar to our traditional draft tool, we wanted to be able to save those lineups and look back on what worked and what didn’t.
We launched DraftSmarts 2.0 on August 17, 2015 with an overwhelming amount of support from past users and the sports community. Thousands signed up and used our Traditional Draft Tool in the weeks that followed.
My favorite part of being a designer is seeing people use what I make. With DraftSmarts, the users’ reaction to our redesign made those late nights and weekends of side work well worth it.
“I used Draft Smarts last year and I actually won my fantasy league. It helped so much during the drafting process, but to be honest it wasn’t the best user experience. Now with 2.0 the team behind the product has made it so much better. The product is easier to navigate and better looking and they have added a bunch of new features so you can use it throughout the season.”
— Brett deMarrais, Partner at Ludlow Ventures
“I used DraftSmarts last year and won my league for the first time in 10 years. My biggest ask was context for the suggested pick which they added. I’m super excited to use it this year.”
— Kareem Kouddous, CTO & Founder at CrowdTap
After the launch we were excited about the new features to iterate on and the possibility of extending the product into new sports. Unfortunately we wouldn’t get the opportunity to make that happen.
In November 2015, legislation was passed in several states, including New York, that banned daily fantasy sports. We weren’t able to gain enough traction to generate significant revenue with the new laws. A lack of revenue and the fact that the three of us all had full-time jobs meant the end of DraftSmarts, at least for the time being.
A huge shout out to both Lucas Levin and Kyle Snell for including me in DraftSmarts. They were the duo behind the original product and were gracious enough to invite me to be a part of the team.
Lucas did an excellent job in helping with user stories and coordinating all of the different tasks. Kyle was incredibly helpful in building the algorithm, back end platform, and assisting me with implementing the front end. It’s always great to work alongside friends and that’s what made DraftSmarts so special.