FieldTrip, my first mobile app offering, is complete and, boy, the learning curve was sharper than Steve Job’s acid washed jeans. Here is a brief look into my development process, what I’ll never do again, and what I will do for the next one. Hopefully it will help new app developers get started.
As this was my first app, I did not hit the ground running. It was more of a slow crawl with frequent, whiny breaks. About a year ago I purchased a book titled “Beginning iPhone 3 Development: Exploring the iPhone SDK“. After reading and working through the first few chapters, I realized that the book required a basic knowledge of Objective-C which I did not have. Learning a language is much different than learning a platform so the book was shelved in hopes that I’d soon have time to come back to it after figuring out Objective-C. Much like John Travolta’s 3rd wind acting career, I never happened. It was my Battlefield Earth.
This type-happy start led to 7 complete rewrites as I delved deeper into Appcelerator and its best practices. It was yet another reminded that planning trumps passion. Rockstar.
Here’s how it went down:
- 3 rewrites before realizing, maybe I should wireframe this mother.. like all other projects I work on.
- 2 rewrites after actual testing a fully functional wireframe prototype, on a few users. Again, stupid move on doing this so late as holes in functionality and usability were uncovered which made rewrites necessary.
- 1 rewrite after deciding to design based on the wireframes and mash it into my code. I plead temporary insanity.
- 1 final rewrite to consolidate my code, properly create my views and elements to account for all functionality, and incorporate design systematically instead of the french press method. Side note, French Press sounds like a really badass wrestling move.
The end result is an app that works great and I’m very proud of. The lesson is this. Figure out what you’re doing before you start doing anything. With that little tidbit I could have cut development time by a month.
For the next app, my process will be as follows:
- Define the feature list up front. Figure out what the app does before starting. If not, the app will take on a life of its own in development and I’ll find myself adding sound effects, hardware vibration and unicorns.
- Sketch wireframes in pencil to sort out how a user will navigate and interact with the app. This will also define how many templates are needed. Remember to use pencil as it will allow for continual refinement of the experience and, as the ideas keep coming, keep me from worrying about alignment, fonts, and how large a certain field may be.
- Take the refrigerator worthy sketches and create refined wireframes. Check them to make sure all necessary views are accounted for then test them. Either create a quick clickable website, use MockFlow, or open Photoshop and let someone pretend to touch.
While someone is reviewing the wireframes, I’ll keep my mouth shut and will not explain to them what they should be doing. A user should be able to use the app without being told what to do.
- Take the feedback, make adjustments and repeat the wireframing step. Expect to change how the views look and connect to one another at least once. If there are no updates, either I’m a user experience god or didn’t really listen to feedback.
Don’t design until the wireframes are completely locked down. Developers tend to see things in ways that real users do not so I need to build for a users and not for myself.
- Make those wireframes into the best damned designs I can muster. If I suck at design, get help. While it does matters how fast a table loads or how streamlined database queries are, if a potential customer looks at the screenshots on the App Store and throws up a little, they’ll never see the results of all that coding awesomeness.
This is what I’ll do next and I hope it helps you get out there, make that first app, and lose less hair in the process. Leave a comment with your thoughts or experience. I’d love to hear them.
Stop the presses! (or should I say, letterpresses?) Our holiday poster was featured on FPO.
We are honored to be featured on this blog, because c’mon, WHO WOULDN’T!!
A bit of background, FPO (For Print Only) is a division of Under Consideration, a network dedicated to the advancement of the graphic design profession. FPO is a blog in which brilliant designers Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit feature print work that shows print is not dead or on its way to extinction, and in fact can surprise us when designers really understand it and take it to new heights.
Want your own poster? Click here.
I’m excited to announce that FieldTrip, my first mobile app offering, is complete.
It started with a simple idea, “Make a teacher’s field trip preparation and event day coordination as easy as possible.” The result is an app that manages unlimited field trips, students and more. Each field trip include a full schedule complete with mapping and calling features, student attendance, and email delivery of the full schedule and attendance list. Each student can have their guardian information so that a student or parent can be called or emailed from the app.
Later on in the week I’ll post about the app creation process and the lessons learned.
I don’t frequent Target’s website a lot, but I’ve been there enough times to expect a clean, well ordered Homepage. Like this…
So you can imagine my surprise when I went on there to do some research and saw this update…
Now I know they’ve got a butt-load* of inventory to represent and who am I to critique the might HUGE. Plus it in no way looks as bad as some of the other ecommerce sites out there. But, to me it just seems a bit cluttered and not Target-like. Especially when you consider that a simple delineation of space could help. Like this, for e.g.
Nothing drastic, just some simple borders to reduce the clutter by visually grouping content areas and minimizing the amount of shapes the viewer’s eyes have to deal with.
I’m curious to know how you guys feel about it.
*for exact conversion of butt load see our measurement chart
There’s a tendency for some designers to view clients as sort of a necessary evil of doing business – clients bring you the project, then they just get in the way as you try to create “brilliance,” hopefully showing up at the end to pay for said brilliance. A designer might get upset when clients don’t recognize their artistry immediately and thus ensues a difficult back and forth that’s usually laden with hurt feelings and miscommunication.
<gripe>Why can’t they realize that I’m the expert and they’re not….and just trust me?</gripe>
I’d love to say this mindset is primarily a recent-grads thing, but while on a panel with Cheryl Heller last year at the Design Ethos conference it struck me that this seemed to be prevalent in professionals as well.
With that in mind I thought I’d share some of our insight that might be helpful if you find yourself feeling frustrated by your clients’ input.
What we’ve learned over the last 9 years is that getting to the Holy Grail of “Final approval” can have more to do with emotions than your skill with the pen tool.
I think a large part of the frustration that designers may feel has to do with cognitive dissonance. What that means is that we homo sapiens find it hard to hold on to two conflicting ideas in our minds. The competing ideas cause us some serious headaches until we justify or rationalize our way to some sort of internal agreement and resonance is restored. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced when one of those ideas duking it out is tightly linked to our sense of self-worth or identity.
What’s this got to do with designers? Well, I dunno if you’ve noticed, but designers take their role as creators of beautiful artifacts VERY seriously, (maybe too much sometimes). So when a client provides critical feedback it smacks in the face of all they’ve learned in design school and the heart and soul poured into the project, and they take offense. It’s as if they’re forced to reconcile two ideas…
1) “the client’s right – and I’m not as good a designer as I thought”,
2) “I’m right – and the client isn’t smart enough to realize how bad they’re decision is”
Both ideas can’t coexist peacefully in a designer’s head so the outcome is exactly the knee-jerk response you’d expect.
But can you spot the logical flaw? By setting up the scenario where only of one them can be “right” they’re forced to choose. The ideas are in conflict because designers see themselves as the experts who should know better, which leaves only one option.
Of course we’re designers too, so over the years we’ve made a point to intentionally cultivate a different attitude towards clients and their involvement in the design process. From our perspective our clients actually HAVE to be involved in the process. And I don’t mean just showing-up-and-giving-feedback-at-the-end kind of involvement. But input throughout the entire journey.
Our role as Designers is not as mere makers of things but more facilitators of progress. So our commitment is not to a specific outcome, but to a successful journey, which (if we do things right) will lead to a successful outcome anyway. With this attitude, we’re free to objectively hear what the client’s saying without being clouded by any emotional knee-jerk responses.
A final word of encouragement for any designer or student struggling with this – If you’re not attaching your self-worth (or self-esteem) to the “things” you create, there’s no dissonance when a client critiques those “things” as it doesn’t conflict with your view of your role in the arrangement. You’ll find the experience much less frustrating and might even enjoy the input you get! Maybe.
As we’re slowly getting the Paragon machine back up and running, I wanted to give some props to the folks over at the Webbys for sending what has to be the most retro-tastic* holiday mailer we’ve ever received.
Of course we have no way of finding out if they slipped some digital awesomeness onto the floppy disk, but we prefer to think they did and just dream about what it could be.
*copyright Paragon 2011
As is our custom, we married off a Paragon-ian to ring in the new year.
That’s right ladies, the adorable, sweet and extremely goofy James Donaldson is officially off the market, having married his long-time love, Danielle Word on 1/1/11.
It’s only been a year+ in the works, but we finally made it! The new Paragon website is live…at last.
Finding the time to do our own internal projects is next to impossible, so right now we’re just enjoying this sweet victory over, um….well over ourselves really.
In about 2 days we’ll probably start cataloging ideas for our next redesign, but for now we feel pretty happy to finally have gotten it done. There’s not much else to say other than we hope you like it. Feel free to give us your feedback!
When we first started our company Savannah was a town that seemed to lack a young creative business community.
Nine and a half years later this city truly has a growing community of designers, geeks and entrepreneurs. Slowly but surely, Savannah is rediscovering her roots as the first designed city in the United States. And while it’s encouraging to see the effect this new energy is having on the built environment and activity in the city, I am more excited about the community of inspiring, brilliant people who have made this place their home.
And I credit The Creative Coast (TCC) for playing a significant role in making this happen. Founded about 7 years ago this organization has been the connector between previously isolated entrepreneurs and talent, and a bridge to valuable resources for many. It too has evolved over the years, but what has never changed is the unwavering focus on the growing community of world-class creatives in Savannah.
As a part of its own evolution TCC has spent the last year doing the hard work of transitioning into a organization that better reflects the needs and requests of the creative community. One of the most requested changes was that the organization move its headquarters into the heart of downtown, and in September this is exactly what TCC did. It was a relatively quiet move and the first few months were spent establishing some important basics.
Then last week TCC threw open the doors and asked the creative community to come to the new digs to help design it…charette style. The plan was to invite everyone to an evening of brainstorming followed by a full day of curating/designing, and finally culminating in the presentation of one concept made up of the strongest ideas from the brainstorming session.
You can read more about it on TCC’s blog but suffice it to say the event was a great success. Over 50 people showed up for the first night (all 3 hours of it!). After splitting up into 5 teams everyone rolled up their sleeves and got to work, debating the virtues of various potential uses of the space, how the organization would best serve the community and a whole host of creative ways to engage and communicate with the wider community. What impressed me the most was the fact that everyone cared enough to come, stay and contribute. Some remarkable ideas came out of the brainstorming session. And a lot of common themes appeared as well. When the final boards were installed in the brightly light storefront for the night, it was obvious that there was a lot of great raw material to work with.