Critical Reflection

This semester introduced us to a new module, Social Mobile Apps. Within the module, our aim was to research, design and prototype a touchscreen app that creatively re-imagined the printed poem; acting as a communication tool and a social reader interface for both individuals and as a group activity. Drawing inspiration from the current social reading groups, applications and devices, we aimed to design and create a product for our chosen niche market, developing solutions that focussed around the shared digital marginalia. Our only constraint was the solution must include some aspect of touch screen mobile technology, however it wasn’t essential all interactions take place within the app.

With this in mind, I undertook some early desk research, looking into poetry communities, the kinds of activities they do and the people that form them. I found there was a huge community base; with groups undertaking various activities from performance poetry, groups that study poetry, niche groups focusing on a particular writing style and writing to appear in journals, magazines and books. This opened me up to a huge audience to design for, with this point being where I began to think about who I wanted to focus my concept towards and how this reflected my own personal goals.

One of the communities I initially found, LikeStarlings, sparked my interest. It is a community based around having poetic conversations, with each poet being paired with another to write conversational poems together. Another that interested me was 3by3by3; a community that has a strict set of rules to create poetry based on stories from google news. This interested me as writing stories relevant to today’s news keeps poetry current and would open up a lot of opportunities for sharing marginalia. These two communities are the main influences in my proposed concepts.

Before constructing my own concepts, I chose to look at current digital technologies that provide social reading experiences. Kindle provides a platform for reading poetry, which led me to the article Poetry Extinguished by Kindle? (Brown, 2011). Brown discusses the importance of minute details when it comes to poetry, stating it can’t fit into the rigid structure that an e-reader provides. This highlighted to me the importance of designing this specifically towards reading poetry, not as a general reading experience and made me aware of my job to create an aesthetically suitable experience for both the poem and the user. I also researched some current poetry apps, to get a feel for the way they are used and designed. While online poetry groups have a great sense of community, many of the apps I looked at lacked this social feature, with other issues involving a lack of structure, poor visuals and needing to become a member to access content, an issue which I recently read is a major downfall of many apps (Yao, 2013).

Taking all this research into consideration I began mapping out my two concepts. My first concept, LikeStarlings, aimed to enhance the current experience of the web based community by developing an IOS app that complimented that experience. Currently, poets submit their work to an editor and are paired off at random, which doesn’t always work out due to different beliefs or misunderstanding of their partner’s poem. The app’s aim was to create pairings that would compliment each other and offer a shared writing experience. Through engaging with their partners poetry in the form of adding marginalia, it would facilitate their understanding and interpretation of the work and assist in the flow of each poetic conversation.

My second concept, Poetry InPictures aimed to encourage poets to write and share new poems based on current affairs. The concept of the app is to pull in the daily photographs from the InPictures section of the Guardian website. The poet will then write a poem based on this visual reference to be posted and shared on the IOS application and twitter. Incorporating hashtags allows readers to view all poems related to a particular news story and using twitter builds a social experience allowing a global community to be built. Using twitter as a platform for commenting and sharing also means most users wont be faced with the process of signing up for something new which could deter some people.

After presenting both of these concepts to the class, I was faced with a tough decision. Both were received very well and provided different sorts of opportunities for progression. LikeStarlings was building on an existing community and enhancing their current experience while Poetry InPictures was creating a new community based around daily news and social media. I chose to spend some time working on outlining key areas I would need to research and prototype, before opting for Poetry InPictures. While LikeStarlings would provide me with the opportunity to develop interesting screen interactions and work towards a current user group and brand, Poetry InPictures provided me with the opportunity to research, develop and prototype my own original concept and I felt this would have more depth and be a more rewarding experience. At the time I was swaying between the two, but after going through the prototyping experience I’m confident I made the right decision.

To get started with the sketching phase of the project, I researched current apps and websites that could act as a model for my design. I had to consider how each of the menu systems (to filter the photographs of news stories through category and date) would be implemented. Drawing inspiration from Facebook, Guardian and Beedocs I began drawing out detailed sketches of my reader interface. These gave me a starting point for taking my designs into the digital realm and allowed me to present my work to others, gaining feedback before proceeding with my project. At this point I began thinking about the gestural interactions that would take place within the app. I wanted to try making use of multi-touch; with that being something new to me I had to put a lot of consideration into how this would work and what users expect to happen when performing a specific gesture. This led me to reading an article on how people interact with iPhones (Westerman, 2008), which highlights the importance of having multiple methods to achieve the same action and explains the way users really use iPhones (and in turn, iPads) compared to what we as designers expect.

Visualizing my sketches on apps such as realizer and pop is where I made the most progress. It made me come to realise that drawing out interactions and gestures on paper is not the same as interacting with them in an app. The main change that came from this process was the implementation of my menu system. On reflection, this sketching and prototyping stage was the most crucial part of the project, as without this iterative process my final product wouldn’t have been refined to the advanced stage it was. I also considered the branding of the app that this stage, experimenting with colours and fonts before deciding on blue and white as it integrated well with the branding of twitter which was a key aspect of the social experience.

Taking these wireframes one step further, I mocked them up in illustrator to get a better sense of the visual style of the app. While this was necessary and beneficial to the design, I feel like I could have spent less time working on this had I thought it through and began by looking at xcode instead. The long break from coding in xcode resulted in a slow start to the coding, coming across issues that I had easily coded during our last app project. This was down to both xcode being updated and me needing a refresher on how to use it. I ended up spending a whole day just trying to get the scroll view to work despite having used it in previous projects, as well as having a lot of other small technical issues at the early stages. As I was using storyboards which were new to me, that also took a little time getting used to. Once I’d got over these hurdles, the rest of the project ran fairly smoothly, with few technical issues beyond that point.

Again, the process of using illustrator and xcode was an iterative one. I ended up using both programs side by side, as when things got onto my iPad they looked and were interacted with slightly differently than I expected. The final two weeks of the project are where the most significant progress and design changes were made. One aspect that changed was the way the user scrolls through the photos. Originally I had planned it to go up and down; but once I took that onto the iPad I realised it was a strange interaction, leading me to look for app models to base the layout structure on. Coming across the TED talks app, I found it to be well designed with an intuitive interface and realised the side to side scroll would flow better within my app. Further changes were made to the menu system, this went through various different versions before settling on the final one. I think the way it was implemented in the end with the pop out menu to the left works best, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the visual style of it and this is something I would have refined further had I had more time. I chose to prototype one route down the app as each page would look the same, just containing different content. I’m happy with how much I managed to get done considering our short prototyping timescale, although I do have a number of areas I could expand on further given the time. Upon opening the app, the user is presented with a splash screen which would randomly display one of the days photographs. Once you have entered the app, there is a grid system which can be swiped between horizontally to view all the most recent photos. The menu system pops out from the top left button, allowing the user to select a different tag and display the relevant images. This menu can then move back by pressing the button again or using the swipe gesture. Selecting a photo takes the user to the relevant page; display a larger version, the news story, poems written and twitter responses. Responding to the author or other readers within the app is working, as well as a link that opens up the relevant news story in safari. I feel I managed to tie in all elements of the app in an aesthetically appealing style and with a little more functionality this could be a marketable app.

Throughout the course of this project I feel I’ve improved my prototyping skills, experimenting with a lot more tools to assist in my process. My goal was to design and create an application that provided readers with the context and inspiration that lead to the poetry and built a social sharing experience around that. While the functionality is not all there, I’ve successfully mocked up my design to a point that conveys the concept well. Working on our own was a big change this semester and I feel like I’ve gained a lot from this experience; becoming more focused and setting personal deadlines which are skills I can take on with me through to fourth year.

 

Brown, P. (2011) Phil Brown: Poetry Extinguished by Kindle? [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost. co.uk/phil-brown/poetry-kindle_b_1160624.html [Accessed 13 Jan 2013]

Yao, M. (2013) Mobile design: Avoid these 4 common user experience fails. [ONLINE] Available at: http:// venturebeat.com/2013/03/23/mobile-design-4-common-user-experience-fails/ [Accessed 02 April 2013]

Westerman, B (2008) How people really use the iPhone. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.slideshare.net/ createwithcontext/how-people-really-use-the-iphone-presentation [Accessed 07 March 2013]