A couple months ago, at the time of writing this, I noticed there was a need for a mobile app. The app was very targeted to a group of people and an organization. After talking with a few people about my idea I decide that the need for this target group was large enough that I should go ahead with building the app.

The app in question is for spectators to record the scores given by judges as an ATA event. Currently people just write them down on paper and keep track there. The scoring is a fairly simple 3 judge scoring system. The problem for the spectators is that there is no score board for them view.

I am using jQuery Mobile, and PhoneGap to build the app. I have build a bunch of things with these tools before but mostly for fun. This will be the first commercial type app, that will go into the app stores, that has my name on it.

Over the course of the next couple months I made a few UI designs and floated those around. I received feedback and took parts of each one and created the final UI prototype. After checking with some people I went ahead and started building the app.

It took about a month to build the app from the UI mockups to a working, but crude, pro to type. I again enlisted feedback from some people and got more great feedback. I then continued to build the app out to a more alpha level and it worked as well as expected. I also finalized the features list for the first release. All that was left was to test it in the real world.

My real world testing would let me know a lot of things. Most importantly, if my design would hold up under real world conditions. I could also show the app to people outside my testing group and get some feedback.

The people that I showed it to were excited that someone was finally filling the void. Most of them had been looking for something like it for a long time but found nothing. They all asked the same basic question, when will it be available.

I didn't let anyone play with the app so all they had to go on was what I showed them. At this point I have at least gotten past my first problem. There is a need for it and people will want it. This got me excited as I felt I was on the right track.

After the real world testing my wife and I discussed the good and the bad of the app. We both decided that it did what it was intended to do but fell drastically short in a few major areas.

Here is what I learned...

  • UI Design that looked good for basic testing failed to be easy to use in the real world.
  • Navigational issues slowed down the the user experience.
  • Layout issues caused major difficulty in data entry and usability.
  • Initial event setup to too long.
  • To much data entry redundancy.
  • Data entry needs to be streamlined.
  • Don't use a hydration enabled app in real world testing scenarios.
This real world testing shed some light on things that would have otherwise gone on unnoticed. I now had an opportunity to reflect on what I have done so far and see how I want to move forward.

After a couple lengthily discussions with a couple advisors I have decided to scrap what I have written and start over. The issues faced in the real world are just to great. I would have to rework so many parts of the app to correct the issues that is just better to start with a clean slate. I will be able to port over much if the work that I already did so it is not a total loss.

I thought what I had designed was great, totally easy to use and solved the issues the app was intending to solve. However, when it came down to it, I was wrong. The app was cumbersome, redundant, and hard to navigate.

Thankfully I was able to real world test the application. This type of testing proved to be invaluable for my situation. It will cost me a ton of work but saved tons of people frustrations in trying to use it. I now only have a few weeks to blast through it and get out a completely reworked version.

So, if you have the opportunity, take the time to real world test your application. Get a small focus group to help if you have to. Do it early in the development cycle so you can get early feedback. Also, be prepared for the testing feedback to not be 100% positive. Save yourself the headache of dealing with angry, frustrated, customers.

Till next time...

--Dave