Developing apps for Grandma: Developer, know thy user

If you’ve heard anything about software development in the last five years, you’ve probably heard someone talk about “knowing your user” or “putting the user first”. The massive growth of Apple in the last decade has shone a massive spotlight on relentless user focus and has caused developers at companies large and small to re-think their priorities and put usability first. However, if knowing your user is so important, what do you do when you don’t know or have anything in common with your user?

Recently, we were approached and hired to develop an application for a group of users that fits that description perfectly: non-tech savvy grandmothers and grandfathers. The gist of the app is to make it easier for them to access a specific kind of content that they have on their computers easily and quickly on their smartphones. What makes this task so interesting is that it’s not about facilitating them to do something they can’t already do: a user with any amount of tech savvy could accomplish this task with relative ease. It’s about making it so somebody with almost NO knowledge of the technology they’re using can transfer and easily  access this content with getting overly frustrated.

This task is 100% about knowing your user and catering to their needs by making existing technology more useable. The problem is, I’m a developer, capable of not only using difficult applications, but creating them from scratch. I pride myself on being a mid-adopter who is in touch with his “how I open Word again?” roots, but going into the project I found myself wondering if I really could adequately put myself in the shoes of someone who thinks opening Safari just opens Google and that Firefox opens the Internet.

So I did the only thing I could do: I talked to my own grandmother, creator of the aforementioned “Safari=Google” theory. She told me about using her computer and what she hates about it, and it was eye opening. She hates the updates and the clutter. She only wants to send and receive email, check her bank account, and use Google and that’s it. If there were 3 icons on her screen: Email with just an in and out box, her bank account, and Google that would be perfect. So even though she CAN access those 3 things from any web browser that exists, that’s not really sufficient: it’s not easy enough and browsers are too cluttered with, well, the internet.

My eyes opened, I now undertake the task of making her vision of simplicity and ease of access a reality, at least for one type of content.  Wish me luck (I’m going to need it).

i.e. StartUp Competition

The Richmond region is home to a diverse and vibrant community. Every day, in our garages and laboratories, studios and galleries around town, the RVA Creative Class creates impactful, creative and innovative solutions across all disciplines. i.e.* is a galvanizing initiative to launch Richmond into the limelight and over time, put us on the map for innovative excellence. An excited crowd voted for their for favorite contestants in the 2012 i.e.* StartUp Competition. On June 21st, 2012, at Richmond CenterStage, 143 contestants competed for a chance to win a $10,000 , six months free office space, and an opportunity to tell their story on stage at the upcoming TedXRVA event in the Fall of 2012. In support of the competition Shockoe has developed a voting system, both a native iPhone app and web mobile app, featuring full descriptions of each finalist, and  real-time in app voting.

 

 

Development Tools

– Appcelerator Titanium Mobile Platform

App Features

– Real time voting system

– Full group descriptions

– Real time results

Vote for your favorite contestants in the 2012 i.e.* StartUp Competition. On June 21st, 2012, at Richmond CenterStage, 143 contestants will be competing for a chance to win a $10,000 CASH PRIZE (generously contributed by  Cherry, Bekaert & HollandSix months free office space, and an opportunity to tell your story on stage at the upcoming TedXRVA event in the Fall of 2012. In support of the competition Shockoe has developed a voting system for both iphone and android devices, featuring full descriptions of each finalist, and  real-time in app voting. The app will be available for download soon in both the Apple App market and Android Play Market.

Voting criteria: 

* Evaluation of the viability of your business to be successful

* Evaluation of the innovative nature of your business

* Originality of your product or service in the market

What is i.e.* ? 

The Richmond region is home to a diverse and vibrant community. Every day, in our garages and laboratories, studios and galleries around town, the RVA Creative Class creates impactful, creative and innovative solutions across all disciplines. i.e.* is a galvanizing initiative to launch Richmond into the limelight and over time, put us on the map for innovative excellence.

Register to attend the i.e.* Start-Up Competition Finale HERE!

This event begins at 7pm (doors open at 6pm) and is free and open to the public. After the competition, join us for a celebration of all of our contestants at a party in Rhythm Hall at CenterStage ($15 per person, payable at the door via cash, check or credit card).

TechCrunch Visits Richmond to Foster Entrepreneurship

Last Wednesday TechCrunch, hosted a meetup in Richmond at the Snagajob.com offices to foster entrepreneurialism in the region.  A widely respected and entrepreneur-focused technology blog, TechCrunch has a global audience is a must-read for many venture capitalists and technology moguls, so to have them visit was a big deal.

So …

Entrepreneurship and Richmond?

Absolutely!

TechCrunch’s visit brought together over 100 entrepreneurs, angel investors, tech industry insiders, and even the idle curious in an effort to encourage attendees to pitch entrepreneurial ideas to each other or to TechCrunch themselves and see where it might lead.

While we’ll have to wait and see what pacts were sealed with a ride on the Snagajob slide, TechCrunch’s visit validates a shift that many are already noticing in Richmond, but we’ll let TechCrunch tell you themselves:

It looks like this town is just starting to unwind a little and consider entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to the corporate life, so we’re pretty excited to be here.

While Richmond has been home to some titans of industry, entrepreneurial examples like Snagajob and Create Digital are proving that there’s room in Richmond for grass-roots growth in the new economy.  While the recession has been tough on many, it’s also provided the proper creative and financial push to explore new opportunities and create new technologies with much lower barriers of entry to a global marketplace.

Of course with any new venture, there’s always going to be risk, but one of the TechCrunch hosts encouraged attendees to thoughtfully consider the risk versus the reward – and to be bold.  “Make your pitch,” Jordan Crook urged attendees when it came to their business ideas. “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?  A potential investor says no?  That’s nothing, then you just move onto the next one.”

Crook noted that right now is the very best time for new ideas and new companies to jump into the deep end.  Good ideas will prevail, and Crook noted that in the present economic climate that starting a business or product now that proves viable will only set those entrepreneurs up all the better once the economy picks up.

So we ask … how do the risk and reward truly measure up?  Are you poised to gain from the rapid expansion into the mobile environment?  How can we help your idea become a reality?