13 Weeks in 1 post

Actually while I face time constraints like our other course mates (still have a project presentation this friday hah), I would just like to add that this blog reflection thing has been enjoyable for the most part. Not because I get to write lots of long posts (not really the over zealous class participation type), but because I got a chance to peek into the minds of so many cool people (usually really talented) and see what they have to say. So now what do I have to say…

After contemplating for a few minutes, I think what Ive learnt is expressed most aptly in these phrases:

Keep it REAL

It really applies in everything I have experienced in 3216. From cradle to grave (of an application/idea/product), as long as you are trying to sell it to other people, you have to have a very good idea of what is realistic in terms of the REAL and SPECIFIC problem.

For a while, I did not differentiate the REAL problem from generic problems or rather thoughts that ran through my head e.g. that the world is in a state of moral decline or that we are not spending enough time with our family.  Instead when you do enough research and asking around,  REAL problems would more likely be things like (correct me if I’m wrong): Ineffective Civics and Morals Education for Primary school children in Singapore. Or The older generation have difficulty connecting with the younger ones due to communicative barriers.

Because it affects everything you do, this must be the most important point that I got out of this module.

Keep it TIGHT

Even if you got the problem right, getting the solution right is a whole different story. So it helps if your solution is simple, clear and to the point.

Forget about trying to get it right the first time, things in the REAL world really arent as simple as solving mathematical problems in the past where there was only ONE correct answer. With real issues, there are usually many players (demographics & psychographics) and factors (environmental, social, political…) and let’s not even start about agenda.

So I guess Ive learnt that solutions need to be digestible. People need to see the link IN THEIR FACE and buy in to your idea NATURALLY. One additional food for thought: Humans are cognitive misers and they will spare no extra thought if it does not make sense to them in the first go (unless they are someone obliged to e.g. your friends, family, teacher)

Keep it YOU

I realized the human factor cannot be underestimated when working on a project. Make sure everyone is literally ONBOARD and seriously challenged to contribute to the vision and direction. Sometimes its not the most efficient way for short term projects but a definite must for anything that hopes to go long term.

I guess most of us would agree that our effort in doing something is proportionate to how much stake we have in it. And its not just about the grades because when you want the best out of someone then he/she really needs to see past the grades lest it makes no sense to work so hard. When you enter the AWESOME zone, people are personally driven because they believe in the idea and the people around them. For many projects including 3216, I have seen the difference in effort put in when people did not see themselves in the project. In short, Idea and Team must come togther.

Life is SHORT. Do what you LOVE.

It almost seems like 13 weeks flew by in a second, but haven’t we all lived long enough to know that our time is short?
I think this 13 weeks should give us a very good idea of how any other 13 weeks would have gone. In a flash. What matters is how you spend it. I am pretty proud and lucky to say that I spent to learning life lessons, meeting inspiring people and doing what I love. I hope everyone can say the same 🙂

Cheers to all my fellow lone nuts!
Through this experience, we have all become even tougher to crack! 🙂

It’s Showtime! Part 2 of 2

Interesting enough, all the meaningful apps came in the later part.
Starting with Lions befriender.

Lions Befriender

I definitely appreciate this effort to facilitate volunteer and admin work so that people can focus on the more important thing which is to spend time and interact with the lonely seniors. 🙂
Was wondering if the app could consider how it can support the actual interaction as well?

Touch Appetit

Very useful app to collect information about people’s dining behaviour and preferences.
Would be interested to see how the app can generate overall statistics in Singapore.
Would be interested how this can be deconflicted with physical queues and orders?

Letters to Amanda

Sounds like a really nice song haha 🙂 (Maybe not as emo as Diary of Jane haha)
The idea is simple and the UI is great 🙂
Just alittle concerned with the readability of the font?
And if I was wondering if I wanted to find those Amandas who shared the same experiences as me, could I find them? Maybe not a topic search but more of keywords? Just a thought 🙂

The Trove

Sounded like the troll the first time I heard it haha
Definitely useful for people living in the halls.
Perhaps can consider making it more of a time limit thing? haha inject some fun elements into the process?

SG River

Interesting app to learn about our heritage sites.
Would be interested to see more of the augmented reality elements? haha

It’s Showtime! Part 1 of 2

Je dis bravo! I really enjoyed the presentations from all the groups.
To my surprise, there was a good mix of utility apps, leisure apps and most of all there were a few meaningful apps besides ours. It’s really nice to know that others are also trying to create social impact as well 🙂

To give some reflections on what I thought of each of them:

Cab.SG

The application looked really easy to use. 🙂

I dun really get the nearest cab stand feature cos I guess we just want to take a cab at the nearest road? Seems just a tad unnecessary to me?
I guess the yellow color seems a little borrowed from the western cab color and even in Singapore, the yellow cabs are not from their client of premier cab? But whatever works right? haha
Also the fare calculator while it really serves the purposes of the commuters, I wonder if its something that the cab companies want to emphasize on? Can it factor traffic condition as well? I think that one seriously inaccurate calculation is going to put people off permanently?

Mystery Story

Interesting detective game (need to go finish the new chapters when Im done with my stuff later)
Good attempt to bring in some educational elements about the AED and would have hoped for a better tie in?
The ‘Guilty Face’ gameplay element was mentioned but unfortunately could not be implemented, I guess it would have been awesome to see that! :).
Nice splash screen and good effort with the in-game graphics I thought.

UOMe -> MoneySlate

The idea I had my reservations initially but once they brought in the group function, it really started to make sense to me. 🙂
Honestly, Im not very sure if the change in the name was a good move. I found the former much catchier haha. But I guess the group might have faced some comments about it being too direct if taken wrongly?
Think the final UI looked pretty cool although it was starting to look abit disorganized.
I also wondered how the app could aid in the last mile transaction between friends since it can be pretty touchy issue of asking your friends to pay back.

Yun Reading

First thing I thought was piracy issues haha.
Nice and simple UI that looks kinda like iBooks. 🙂
Dun really read ebooks much so not sure how big is this cross platform advantage?
Maybe if it includes a more unique feature like giving a space for budding writers to showcase their works?

Rob the Robot

Looks pretty 🙂
Not sure if its lost too much of the storybook element?
Looks more like a game but if thats the point then why not haha
Any ideas for more cooperative play since I think that would seriously increase the reach of this app?

Idea first or Team first? That is the Question.

Well to start things off.
This week’s lecture was pretty interesting I thought.
Prof Ben brought in two teams from previous batches of CS3216 to share on two case studies (their own projects) with two key lessons.

Firstly, KEEP IT SIMPLE.
That was the first lesson I got from the ‘Get Help’ case study.
I guess Ive mentioned enough about some of the design issues from my last post but I did pick up some new pointers from my course mates as well as the  presenters themselves (who were very open to criticism and opinions if I may add).

Mainly I was intrigued by the point made by Joey (if Im not wrong) about how the incentive of badges did not tell people what kind of tasks they helped out with. This was very much related to my previous consideration of how it would be difficult to measure what kind of help and reward users based on the quality of the help rendered. His question then triggered many creative and thoughtful responses (some ideas borrowed from Sims Social I suspect) about how this issue can be tackled…

Categorizing tasks based on TYPE (e.g. Design / Writing / Coding / etc) and perhaps to differentiate more, I would also add the QUALITY (e.g. Simple / Advanced / Expert). By extension, the badges would then be earned according to type of help and/or quality of help as well. Sounds pretty fair for everyone? 🙂

Although I do feel it does take a little out of helping for the sake of helping but I guess everyone knows how well that would work out… Humans are incentive driven and rarely purely altruistic but luckily a nice little badge to show off would more or less do the trick for generally nice people.

Moving on, they showed the revamped version of Get Help which in essence was SIMPLER.
It was much clearer to the user what the application was meant for and what they could do with it.
With more complicated processes,  they even staggered the release of information to the user so it was easily digestible.
The new version was a leap forward in the area of UI and definitely UX to say the least.

Other stuff I learnt from the team was like A-B testing which sounded pretty straight forward…Using google analytics to test two versions of UI or any other implementation. Somewhat like message testing for my communications campaign module but just switching out the focus group with google. Definitely very useful should I go into any form of web/app development in the future.

Second lesson was, and it is debatable, that TEAM should come before IDEA.
(Note to Ajay: I was like you before and maybe I still am, a great idea really rox 🙂 )
The sharing session by Vincent on “Fan Gan(aka Distasteful; Leaving a bad taste in your mouth) was very thought provoking and insightful. And as I reflected on my experiences with project groups in my 3 half years so far, I began to realize something very surprising even to myself…

For every time I felt that a project experience gave me “Fan Gan“, it was because I couldn’t get along with the team mates or felt that they were not pulling their weight and committing into the project. This was REGARDLESS of the quality of the idea because most of the time, the potential of the “BRILLIANT” idea (perhaps one in a million) could not be realized. They either could not see the beauty of the idea or did not have the passion to pursue it. Or even worse if the team (however made up of strong, talented individuals) falls apart once the idea faces some criticisms. How sad…

On the other hand, every time I felt that a project gave me “Hao Gan(aka happiness; sense of joy), it was because I got along with the group mates and realized that they were equally committed in delivering a good project. This was also REGARDLESS of the “ORIGINAL” idea because more often then not, the members were so ‘good’ that they would continuously wreck their brains to come up with better ones when the old one was found to have certain flaws. Eventually, the “FINAL” idea was perhaps not “BRILLIANT” but it was good enough, and the best part was that the whole team flowed with it and believed in it from start to end. The idea was flashed out in its entirety and everyone was proud of it. How inspiring…and I thought to myself maybe this is the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So bottom line is… TEAM and IDEA are both important (almost equally important for a good final product)
But if u ask me which should come first and which sequence would more likely bring success, I am more than willing to argue…

THE A TEAM. Because plan B would be even better than A.

Case Study 1: Get Help!

1. Usability vs Aesthetics (Is the interface attractive? Is it functional?)

As a designer, it probably behooves me to have a higher standard for judging the aesthetics of a application. Having said that, I would think that the design is somewhat found wanting in many areas (perhaps they need to ‘get help’ for this? lol). And actually I find it interesting that the question/guideline is listed as Usability vs Aesthetics, because true enough, in the team’s effort to make things look interesting or attractive, they seem to have essentially compromised in the usability department when it did not have to be like this. In the ideal scenario, we would have the aesthetics complementing and guiding the user to the functionality of the application. Be it the choice of colors, size of fonts and allocation and alignment of objects.

So what went wrong in my opinion,
– Lack of visual focus/sequence (especially on the main page)
– Colors not used well to guide eyes – Generally neutral (with some colors sprinkled randomly over the entire page)
– Poor alignment (or form of compartmentalization) to aid users to quickly identify the relevant parts of the page
– Overuse of  graphic icons – a source of distraction (especially ones that were not too important or not meant to be clicked on)
– No color/design theme to application (no fun and friendly attributed presented)

In terms of usability,
– Most noticeably would be the unnecessary check box system (esp. when you need to make a choice e.g. who to send)
– Lack of instructions (e.g. social media icons without any information/question)
– Slanted tab icons do little for aesthetics and affect ease of navigation

2. Number of options / freedom given to user when posting a need.
I think the options while good to have, are somewhat overbearing and cluttering the main page. Since the intention is to keep the process quick and simple, the options should be hid from the normal users and revealed on request for more detail orientated users to take their time to fill in the ‘extras’.

3. Cycle of interaction & incentives (Are the elements of the app engaging?)
Honestly, I tried to find something inherently fun looking with interface but the only things that came close were the types of help buttons that were somewhat cute. The other would be the badges that were quite interesting and probably served as a good incentive to users to help more and earn them. But overall it feels to me like the cycle of interaction is quite cut off between the helper and the helpee and the appeal created is quite artificial(stats and badges) and not human/prosocial centric.

4. Other problems you think the team might have faced
Probably envisioning the actual helping and rating of the help rendered would be a tough consideration. Because the actual help would most probably take place off the interface and possibly face-to-face, its probably not easy to create a kind of feedback system that is timely and fair (esp. if people are doing it for the prestige of the badges).

PDF Expert

As a designer, I guess I like to take things from a more visual perspective.

For me, the first impression that I gathered from PDF Expert was from its logo on my course mates’ presentation. Most noticeably would be the EYE and the PDF word which translates to “view PDF”?.

Another PDF viewer? Or so I thought.

It turns out that PDF Expert tries to be that and so much more.
In its attempt to bring value to the user or differentiate itself from the competition, it seems to have incorporated a little too much. And it shows in the $9.99 price tag.

Aptly brought out by another course mate, “Would you choose to buy a $9.99 app that can do what 10 $0.99 apps can do?” The notion of convenience subsequently became its  main defense but it really makes one wonder how we can or should put a price tag on such rather intangible and peripheral benefits. No doubt in this time and age, aesthetics and ease of use (e.g. convenience, efficiency) play a major role in pricing strategies and sometimes even command the bulk of the price we are paying.

So where does this app stumble where others have succeeded?

A suggestion by the presenting team and also prevalent in the feedback for many of other ‘overpriced’ or ‘confused’ applications was the idea of identifying your target segment and crafting the image (and functions of cos) to fit that one particular group.  In short, marketing. But before I get into that issue too much, let’s talk about the app itself as presented by the  team in 3 major topics that I feel most important for an app critique.

What truly sets PDF Expert apart?
Forget the speed or the beautiful and simplistic (Metro style) UI, these are all well and good but considering the purpose of this application as something that is work related, I do feel that 1) speed has become more of a prerequisite, no? 2) a user can learn the UI which openly displays its functionalities (sometimes its even better than hiding them in multiple layers?).

So for me, its down to its array of extended functions that work around PDF files that competitors do not offer e.g. signature, custom stamp, accessibility functions (The ‘open in’ function to export edited PDFs to other apps as well as ‘Wifi drive’ to move files quickly across devices are other cool features not mentioned).

Usually we would call this value but does it still count when its already factored in the price tag? Lucky for PDF Expert, it does seem to be the only one in the market offering such features (for now).

What would kill PDF Expert?
Mentioned was its price and stability issues. I agree.  However, the pricey issue harks back to the way this app is marketed, just as a competent PDF viewer the price is definitely off the roof but as a one-stop document solutions for business executives? Perhaps not too bad. Its all relative. Just think the $999.99 Barmax, a lawyer application that was mentioned in class. Sometimes we even want to pay more. Because paying more is a display of higher status and a show of financial ability and etc… Basically its the same with all the branded goods out there including the iPad. The question is how we can amplify and project this intangible benefits to prospect buyers/users?

On the issue of stability, it does seem like a recurring problem in many apps. I guess it could be a slight drawback of the agile development model? (Just a question, apologies if Im just confused with how it works). From my understanding, sometimes massive user generated crash reports can shed more light in a shorter period of time and aid in debugging? Maybe this is why we are seeing this problem more evident in early versions of apps nowadays because they want to take advantage of this? A double-edged sword of sorts?

What could make PDF Expert better?
As brought out by the team, I agree one of them is definitely market focus. Below is a diff variation that was just released 17 June 2011 and here it seems that they have dealt with many of the key issues.

From the get-go, the name is PDF Expert Enterprise. Its categorized under ‘Business’ apps and visually fits the bill as well. Now I would visually read it as “everything a businessman needs to do with PDFs and  there’s some sharing and collaborative options”. I feel that this new interpretation of the app definitely does more justice to its functionality and price tag (the enterprise variation is FREE at the moment)

Hidden under the hood, they have also enhanced security options, created a user system and added push notifications to really bring out the timely and efficiency factor that would resonate with business executives. Such is the importance and beauty of good design to create an app that appeals and makes sense to users.

Having said all that, it made me reflect on my own group’s critique of inClass as well. As course mates were questioning the significance of our app, I did feel that we ought to have flashed out our comparison of other similar apps that led us to choose inClass in the end.

Because only by comparison, can we gauge the merits and demerits sometimes.
Overall, I learnt many approaches taken by the different presentations to critique an application e.g. using hard figures, comparison or even industry/user trends.

Maybe next time I can use a little of all these techniques. 

All about Microsoft

In this week’s lecture, Prof Ben invited some guests (one of them being his ex-student) from Microsoft to share on some new stuff on the horizon, most notably HTML5.

It looked promising.

For me, HTML5 seemed like a window into more design and interactive possibilities on my Website without much knowledge of hard coding. Or so I hope haha. It was nice to see many rich media functions integrated into the HTML like introduction of the new media and audio tags. Although this wasn’t a problem solver (maybe on Apple devices) but at least a time saver.

Then came the demos.

I guess the most interesting part for me (and probably for most in the class) would be the showcase of the things HTML5 can do after all the talk. I was impressed by the canvas function and its ability to generate dynamic graphics and animation in real time. Although it didnt seem to work very well on other browsers just yet, as a designer, I’m really happy to see that the realm of aesthetics and design take off into a new dimension with the introduction of such new technologies. Definitely high time for me to keep up with the skills and knowledge to harness the power of these emerging platforms haha.

This was followed by some promotion on Microsoft’s latest Windows Phone 7, Upcoming Windows 8 OS and its overall Mango development platform. Something that I wasn’t too interested in except for the mention of their new UI design philosophy:

The METRO UI design philosophy
– a typography based design language that focuses on designs that are ‘simple, clean and modern’

I thought to myself: “Finally Microsoft realizes how Apple has been making their products look so cool and sophisticated with their minimalist designs and beautiful typography, but a little late I guess”
Considering the whole smart phone industry has more or less all gone down this path with the cool HTC and Samsung interfaces, it wasn’t looking like a USP for them at all (at least for the visuals part of the concept)

Guess its all good for me though.
Now that everything needs a good DESIGN, I wont be worried about doing what I love.

Because we can learn from those before us…

This week’s lecture really drove home the point that this module was more interested in teaching life skills that would stick with you for life as compared to specific technical skills and practical know-how (in fact that would not work very well since the specific skills required for the project would be too wide to teach to a class with such diversity).

Not to say that there was no relevance to our project.
Quite the contrary, there was much to learn and apply.

For a part of the lecture, Prof Ben shared about several processes for software engineering; instructing the use of the agile process must suited for app development in our case. He also made many of the otherwise difficult technical stuff about programming easier to understand for non-programmers like myself and gave general tips for teams to keep in mind. Very useful stuff I felt.

For the other part, Prof Ben invited his old students from previous 3216 classes to share their experiences. As I listened to each of them, I was impressed by their apparent aptitude and passion to do what they thought was meaningful and challenging. More importantly, I was particularly intrigued when John (think that was his name) shared about how he did not work very well with his opinionated designer. To me, the issue was very real and  posed a potential obstacle for my project since I myself can be rather fixated on my ideals. Fortunately, he went on to share his reflections on the entire problem and gave simple steps to overcome it through clarity of communication and respectful forthrightness when faced with differing views. This was something that I internalized and used immediately after the  lecture when discussing the app concept with my programming team mates. In my mind, I thought to myself…

It doesn’t hurt to overcommunicate.
Clarity is key.
Timely and honest feedback counts.

Back to the sharing session, another senior (Zi Han) then continued to talk more on the more macro aspects of working in a team. It was interesting to see how he broke down the team composition of each of the project he had completed and explain how it affected very much the team dynamics. A rather insightful look into the art of group work I would say.

In essence, not matter how good you think you are…
Teamwork can be the make or break factor.

Let’s hope everyone got the message and strives to be a good team player on top of being an excellent programmer/designer.

A Taste of Things to Come…

After the first session on Thurs, I, like everyone else in the room, had a better idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Essentially, a roll coaster ride.

The introduction by Prof on the lofty ideals of this course and about it being inspired by Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture got me thinking about the more important things in Life. Most importantly, it was another affirmation (there is never enough it seems when u live in Singapore) that we should strive to fulfill our passion and maximize the potential of our individual talents instead of living our lives in pursuit of material success. Choosing my passion for communication and media design over the pragmatic and even prestigious courses was a choice that I knew was right but one that never fails to garner curious and confused expressions from some relatives and friends. As much as the pressure mounts on the external, I realized the final bastion of hope & confidence (before we all fall to the dark side i.e. wall street) must come from within. For that, I think I might always remember something that Prof said to the other computer scientists in the room…

“Let’s have some pride in what we do.”

It is definitely something that applies to everyone who has a special passion that is not “recognized” by our pragmatic society, which is run like a business if I may add. But I am not complaining because perhaps this gift/curse is something that will enrich our human experiences in the way that those in the race only for more cheese will never comprehend.

And guess what?
Pride was exactly what I saw in many of the works presented during the show & tell session.
It was a humbling experience to say the least. 

To think that so many had already made an app or something similar before joining this course, it made me feel like a dwarf before giants. But on the bright side, it meant that I had so much to learn from my teammates and reminded me that it was a course to get out of my comfort zone…so like what Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat would say:

“It has begun…”(cue awesome techno song for MK fans: watch?v=WepQkUUQzGg :))

That which does not kill you, makes you stronger?

I guess it was the concept behind the age old adage that drew me to CS3216? Somewhat like the housefly who cant take its eyes off the alluring UV light in the bug zapper. Except with the stark awareness that the light is possibly going to kill me.

But there is hope yet.
Because I intend to prepare myself for a much bigger bug zapper out there: the creative industry and by extension the world. Call me a little masochistic but I am far from alone. CS3216 as I have heard is a unique gathering of the toughest and most resilient nuts in NUS who firmly believe in “no pain, no gain”.

So being a aspiring nut (peanut?), there’s a few things I hope to achieve at the end of it all:

1) Know thyself

As prof mentioned, CS3216 isn’t really meant to be just a normal module. It tries to be something more than that (with no little credit from the pressure and stress it attempts to create for its students). And I really believe that it is in tough times that we can truly understand our own strengths and weaknesses. Not to suggest that CS3216 is going to bring me to the limits of mental and physical endurance, but Ill take it from Dumbledore when he says “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Fortunately, I have confidence to say that most, if not all in this course, will know what to do. For me, Design is my strength so lets see how far that takes me.

2) Know thy enemy

Actually, this is kinda related to the first point. Because most of the time, we are defeated by ourselves by self-doubt and other character/personality flaws. But I guess I refer here more to external factors that limit our potential and possibilities. Yes one of them would be Time, our common enemy. Other enemies would include Poor group communication and literally Poor group mates (not just people who are incompetent but sometimes people who are TOO competent it gets to their heads). This module is definitely going to be about confronting many of these woes head on.

3) Know thy AWESOME application

Perhaps the one most related to the course work, which really got me interested. Making a cool application that solves a practical problem or offers a real unique experience would be on top of my wishlist as a Communications and New Media student. And its not just the end that I relish, but the process of which I hope to understand, the thought process, teamwork and perseverance that every entrepreneur would have learnt on their way to success.