Applessons

Okay so thus far, I have researched many areas in order to create my app and I have done just that.  I have created an application, so what’s next?  Academically as Masters Students, we have to produce an exhibition of our work, you can find out more about that process here.

The next stage for my app professionally is to promote and distribute my application.  The distribution process is currently on hold due to a recent hacking of Apple’s development centre but I have been able to work on the promotion.

It is my intention to build a brand of educational applications under the name ‘applessons’.  The Vikings app will hopefully be the first of many educational apps that I will release.  The ‘applessons’ name is an idea I had whilst brainstorming names that either related to the term app (which is a shortening of the word application) or educational terms, as the overriding purpose of my application will be to educate people.  I feel that by branding my range of applications with this name, it will hopefully be obvious to people what applessons is and does.  A joint branding for all my apps will hopefully be beneficial in the future, as I hope that users of one app may decide to choose further apps based upon a hopefully engaging, informative experience from other apps within the range.

I have designed a logo for ‘applessons’ which you can see below:

applessons-logo

I have also built a website to promote my app.  In his article “20 WAYS TO PROMOTE YOUR APP FOR FREE” Bobby Gill say’s “Create a web site for your app!” Jonathan Saragossi also believes this is a good idea “Again, another major element that I’ve seen many developers overlook. Build a home for your app, a place where you can freely describe why it’s so great without the limitations of the app market description page.”  To see the website that I have created, click here.

My website also features links to various aspects of social media, which I intend to use as promotional tools in order to spread the word and build my brand.  Gill (2013) mentions a number of social media brands in his article, for example “Facebook – It goes without saying: create a Facebook page!”  Social media will be an important tool in the branding and publication of my website.

On my website I will also be promoting a bespoke design service for others who may be looking for an app designer to produce apps for all types of new media, see here.

Gill, B. (2013) Ways to Promote Your App For Free! [online] Available at: http://www.ideatoappster.com/20-ways-to-promote-your-app-for-free/, [accessed 6th July 2013]

Saragossi, J. (2013) 9 Insider Tips for Promoting Your App [online] Available at: http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2013/07/20/9-insider-tips-for-promoting-your-app/, [accessed 6th July 2013]

User Testing Blog

User Testing is a vitally important part of the creation of any usable digital creation. Throughout the development of my application, I have been conducting informal user testing with the younger members of my family and their friends and I have recently conducted formal user testing at Holy Name R.C Primary School.

The user testing at the school was an extremely productive undertaking but before I start evaluating and explaining my findings, I want to take a little look at the value and processes of user testing.

User testing helps test the usability of a designed artefact, the Nielsen Norman Group define usability as:

Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use”. The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.

Usability is defined by 5 quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?”
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

Nielson (2012) http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/

It is often hard to know when and how many usability tests are needed within the design process, usability expert Steve Krug says “Timing is everything

Most companies can only afford to pay for one round of usability testing, which they’ll do near the end of the development cycle, when the thing’s almost finished,” Krug continues.  “Unfortunately, that’s the worst possible time to do a test. Yes, you’re going to find problems but you’re not going to be able to do anything about them any more. Some of them are going to be deep-seated problems. If you start testing at the very beginning of your design, though, you can pretty quickly uncover those problems.”

Krug (2011) http://m.netmagazine.com/interviews/steve-krug-diy-usability-testing

According to the Nielsen Norman Group “The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” Nielson (2000) http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

This is good news for me, as it means that my smaller informal tests that I had previously conducted were a step in the right direction of this little and often approach and it means that my more formal school based testing, can be conducted with a smaller impact to the everyday business of the school.

User testing with children has its own challenges; Tom Stewart offers advice for usability testing with children in his article ‘Tips for Usability Testing with Children’.  Stewart starts by explaining that clinical user testing labs can be counterproductive to the task when dealing with children, a friendly, familiar environment can often yield better results.  A familiar face can also be helpful, as described by Stewart:

When testing with younger children it is important to have a parent or familiar adult around to provide reassurance. The adult may or may not participate directly in the session depending on what we are trying to achieve and what sort of feedback we need.” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

Jamie Sands is a Usability Consultant at User Vision, he also agrees that the comfort of the user is very important:

Usability testing is most effective when the respondents being tested are comfortable and therefore happy to think and discuss what they are interacting with. If children are not at ease, they are unlikely to respond in a natural manner and less likely to give their attention to the tasks at hand.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

The pressure of a “test” can be scary for all people especially children, so you should also try and make the research less daunting:

The experiment should be welcoming and not intimidating. All usability testing can potentially feel like a test that the user can pass or fail.  To avoid this, the moderator needs to be comforting and reassuring to the respondent to ensure they do not feel as if they themselves are being tested.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

When assigning tasks during testing, it is also import to consider their appropriateness in relation to the child’s ability.  Stewart (2010) says “Make sure the length of the session and the difficulty of task is appropriate to the children’s age and development.”   Children are also more prone to boredom and distraction which can also be a problem during user testing with children, Stewart explains:

The facilitator has to keep a close watch for boredom, fatigue or children becoming too engrossed in one task and have a range of options ready to move the session on to more productive areas.

We always try to aim for sessions which are fun and tasks which are engaging with lots of different activities, games and breaks for snacks and drinks.” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

In order to get an accurate result from user testing, it is important to understand that children communicate differently to adults, and understanding this can make the interpretation of the experiment easier, as explained by Stewart:

It is important to recognise that children communicate in different ways, many of them non-verbal. Facilitators need to be flexible and use appropriate communication techniques.  Very young children (under 6) are often not able to express themselves verbally, so behavioural observations can be as important as verbal feedback (e.g. smiling, fidgeting, sighing, groaning).” Stewart (2010) http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children

Sands also discusses interpreting responses during user testing:

Children are often less vocal, or less able to verbalise their opinions about issues they experience. An uncomfortable child may be too shy or uneasy in giving responses if they feel they are being tested and are concerned that they may say the wrong thing. Whereas adults will express their feelings vocally, children are more likely to offer clues non-verbally, by fidgeting, smiling and their body language etc. The experimenter should be aware of these cues and note these in conjunction with potential problems experienced with the site. Look for the child’s lack of engagement with the site. Yawning and fidgeting can be clear signs that the site is no longer capturing the child’s attention.” Sands (2010) http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/

I structured my tests in a way that I hope will allow me to get the greatest amount of information from the testing experience.

IMG_0034 IMG_0033

I arranged for a school governor, who regularly visits the school to help with reading to accompany me, as I believed this would help the children to feel more at ease.  I firstly introduce myself and explain that this is not a test for them but it’s a test for me, so there is no need for them to be nervous.  The next step is to let the children have free roam of the application, while I make notes based my observations of their choices, usage and general behaviour.  I then ask the children to complete a small amount of tests, followed by 4 questions about the experience.

Recording user testing is important, in order to review and document the events as they happen, for evaluation at a later date.  This recording can be done in a number of ways, including video recordings, audio dictation and written accounting based upon observation.  Due to the age of the testers and the setting in which the testing is taking place, the most appropriate method of documentation and the one I have employed is written accounting based upon observation.  Video and audio recording of young children raises too many problems, that could jeopardise my opportunity to conduct testing.

The results

I was originally planning to produce some form of visual reference to demonstrate how the testing went, i.e. a chart but in some ways the testing went too well.

The users also completed the tasks I set them successfully, showing a good understanding of how to navigate within the application and how to operate all of the interactive features that they encountered.  This could be interpreted as evidence that the design is effective and that no changes are needed but I feel another round of user testing, time permitting may be needed in order to reinforce these initial findings.

The most interesting results in my opinion, came from my observation during the free roaming time at the start of the test.  During this stage I noticed that the children were drawn towards the highlighted interactive elements within the app and they sometimes missed elements that had been left un-highlighted.  This was exactly the reason why I left some interactive content without highlights, so that I could establish whether the highlighting technique was effective; see the difference between the two below:

Without Glow

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 17.06.24

With Glow

IMG_0032

I did noticed that the hit recognition area on a couple of buttons needed increasing and the text on one of the buttons needed changing.  I also realised that I needed to add arrows to the Viking house interior.

As a result of my testing, I have changed the elements indicated above which will hopefully improve the usability of my application.

All users tested said they liked the application and expressed a desire to use applications like this within their normal classroom lessons and indications to back up these statements were given during the testing by the children, in comments such as “cool” and “that’s class

All of the children indicated that their favourite elements of the application were the interactives and in particular the students enjoyed seeing themselves wearing a Viking helmet.  This was what I was hoping for but I do hope that the interactives do not divert attention from the other elements, as my application needs to work on all levels.  I did however notice that all students read the text and some gave answers based on illustration and animations, which is a good indication that all elements are communicating information.

Prior to the user testing my main concern was that the user’s would struggle with the amount and level of the text within the application but to my delight all of the users tested managed very well with the text, although the head teacher did point out that the younger age users may struggle with the amount of text.

The school’s Headteacher raised the question of audio within the application; previously I have been encouraged by some people within my education establishment to include background noises to some of the scenes within my application.  This was something I have resisted, as I believe it would not be appropriate if the application was been used within an education setting such as a classroom; can you imagine 30 children using the application at the same time but all at different parts of the app, each with differing sounds blurring out, mixing to make an unorganised hum of pure noise?

This would be counterproductive to the learning environment and process, and although the volume could be simply turned down, the time it would take to ensure each student had turned the sound off could be better used by actually teaching or exploring with the application.  The head teacher agreed that sounds of that nature would not be appropriate for an application of this type but she did suggest that maybe some audible Viking words within the Viking Language section would be a good addition to the application, this was a good re-enforcement to previously stated intentions to add such a feature within the Viking language section of my application.

Overall my testing has been a great success; my application appears to be easy to use, whilst communicating information to and entertaining the user.  I would like to leave this post with a quote from one of the children tested: “that’s class”.

Bibliography

DuVerneay, J. (2013) When to Test: Incorporating User Testing into Product Design,

[online] Available at: http://www.usertesting.com/blog/2013/03/04/when-to-test-incorporating-usability-testing-into-product-design/, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Krug, S. (2011) DIY Usability Testing, [online] Available at:

http://m.netmagazine.com/interviews/steve-krug-diy-usability-testing, [accessed 30th May 2013]

 Nielsen Norman Group, no publication date, Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox Articles, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/topic/user-testing/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2000) Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Nielson, J. (2012) Usability 101: Introduction to Usability, [online] Available at: http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-101-introduction-to-usability/, [accessed 31st May 2013]

Sands, J. (2010) Usability Testing with Young Audiences, [online] Available at: http://www.uservision.co.uk/resources/articles/2010/usability-testing-young-audiences/, [accessed 29th May 2013]

Stewart, T. (2010) Tips for Usability Testing with Children, [online] Available at:

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/5543-tips-for-usability-testing-with-children, [accessed 30th May 2013]

Hull Digital Live 2012

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

Hull Digital Live is a digital conference based in Hull which features talks by professionals from within the worldwide digital industry, having been unable to attend last year’s event I was really looking forward to attending this year’s event especially when recently I recently read the bio for one of this year’s guest speakers Fraser Speirs

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

So who is Fraser Speirs? And what will he be speaking about at HD Live 2012? (see below)

Fraser Speirs is an Apple Distinguished Educator and if you don’t know what that means neither did I until I investigated further. The Apple Distinguished Educator program is

“The Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) program was created to recognize K-12 and higher education pioneers who are using a variety of Apple products to transform teaching and learning. Today it has grown into a worldwide community of visionary educators and innovative leaders who are doing amazing things with technology in and out of the classroom. That includes working together — and with Apple — to help bring the freshest, most innovative ideas to students everywhere.”

http://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-educator/

I intend to post a blog in the near future with a more in depth look at Apples Programme but for time being let’s get back to the matter at hand. Buoyed by this fact there was a guest speaker that would be speaking on a subject directly related to my M.A research I proceeded to try and book my ticket for the event only to find out that this year there are no student priced tickets available and I cannot afford a full priced ticket but undeterred I contacted John Moss Hull Digital Lives’ founder to enquire about student priced tickets for this year’s event and he explained that student tickets are available but only to institutions and he told me Hull School of Art and Design have purchased a number of places, so he advised me to ask at Hull School of Art and Design, I know these tickets are usually reserved for new media degree students but I intend to enquire if there are any spare places available as I feel this event would be of great benefit to my M.A research.

Links

http://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-educator/

http://2012.hd-live.co.uk/

Where did they travel? part 02 (Trading)

Q: What do an Arabian woman; A Viking and a camel have in common? (No it’s not a joke)

A: They all feature in the second part of my ‘Where did they travel?’ section of my application.

So how exactly do these things bare relevance to this part of my application?  Trade, the Vikings travelled all over the world trading and this is the focus of this part of my application.  To support the text in this part of my application, I am creating a middle eastern bazaar (market) to show how far the Vikings travelled to trade goods.  By choosing a middle eastern location, I am hoping to show how the Vikings may have encountered even further reaching cultures, through the convergence of traders from both east and west on middle eastern trading centres.  Far eastern silks have been found by archaeologists in Scandinavian graves and middle eastern pigments have been found on a recovered Viking ship, the favoured explanation for these seemingly out of place artefacts is trade.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Raiders-or-Traders.html

I am hoping my bazaar scene will convey this sense of multicultural trade, to create my image I began by creating a mood board of inspirational images, see below:

Having decided on an idea, I searched for source material in order to help me create the individual elements of my scene, to create the elements I used two different methods.; the first method involved finding some images and digitally cutting out the parts I required, then using an Adobe Photoshop filter called Poster edges, in order to create an effect that would blend well with the imagery I generated using my second method, see example below:

The second method involved me finding source material which I used as inspiration to draw my own vector imagery, using Adobe illustrator, some of the images that appear larger and in the foreground of my scene have more detail than some of the images that appear in the background, see examples below:

I then blended both sets of imagery together to form one complete scene which you can see below:

Below is the finished image in my application with the accompanying text.

Where did they travel? part 01

I have started work on the next section of my application entitled ‘Where did they travel?’, the first part of this section is an overview of where and why the Vikings travelled and to support the textual information I have created a map showing some of the places the Viking travelled, see below:

Obviously a map of this size cannot be displayed effectively in the small space I have available in my application, so I have made the map a draggable feature so that the user can move the map and focus on a particular area, I have also been testing out the feature, common on a lot of mobile applications where the inspection of visual content may be necessary.  Pinch to Zoom is an input method designed for use on multi-touch devices where the user touches the screen with two fingers drawing them towards each other in a pinching motion, this then results in a zooming function on the device, I got the code working to enable this feature but have subsequently disabled this feature as it was hard to control and I felt it would have caused more harm to the user experience than any benefits that may have been gained.  To see the finished dragable map, see the video below:

Illuminated Letters

During my last meeting with our external examiner, he suggested that I look at illuminated manuscripts as a source of inspiration and I nodded in agreement saying “yes of course I will”, when honestly I had no idea what he was talking about but like the diligent student I am, I started researching illuminated manuscripts and I can see why they were suggested to me, I visited some of the sources below:

The british library

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/welcome.htm

http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/TourIntroGen.asp

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/

The encyclopedia britttanica

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/283009/illuminated-manuscript

But by far my favourite no nonsense easy to understand resource is the one below:

http://hrsbstaff.ednet.ns.ca/kmason/images/Illuminations1.pdf

Basically illuminated manuscripts are very old manuscripts with artistic embellishments and illustrations that where popular in the middle ages

My research led me to create a mood board, see below:

The style of illuminated manuscripts has a strong resemblance to the theme that I am employing in my application and I believe this is why the external examiner suggested them as a potential inspirational resource.

As I have been working on my application, I have not been happy with the titles featured at the top of my application and I have decided to use illuminated letters as part of my new titles. Illuminated letters were usually the first letter of a page or paragraph within an illuminated manuscript. They where always enlarged and coloured often featuring a lot of gold, the rest of the text remained a singular colour which was often back. Different images were used as embellishments to decorate the letters including animals, plants, and mythological creatures. These images were modified to fit into or around the letter, or in some cases took on the shape of the letter itself. As a source of inspiration I created a mood board, see below:

I have created 3 illuminated letters as currently that is all I require, as most of my title start with the same letters, see below:

My designs feature the colour gold prominently, as this is a common feature within illuminated letters, they also feature elements from my themed navigation to help tie them into my applications thematic design.  I have also incorporated the runes that translate to the featured letter, as runes were the symbols used by the Vikings in writing, see below:

I am happy with my illuminated letters and I feel that they compliment my application.

Does Interactive Media Fit Into Academic Art School Education

Although I have more or less finished my practice in context essay, today we had a session in which we informally presented our current progress and feelings about this module so far. I wish I could say it was a pleasant experience but it was not, I sensed a lot of negativity with my choice of approach and subject matter, and to be honest this is not the first time during this course.  I simply do not fit in, if it’s not the difference in approach towards looking at and evaluating art and design, it’s the technical nature of my practice and lack of comparable 18th century painters or sculptors from which I obviously don’t draw comparisons.

This may becoming a bit of a rant but this feeling of struggling to fit in with the status quo of art school academia is very frustrating and I feel as though the heavily art biased approach of this course can very off putting.  I am trying immensely hard to fit in but this is becoming more of a struggle.  I do not blame the staff on my course for the way I am feeling because it is definitely not their fault; I am a victim of my own circumstance.  I am the least art influenced student in my group and the traditional art perspectives applicable to the other students are not always applicable to me or my practice but this may not be the main problem.

In my essay I discuss the misunderstanding surrounding my practice in a professional context and maybe there is a lack of understanding of my practice in art school academia, in the same way that there is a lack of understanding of my practice in the wider world.

My essay points out that my practice crosses boundaries between sectors and thus this causes confusion and not only misunderstanding but also misidentification.  In the same way that my practice does not fit neatly into a traditional bracket of employment, it does not seem to fit into a traditional bracket of academia.

This lack of understanding is something that can be very frustrating from my perspective but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a level of frustration being experienced by my lecturers, in trying to deliver relevant notions and ideas to me and also an annoyance levelled at me for being constantly perturbed.

I think there may be a deeper lying problem here and it is not an ‘art vs. design’ problem as I have written in the past.  I believe that the problem is the application of traditional art school educational principles, to a non traditional subject matter.

Art school teaching often looks to the past, for influences that pertain meaning in relation to current works, for example a female student photographer may draw comparisons or contrasts between her own work and the work of ‘Annie Liebovitz’ by comparing style, technique, technology and influences of a social, temporal,  psychological and philosophical nature.  The sources from which the student may find relevant information may include books, journals and interviews, all of which are recognised academic sources of information and the lines of enquiry are all traditional art school academic investigations.

In my practice there are lots of relevant lines of exploration, including most of the traditional investigative paths but there also seems to be a lot that don’t seem academically acceptable.

In my practice I cannot look back at famous pioneers in the same way, due to the fact that we are in the thick of the pioneering process right now.  My practice is not traditional its new, it is current and that is fact.  You may be reading my thoughts right now on my blog; I read the thoughts of my fellow interactive designers on their blogs or on their twitter feeds but these are not academically acceptable.  This makes one of the largest elements of my practice unavailable as a resource, but been part of a ground breaking profession as its breaking new ground, means we do not have the luxury of looking back with the same romanticised notions as artists or more traditional design practices.

My practice is based around the practical needs of users in today’s world and it seems as though the equation is Practical = Devaluation.

Professor Donald A Norman describes a situation in design that I believe creeps into art school academia, he says “Prizes tend to be given for some aspects of design, to the neglect of all others-usually including usability” (Norman, 1988: p151-152), in other wordsthe practical aspects are not appreciated as much as the visual aspects.  Folkmann also highlights this issue “when design artefacts are noticed and appreciated, it is more often for their aesthetic qualities than their practical or functional ability to solve more or less complex or well-defined problems.” (Folkmann, 2010).  It is my belief that the situation described by Norman and Folkmann, mirrors the situation in art school academia, I believe there can sometimes be an under valuation of the technical or practical design subjects, in comparison to their art or traditional counterparts.

This may be because of an understandable lack of understanding of the complex nature of the new experimental subjects and the theories and relevant literature available to the students of these subjects.  There are many books written about art that look back on pieces with a romanticised notion, that often contradicts the initial reaction to the work and this could possibly be what may happen to the writings of the new media practitioners of my generation, our practice is still evolving whilst also been extremely culturally relevant right now.

I am a victim of my own circumstance in the respect that I am a new media student and practitioner, a practice that is probably the most untraditional and furthest removed from all others within an art and design school environment.  A practice that is too new to write academic writings based upon the exploits of relevant pioneers and innovators, not because the pioneers don’t exist but because the majority of them are still pioneering and sharing their exploits in non academically suitable mediums such as blogs and twitter.

These pioneers do not purposely circumvent the traditional academic process (well some might), they simply uses the methods of their practice, is it hard to believe that new media practitioners may show their work and thoughts on new media platforms?

But here is the problem, academia has a set of rules regarding trusted sources, these are set in place to try and preserve the integrity of academic work and due to the misguided attempts of some new media platforms at providing information, new media generally is not a great resource for academic material.  In time, more academically appropriate, new media related information will become available but often as is the nature of new media practice, the pace of practical evolution often outdoes the pace of new media related academic enquiries.

At the moment, I do not have a solution to offer that may solve frustrations and I believe there may never be an answer but what I do know is that at the moment, as a new media student in an art school environment, I feel a bit like the proverbial elephant in the room that nobody wishes to discuss.  I am not trying to cause problems and I am not a maverick looking to upset the establishment, I just feel that there is a problem here worthy of further debate and discussion, and hopefully my view via the benefits of new media production, may be noticed by those with the power to look further and deeper into this quandary, to hopefully benefit the new media students of the future.

Folkmann, M. N. (2010) Evaluating Aesthetics in Design: A Phenonenological Approach, Design Issues, Vol. 26, Iss. 1, pp. 40-53

Norman, D, A, (1988) The Psychology Of Everyday Things, New York: Basic Books