I’ve started to develop the wireframes for the design of the app – these are like storyboards to describe each step of the process to aid a developer later. They also help work out the logical structure of the app and highlight any possibilities for unexpected behaviours and how to deal with them, without restricting the users’ experience. There will always be situations that arise that cannot be anticipated, so building in ways to get people back on track is important, as I wouldn’t want them to give up entirely and not complete their walks or upload their data. In working with these wireframes, I’ve found that I’ve still got lots of technical questions about what’s possible in the final app and though there’s a lot of information available online, attending the workshop in Brighton highlighted for me the benefit of talking to other people who are engaged in the same process and can share their knowledge and experience. One such group is local to me, Pervasive Media Studio based at Watershed in Bristol, and is a diverse community of artists, technologists and creative companies who give support across a huge variety of projects. Also, the work that was generated from the ‘outLines’ exhibition in Wells has gone on to be shown at RWA in Bristol, where there has been lots of opportunities to talk to other artists about the process of making and how technology can be used within it.
I’m finding that I’ve got lots of possibilities and different directions that I could go in, therefore it’s useful to carry out some ‘user centered testing’ to help focus the development of an app, so I was pleased to be invited to show my drawing machine installation, ‘Retracing Your Steps’ in the exhibition ‘outLines’ at Heritage Courtyard Studios in Wells, Somerset where aspects of contemporary drawing practice were being investigated. This allowed me to work with volunteers to map the City of Wells with my usual method of working, asking them to go on walks carrying GPS handsets, whilst at the same time have discussions with them to investigate the possibility of using an app and what the difference to the outcome would be. I asked them questions about how they might engage with an app and what would motivate them to use it. We talked about the practicalities of what would their first contact be regarding the app and would they be prepared to download it before coming to the gallery? It became clear that the process needed to be quick and easy, otherwise the frustrations of it would put people off entirely. Some of the volunteers commented that they felt the GPS handsets made them feel as if they were involved more in the process and that if they were using their own mobile phones, they were more likely to get distracted by messages or emails and also have more practical worries such as battery life. Others though, who wanted to be involved in the walking but couldn’t arrange to be at the venue when I was there, felt that it would have been advantageous to have been able to use their own phones with an app and walk whenever they were able to, uploading the data remotely. I thought that there might be a distinct difference between those who were very familiar with using apps on their phones and those who were less confident, but it appeared that it was the physical act of being given a GPS handset, which immediately focused their minds on the task and invited them to interact with it. This level of engagement is something that the user interface of an app is going to have to achieve to be in any way successful. Also, there has to be additional functions that an app will provide over a simple GPS handset, to motivate the user to want to use it. All of this information is invaluable in planning and writing the user specification for the app, which will help inform the functional specification.