Modern Jago – Design Labs

I got to spend the day at Modern Jago yesterday on day 1 of a two day design oriented event (I cannot make day 2 but that is a whole other story). 

Modern Jago is nestled amongst a village of designer clothes shops, art house cinemas, T-Shirt presses and independent publishing houses in the ‘trendy’ (if that is still a word) area of Shoreditch in London.  Not the easiest of places to get to if like me you are based in the sticks a long way outside London but when you do finally get there you are rewarded with an atmosphere and community of people with a passion for promoting and fostering the growth of software design around the new raft of Microsoft technologies (Windows 8 / Phone / Azure etc) .

As a developer with no formal training in design (Unless you count an 80’s ‘A’ level!) I was curious to know what this course might be able to do for me in my own little development world.  You see I personally believe that one of the basic problems that developers (programmers) face is an inherent difference in the way that they approach application development.  While designers focus (naturally) on ‘design’ most programmers will focus (quite rightly) on ‘function’.  Nowadays that approach doesn’t really pass muster and the current trend is to encourage programmers to think a lot more about design.

Windows 8 UX Design Camp

The agenda for the event covers a series of speaker lead workshops around design oriented topics, conducted in such a way as to encourage you to think about how each aspect of design relates to your own personal plans for a Windows 8 project:

image

I was just in the process of submitting a ‘new’ App that had come about largely as a result of feedback received from an existing App I had in the store.  If you will allow me to digress for a paragraph or two I will explain how this App came about and perhaps shed some insight on how a developers (programmers) mind differs from a designers!!

First of all my initial focus for developing an App was not, as some might assume, to develop an App “so profoundly useful and stunning in its design as it would rock the very foundation of the App store”, (though, of course that would be nice).  No, my ‘real world’ objective was simply to learn how to develop Windows 8 Apps – essentially so that I can go on and earn some money (and feed my kids). 

And did I have all the App’s design objectives up front?  Did I f@#k

Here is how it went down:

1. I had a mildly successful Windows Phone App called ‘Live Tile news’ that i thought I would bring to Windows 8 :

LIVE TILE NEWS

2. It occurred to me that I could build on this Apps foundation and develop a complimentary ‘Sports App’ by simply changing the underlying data source and adding complimentary graphics:

LIVE TILE SPORT

3. I got a lot of negative reviews from the USA for this App as it didn’t cover popular US sports (this is because the feeds originate from the UK).  So I did two things as a result; Firstly I made a note to source some suitable US based sporting information for a future version of this App and secondly, so that ‘all was not lost’ i developed a UK specific version:

UK SPORT

4. I used this App as my ‘personal App’ when working through the various labs and in discussions with session presenters at Modern Jago.   Now I have to say that one of the presenters was very subtly but very assuredly a little dismissive of this ‘App idea’   and went on to extoll the virtues of Microsoft’s’ own Sports App.  Now this may have all been in my imagination but either way it served a very useful purpose in getting me to think about how I might differentiate my App from other Sports related Apps in the store*  BANG!  I had a flash of inspiration and a new App idea was born!  (I will add the link to this new App below once it reaches the store – give me a week or two!)

<PLACEHOLDER>

So what struck me about the ethos of the design process that we were covering was two fold.  First of all the long standing approach is to think out all your requirements ‘up front’ (indeed, we covered a very useful approach for doing just that as the first exercise of the day!) and it occurred to me that if i had done this thoroughly I could have avoided 1, 2, 3 and 4 above!!  BUT, (and it is a big but) if I had done this I maybe would have thrown out the Baby’s toys with the bathwater as these Apps would not have seen the light of day.  So I guess what I am saying is that when the requirements process is complete perhaps this shouldn’t be the end of the requirements process?  If the ‘new idea’ is sufficiently different from the ideas behind the existing App then why not use them to develop a variation on the existing App that encompasses those ‘new requirements’?

Technology Solutions

This leads me to another of my pet foibles (and please forgive me for digressing again).  Nowadays the term ‘Technology Solutions’ is considered a ‘dirty term’  (It implies the process of ‘finding a solution for a bit of technology that currently exists’).  I personally find this a very useful tool !  (What!!?)  Hold on a minute I hear you say! ….  Don’t get me wrong, yes, it should probably play second fiddle to any business-lead requirements but should it really be the object of disdain that it so often appears to be?  I think not!   This approach has personally furnished me with ideas that have lead to being ‘real business requirements’ (rather than just technology lead requirements) on many occasions.  How so?  Well a common response to these kinds of ideas when put to ‘the business’ is ‘Oh, I never thought of that’ or even ‘Oh, I didn’t;t know you could do that’.  (On occasion I have even included these kinds of ideas into prototype applications with a very positive response.)   So I guess my ‘off topic’  point here is, don’t ever  assume that geeks don’t have valuable input to contribute!

My thanks to Chris Mayo, Andrew Spooner and the other presenters for such a useful and enjoyable event (and to Cristina for handling admin).  Lastly I think all us developers owe a debt of gratitude to Jaime and the rest of the team at Modern Jago (http://modernjago.co.uk/about/) .  I look forward to having such a space within striking distance of my home town at some point in the future!

NB You can check out upcoming events at Modern Jago here.

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