REAP professional Matt Neill’s UI to release first community built app

In software there a saying about people who are considered talent: “Smart and gets things done.”

Matt Neill REAP professional Matt Neill

Recently, REAP professional Matt Neill became the talk of the startup community for an excellent design created for local startup Dandy. Dandy is a platform that matches ideas through a community to build more successful mobile apps. Users can sign up and contribute in meaningful ways to increase the development and design of apps across several mobile platforms.

I caught up with Kareem Shehata, CTO of Dandy. “UX is critical” stated Shehata. “Dandy is about community built mobile apps. Everyone has ideas, we allow a community to bridge the gap – placing all the right pieces in line so that apps become even better. Dandy matches developer with UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface) design. Think of it this way: software is an amorphous blob of code. It’s the UX that anchors the product and makes it desirable and usable.”

Shehata placed additional emphasis on the importance of UX/UI design being applied before the app is even built. “UX/UI must be a part of the functional process. The design of the app should inform the development as much as the development requires the design,” said Shehata. The goal of Dandy is to have multiple design ideas in place so that the community can choose the best design for the apps being developed.

This is where REAP’s Neill came in. REAP emphasizes rapid prototyping and and agile design. Neill successfully applied these concepts and through a series of consultations, redesigns and production, he was able to create the best UI (User Interface) design for Dandy’s 60 Day Challenge for an app called Picture Scavenger Hunt. This app will be Dandy’s first community built released app.

Matt Neill on UI and his experience with the Dandy community:

What is Dandy?
Dandy is a web community where members share and collaborate on mobile app ideas.  Users can submit concepts, designs, names, taglines and suggest features for any app posted.  If that application is developed, all users who’s participation was taken into account is entitled to revenue sharing.  The site launched in January of 2013, and is currently holding the “60 Day Challenge:  From Idea to App Store in 60 Days.”

What did you build for/with them?

The Dandy team approached me a few weeks ago asking if I was interested doing some UI/UX work for them.  The team asked the community to submit ideas, of which over 200 were delivered… they were eventually narrowed down to 10 ideas.  The Dandy community was encouraged suggest features, tag lines and comment on each of the top 10 concepts.  After a week, each of the designers involved designed 1-2 of the top 10.  I designed the user interface for two:  “Picture Scavenger Hunt” (Niger Little-Poole, New York), and “LifeClock” (Xi Lin, Washington).  The apps are completely different than each other, meaning that I needed to create two completely different designs… each with their own user goals.

It was a challenging task – there were a lot of great ideas for each of the apps, meaning it was tough to represent all of them in the designs.  After six days, I delivered both of the designs I made for the apps to the Dandy team, and they put them up on the Dandy community to be shared with the world.  Luckily, the app inventors and the community responded well, as my designs were well-received.  On November 20th, Dandy hosted a public Livestream in which each of the apps were evaluated by a panel of mobile application experts across North America.  They gave their initial thoughts on each app, and a rating out of 10.  Next, the apps were whittled down to 5 choices, and eventually a decision was made.  My app – Picture Scavenger Hunt, was going to be Dandy’s first app.

From here, we have been meeting and refining the concept to define what will be feasible for development in the short timeline.  As a result, the app has undergone a complete redesign to make a more streamlined user experience.  The application will be available for public download for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry 10 devices on January 6th, 2014 (38 days).

What’s your background – how did you get into UI?

In my first term with REAP, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.  I came from a dramatic arts background, which (at the time), I didn’t believe had a lot of overlap with technology.  I always had an interest in graphic design and animation, and I was starting to learn programs like Adobe Photoshop and After Effects as a hobby.  Down the road, these interests would help me create and animate my designs, producing high-quality simulations to present to co-workers or even potential investors.

The team I was on in my first term was working on a technology called the Mixed Realities Interface (MRI).  It was essentially a way to ‘walk’ through a 3D environment by moving an avatar on a 2D surface.  It was pretty cool, but we needed some way of allowing users to choose the environments to immerse themselves in.  As a result, I was thrust into the world of user interface design and information architecture.

Are you a trained designer – if yes from where? Of no how did you learn?

Although these first designs were horrible, I was quickly learning.  Even from when I started the project to its completion, I was amazed at how far I had come.  I soon developed a craving to learn more about this skill set… I wanted to do it again!  I took some courses at the university that acted as a great introduction into this world, namely “Introduction to Digital Images and Hypertext” with REAP’s own Dave Goodwin.  the course was essentially a dive into all things digital, covered UI design, interaction design and information architecture.  My involvement with REAP really paid off in this period – I got to practise the theories from the lectures by designing real-world applications.  In addition, REAP connected me with professional user interface designers; I got to observe their workflow and really start to appreciate the art and logic behind the designs.  It soon became clear that being an English major didn’t mean I was doomed to become a librarian after all.

I’ve also taken more courses to build my knowledge, such as Information Design, the Rhetoric of Digital Design, Visual Rhetoric, and Introduction to Computer Science.  Like Prof. Goodwin’s course, these classes have been invaluable as I move forward.

From there, I have just been refining my skill set, focusing more on the promotion of a good user experience in my work.  It blows my mind looking back at the designs from even a year ago, as I have learned and grown so much since then.

Advice for designing apps?
–  Keep iterating.  I usually make 5-10 designs (at least) per screen/function of the app.
–  Play with your phone, but pay attention.  Every device or platform has their own quirks or things that make them unique: from BlackBerry’s simple menus to Android’s gestures.
–  Test the designs on your device before showing people.  What looks good on the computer doesn’t always look good on your phone.
–  Define your customers.  Really nail down who the app is for, and what they want out of the application.  Once you have that defined, the rest of the process will be a breeze.

Advice for design in general?

–  Keep up to date on technology.  I’m luck in the sense that I love doing this in my personal life, as technology seems to consistently blow my mind.
–  Talk to people.  Some of the most valuable information I’ve received is by asking my technically unsavvy Mom “what do you think of this?”  You never know who will draw attention to a fatal flaw of your design.
–  Use grids and rulers in your editing program.  I don’t know how many times this has saved my hide.
–  Sketch first, mock up last.  I learned this the hard way… spending hours on making ‘high quality’ mockups, just to figure out that it was actually an awful design.  Sketching is cheap, quick, and extremely valuable.

Future plans for  entrepreneurism in mobile apps?

Not yet!  I would love to revive and redesign some of the older projects I worked on, but don’t have the time right now.  Also, I’ve adapted my mobile design skill set to other contexts such as web design and digital signage, so I’ll have to see where it takes me.  My start-up, POET  plans to have some type of mobile interactivity in the future, but we are focusing on building up other parts right now.  Soon, though