Assignment #1: App Analysis

Smartphone users, in an average month, use 27 different apps. They download many, some of which never get opened a second time. We know which apps are most compelling for us throughout the week, apps we return to over and over again. We might also be able to identify apps that made us frustrated, apps we thought were ugly, or apps that were terrible ideas from the get go. This assignment asks you to begin looking at the world of mobile apps from a designer’s perspective and identify what makes “good” design and “bad” design.

For this assignment, you will choose two apps to analyze, one that fits the category of “good design” and one that is “bad design.” (These categories can be broadly defined for your analysis.) In a two-page written analysis, you will describe the app and then make an argument for why it fits one of these categories. Your goal is to ultimately move beyond description to offer some insights into why those descriptions constitute good or bad design. You may bring up issues such as usability, user experience, graphic design elements, sound design, compelling content, social engagement, among others. I would encourage you to stay away from apps that are “bad” because they simply crash; this assignment is more about design rather than technological glitches. You may include screen shots of your apps as a supplement to your 2-page analysis.

Your 2-page analysis should be written in Times New Roman, 12-point font, and should be double-spaced. This assignment is due on Tuesday, February 3 by the beginning of class. Please upload your assignment to Canvas under “Assignments” as either a Word Document or a PDF. No late work will be accepted.

You will be graded according to the following rubric:

  1. Well-worded description of each app
  2. Thoughtful analysis on the design of the apps
  3. Persuasive argument about the good/bad design of the app
  4. Well-written paper, with all ideas being fully developed
  5. Thoroughly proof-read and obviously edited paper

Assignment #2: The Things We Carry Photo Assignment

Drawing inspiration from Jason Travis’ Persona series (see: (Links to an external site.)), this assignment asks you to document three people and their “mobile lives.” The goal of this assignment is to expand our definition of “mobile media” to include the mobile devices, objects, and technologies that people carry with them on a day-to-day basis. The mobile media that we are designing for in this class live in a media ecology with other mobile objects like wallets, keys, identification cards, writing utensils, tools of all sorts, and items that are required to get us through the day while we are on the move.

For this assignment, you will create three diptych photographs: on the top will be a well-crafted portrait of the person, and on the bottom will be the objects they carry on them in a given day. You may work with your clients to curate which objects get displayed (or, alternatively, you can surprise your client while they are out and about, asking them to display the objects they have with them at that moment). These photographs should be well-composed, well-lit, and aesthetically beautiful. You will save your final products as high-resolution jpegs, submitting them to the Canvas site for this class. Your photographs are due before 3pm on Tuesday, February 10th.

You will be graded on the following rubric:

  1. Project clearly addresses the goals of this assignment
  2. Project displays the “mobile lives” of participants in a visually compelling way
  3. Project is well edited
  4. Photographs are well framed
  5. Photographs are well lit
  6. Background for photographs is well chosen
  7. Creation of the diptych is done without errors or flaws
  8. Photographs are high resolution
  9. Project includes 3 diptychs
  10. Project is complete and handed in on time

Assignment #3: POP Paper Prototype

One of the first steps toward mobile design creation is the process of prototyping. Many designers turn to very low-tech ways of creating interactive prototypes for their mobile apps. One of the most famous examples of this is the designer of the Palm Pilot (one of the first mobile “personal digital assistants” – PDAs), Jeff Hawkins, carried around a wood block with him to get a sense of how his device should be shaped to be integrated into a person’s everyday life. The process of paper prototyping offers insights for designers into how their apps will function when used. These prototypes offer insights into how to best use screen real estate, how the app’s interactivity should function, how to approach content display, and the overall look of the app.

For this project, you’ll be using the “POP — Prototyping on Paper” app:

You may work on your app alone or in a small group of no more than 3 people. You must sketch out your full app using paper wireframes. Using the POP app, you must link “hotspots” on the app to the page of the app related to that particular icon/gesture/link. Your app must have, at minimum, 5 pages of content and a splash screen. You will implement the app on Tuesday, February 10th during our normal class time.

During class on Thursday, February 12th, you will finish your app and have another student in the class explore it. This will be your first foray into usability testing. As your participant is navigating your app, have them narrate their experience to you (e.g., I see the app’s splash screen and based on its name, I believe it’s an app that does x, y, or z. I now see that I have five buttons to choose from. I’d like to do x with this app, so I’ll click this button that says “x”). You will take notes about your experience watching someone use your app and write a short 1-page reflection on what you learned and how you might improve your design.

You must “share” your POP prototype with me (within the app, email it to and upload your usability reflection paper to Canvas by Tuesday, February 17th before class starts at 3pm.

Your project will be graded on the following:

  1. Good concept for your app
  2. App prototype is compelling; makes users want to see the fully-functional version
  3. Well thought out navigation
  4. Design makes the interactive regions obvious
  5. Good use of screen real estate
  6. Design is clearly made for mobile (i.e. answers the question, “Why is this a mobile app instead of a website?”)
  7. Prototype is functional without errors
  8. Usability reflection paper is well-written and edited
  9. Usability reflection offers suggestions for how the app could be improved
  10. Prototype has at least 5 pages plus a splash screen

Assignment #4: Maryland Mis-Guide

On a typical weekday on our campus, you’ll see people rushing from class to class. They leave point A to hurry to point B. Sometimes, this will be interrupted by large groups of future students and their families slowly meandering to each highlight on campus (from Stamp to the Jim Henson statue to McKeldin Library). This project is about a different way of journeying through the campus. It is about teaching people a different way to tour, to walk, and to learn about this space. Such a project is founded on the following ideas: 1) the walker is the writer of the location and the space is a compositional catalyst; 2) the walker can reinstill the playfulness and performative nature of a space; 3) disrupting a planned journey is a powerful way to see a space differently; and 4) our mobile media can be powerful tours to writing and reading these spaces in new ways.

Ultimately, a “mis-guide” is a tour book that leads people through a space by using various games, tactics, and projects that offer new perspectives on an often-familiar locale. Your project can utilize any medium to guide people on your mis-guide. You must start with a broad directive (such as “layer this map of Washington, DC on top of this map of UMD,” or, “Download this map and go to the front steps of McKeldin Library to begin your tour”) and then offer them, at minimum, a three-stage tour of campus. Your goal is to get your walkers to view things in a new way; thus, it is important to disrupt the idea of the traditional tour of campus. Your mis-guide is due at the beginning of class on Thursday, March 12.

You will be graded on the following:

  1. Effective use of your chosen medium
  2. Creative approach to tour of campus (i.e., shows innovation and imagination)
  3. Keeps walkers engaged with this new approach to touring the campus
  4. Disrupts traditional ways of walking the campus
  5. Clearly expresses its purpose, perspective, and ideas
  6. Is a learning experience for the walker (teaches, informs, makes relevant, reminds, etc.)
  7.  Effectively combines the site-specificity of campus with broad directives that can be integrated into everyday life
  8. Goes beyond parameters of the project to show evidence of effort
  9. Is free of unintentional flaws (well edited)
  10. Is handed in on time 

Sample Ideas:

  • Places that always change/places that stay the same (e.g. Construction projects as a moment of transition)
  • Overlapping two maps (have people walk around the campus with another map — what’s where the Washington monument should be? Or the Eiffel Tower?)
  • Using GPS, spell out your name across the expanse of campus — where does this take you?
  • Run/Stroll (run anytime you’re heading north/south, stroll anytime you’re heading east/west…run when no one is around, stroll when you see someone)
  • Change directions every minute
  • Walk a specific lat or long, regardless of what gets in the way
  • Walk along Campus Drive and photograph every sign you come across
  • Follow a new person every 2 minutes
  • Tour of logos
  • Tour of student poverty (e.g., the vending machines on campus as dining facilities)
  • A student guide to studying in McKeldin (move every 15 minutes to a new floor and a new part of the library)
  • Scenes from a memorable past (revisit important sites for people)
  • Visual map: draw a map of a place you know well and mark it with as many details as you can. Then, visit the place and compare your map and what you see in front of you.
  • No steps

Final App