Critters Sketch in Processing

If your browser is up to scratch, here’s a little JavaScript based sketch from a current personal project…


This is some early code for a simple game I’m working on for the Coursera Creative Programming course (it’s my first time building a game rather than regular software).

These shapes are generated from a limited range of numbers, which can later be turned into a simple genetic code to define these critters.

I’ve hosted this on OpenProcessing.org, so you can get to the source-code etc.

http://www.openprocessing.org/sketch/103410

Learning Backbone.js and Single Page Applications

Following up my post about the backbone.js book I downloaded, I’ve been playing, testing and learning as much as I can. So much so that I’ve neglected my Coursera design course, though I think this is a better use of my time in the long run. This particular Coursera course was mainly to test out the MOOC process first-hand, and it’s pretty cool on the whole. I’ll still be taking part in the Game Theory course that’s coming up, and I’d give Coursera a big thumbs up overall.

I’ve studied design previously, so the content in the course (while very good) was mostly a re-hashing of old stuff for me, whereas delving into the world of Backbone.js and Single Page Applications has been a great way to challenge my existing approach to web design and development. It’s been a real brain stretch at times, but every new step in the learning process is rewarding, and you can never afford to stop learning if you work with the internet.

I’ve hacked about with Backbone enough now, that I’m starting to apply the learnings to Done by When, and though this equates to almost an entire re-write of the website front-end it’s going to make the app so much more responsive that I’m desperate to get it live. The demos I’ve put together already feel like so much more like software than web pages.

I’m not making any promises for a release date at this point as client work takes priority but I may be able to share something within a couple of weeks.

Also, though I’ve bailed on the Coursera course, I won’t give up on the menu planner, or my intentions to open source this.

I’ll keep you posted.

Menu Planner: Sequence of user needs

Here’s the next instalment from my Coursera project notes:

 

Decomposition of the problem/gap by sequence of user needs

This has been an interesting exercise but I’m looking forward to doing some actual design and prototyping work soon.

I’ve also been thinking about how much more flexible software design can be than physical product design; especially hosted auto-updating software like a web app.

A simple and flexible meal planning system

Following on from my post about stealing ideas, here’s the first instalment from my Coursera design project. I’ll share this work as I go along and then I’ll open source the project properly once the course is over (in seven weeks).

Design problem definition:

I am developing a simple and flexible meal planning system that generates a shopping list to help people reduce their food bill and cut down on food waste.

A list of  user needs derived from interviews and observation

Exclamation points indicate potentially latent needs using the Kano Model. These are basically the things users may want, but may not realise they may want; a chance to over-deliver and delight.

The planner and shopping list is flexible

  • The planner and shopping list is suitable for a weekly food shop
  • The planner and shopping list is suitable for a fortnightly food shop
  • The planner and shopping list lets me count breakfast, lunch and dinners separately
  • The planner and shopping list doesn’t make me chose which meal to eat on each day
  • The planner and shopping list is adaptable if I see something on special offer at the shop
  • ! The planner and shopping list can be changed after the shop if something was out of stock
  • The planner and shopping list works if I only want to plan for a few days
  • The planner and shopping list let me add items that are not part of my recipes, like washing liquid

The planner and shopping list is helpful

  • ! The planner and shopping list reminds me of meals I like to cook
  • ! The planner and shopping list learns from my behavior
  • The planner and shopping list estimates how much my shop is going to cost
  • The planner and shopping list helps me review the cost of my food shop
  • The planner and shopping list helps me reduce my food bill
  • The planner and shopping list helps me reduce waste
  • ! The planner and shopping list gives me ideas for things to make this week
  • ! The planner and shopping list lets me review the things I eat most often
  • The planner and shopping list can be reordered to group things as they appear in the shop
  • The planner and shopping list reminds me of meals I haven’t made in a while

The planner and shopping list is practical

  • The planner and shopping list has a list of meals and a list of ingredients
  • The planner and shopping list can be cross-checked with the contents of my cupboards before I shop
  • The planner and shopping list lets me add things as I think of them during the week
  • The planner and shopping list lets me tick off items as I’m doing my food shop
  • The planner and shopping list organizes enough meals until my next food shop
  • The planner and shopping list lets me cross of meals as I make them
  • ! The planner and shopping list can be printed and crossed off as I use it

The planner and shopping list is suitable

  • The planner and shopping list affordable
  • The planner and shopping list works on my laptop, iPad and husband’s Android phone
  • ! The planner and shopping list works even if my phone or iPad is offline
  • The planner and shopping list is saved so I don’t lose it like my paper shopping list
  • The planner and shopping list works as I’m walking around the supermarket
  • The planner and shopping list can be shared with my husband
  • The planner and shopping list can be used in the kitchen, living room and at the supermarket
  • The planner and shopping list lets me prepare list and give it to my partner
  • The planner and shopping list works on my computer but can also be printed

The planner and shopping list is simple

  • The planner and shopping list is easy to use while I’m shopping with my children
  • The planner and shopping list is easy for me to use
  • The planner and shopping list is better than my scraps of paper
  • The planner and shopping list is preferable to writing a list on paper
  • The planner and shopping list is secure but easy to access
  • The planner and shopping list is not complex or confusing
  • ! The planner and shopping list is fun to use

On stealing my ideas

So, as part of this Coursera design course, I’m learning a lot about how people value their own ideas. One of the discussions among the students is about “how to avoid people stealing your ideas”.

Firstly, I should point out that each discreet chunk of your work is reviewed by five of your peers and you review the work of five random peers, meaning you don’t actually see the whole of someone’s project, just random bits of random projects. And with over 30,000 people taking the course,  the risk of someone nicking your idea, if you’re really worried about it, is limited.

But some of the discussions are entertaining. Including a few people who are “only going to design something a bit rubbish so they don’t give away their really good ideas”.

This all seems to overlook the fact that nothing is truly original and we always build on the work of those who come before us.

So rather than worry that someone will steal my ideas, I thought it better to take a leaf out of the open source book and publish my work on this blog as I go. Then, not only can people steal it, they can improve on it, or join me in making things better.

On my next pet project and @Coursera

My most recent ‘pet project’, Done by When, grew up today.

It’s 3 months to the day since I announced a vague plan to test out an idea that had been floating around my head, and now it’s out of beta, taking payments and I’ve just notice our Mandrill email reputation has crept up to ‘Excellent’. Woohoo.

I’m delighted with where it’s going and all the helpful (positive and negative) feedback I’ve had from the first brave group of testers.

I’ve added some screenshots to my portfolio on Behance, but the interface has progressed even further since then.

Now that Done by When has a “business model” and all that, it will be given a serious amount of time and attention going forwards. But importantly, as it has an active user base I won’t be using it as a playground for new ideas and technology. It will first and foremost serve the needs of the users. Which means it’s no longer a ‘pet project’.

I needed another project/playground so I’ve enrolled (and completed my first week) in Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society with Coursera. I’ve studied design before, so mainly wanted to see what the Coursera experience was like in relation to the Open University courses I took a few years back. I’m more interested in the content of the Game Theory course, but that doesn’t start for a while yet, and all learning is good learning.

So I’ll be writing some posts about the Coursera experience, but more importantly I’ll use this as a framework for my next pet project. There are 7 weeks left to go and I’ve set myself the brief to somehow contribute to dealing with the issue of food waste.

Food is core. If we solve food, we solve most things.

Not that I’ll solve food, but I may contribute something.

I’ll keep you posted.

On appropriate design for an appropriate budget

ON Health Osteopath BristolI’ve just launched a simple website for a friend, and in part it was a pleasure to work on because we weren’t trying to re-invent the wheel. All it needed was clean and clear communication and the functionality for her to maintain the site herself.

Only a few years ago, this would have been a messy and much more expensive process, but with open source software as the foundation (WordPress in this case) a small budget can deliver a decent product if you trust your web developer. This is particularly true of location based businesses; Claire is an Osteopath working in Bristol, so doesn’t need the most amazing osteopathy website in the whole world – just a slightly better website than the other osteopaths working in the same area.

In this scenario, good communication is the avoidance of bad communication. This is a subtle but important distinction when trying to communicate on a limited budget. This website won’t win her business, instead it will reduce the potential loss of business that no website, or a badly designed website would have had. Her business will still come from the quality of treatment and patient care she offers.

Even at this ‘entry’ level of web design and build it’s possible to ship quality code. This is a bespoke, HTML5, CSS3, responsive design, and including all configuration, installation, testing, populating, image sourcing etc still came in at just 30 hours work.

It would have taken longer (and cost more) if for example Claire had wanted to debate 6 different types of headline font; and this is the key to appropriate design. We could easily have spent three times as long iterating design concepts, but this would not change the marketplace in which Claire’s messaging needs to operate.

If you’re working on a limited budget, find a developer/team you can trust and talk to them about what you want to achieve. In their hands, your money can go much further.