COPIOUS recently capped our ten-year anniversary with an open house at our new digs here in Portland.The week leading up to the event was a buzz of activity as we all put in to prepare a great evening for our guests. We planned to give away some door prizes, but rather than hand out tickets at the door, we wanted to try something unique. An iPad app was the logical answer. Meet Door Prize.
Our guests were greeted at the door not with a pen and paper ledger, but by an iPad 2 running our app. An app which we took from idea to reality in about three days.
The interface is simple. The user taps the “Check In” button on the home screen, and is presented with a sign-in interface. Here they can enter their name, email address, and toggle a switch to opt-in or out of our e-newsletters. On top of this, we added a feature a dead-tree version couldn’t replicate: photos. The iPad’s front-facing camera was ideal to capture a snapshot of our guests on the way in.
Later in the evening, we utilized some hidden functionality to randomly select door prize winners. Drawing a circle gesture from the home screen selects the first winner and shows the lucky person’s name and photo. Below, there is a button to select a subsequent winner.
We were quite pleased with the results. The evening went off without a hitch, and the app was a great conversation piece.
Why do it?
We believe in the opportunities afforded by new technologies, and we firmly expect multi-touch mobile devices — from smartphones to tablets — to continue blazing a trail toward becoming the dominant computing medium of current and future generations. Experimentation is an important part of the creative process, and these platforms provide an excellent foundation upon which to play. More importantly, this particular exercise allowed us to do a little underground user testing with a fantastic group of our peers, friends, and family.
It Could Be Better
The first version of Door Prize (a rough prototype built in a day) did not have a separate camera shutter button. The visitor filled out the form, and the photo was snapped the moment the “Check In” button was tapped. Our rationale behind adding the separate button was that visitors would most likely want to take the photo at a time of their choosing, and adding the button made it very simple to allow visitors to restart the camera and take another photo if they didn’t like the first.
In hindsight, what we witnessed was very predictable:
- The visitor starts the check in process from the large button on the home screen. The Check In button is dark and translucent. It is not active.
- The visitor fills out name and email address.
- The visitor optionally taps the “Sign up for email” switch.
- The visitor taps the disabled “Check In” button two or three times.
- The visitor taps the camera shutter button. The screen flashes white briefly, and the picture is locked. The Check In button is now brighter, and not translucent.
- The visitor taps it, and is welcomed. After a moment the interface transitions back to Home, and the next visitor starts.
The problem: The “Check In” button became active after name and email were provided and a photo had been taken, and the dimmed, semi-translucent state wasn’t enough of a clue that the remaining step - taking the photo - was required. This is a great example of a tough problem in interactive design: obviousness.
We set a very aggressive timeline for rolling out the app, which left no time for our normal process of extensive user testing to validate each step with both internal and external users.
Throughout the evening I casually asked our guests if they’d checked in, and if there was any trouble doing so. On the contrary, I was greeted by compliments on the effort. I was confident that we’d gotten it done and the app achieved its goal, but I confess there was a moment of hesitation where I considered grabbing the iPad, firing up Xcode, and making some improvements!
We care about usability here at COPIOUS. A lot. If your organization needs some help in the mobile department, let us know.