I quickly learned how to use the FileMaker platform through tutorials and breaking down their pre-existing solution file set. Having a developer background from JMU, the FileMaker environment came naturally to me. I was really excited to develop my first app with the best end user possible. Myself! :) Although the end goal was to deploy this app across other IT departments, I was literally developing an app to make my own job easier first. I am still not quite sure what is better than that at this point in my career. The app improved a very time consuming and complicated process that essentially was updating a lot of data in a database. The time it took to complete the process went from hours of work to minutes by using an app with three simple steps. 1. Scan barcode. 2. Update Data. 3. Submit Changes. I have an efficient yet simple way of attacking work, so developing for myself really helped to make the app more intuitive. Some may not agree with this approach when developing for a larger group of people, but placing yourself in your customers shoes is what really helps to understand their workflows and perspectives. I also take the lazy approach in the way that it helps me find the easiest way to do something. I also kept in mind to use the least amount of button presses as possible for simplicity. As you all know, it is all about working smarter, not harder.
But what exactly is an intuitive app you ask? It is an app that customers just know how to use right away. They have a natural sense of how to do things in your app and should be able to do whatever they want without any directions or training. The easiest way of showing you an example of an intuitive app is to introduce you to Robinhood. From their website, "With Robinhood, you can learn to invest in the stock market as you build out your portfolio." The interface is simple and clean, yet quickly conveys important information all on a small iPhone screen. Now, of course the knowledge of investing and stock trading is important to use this app, but you get the idea. It is just easy to use. You already know how to navigate your way around the app because it has been designed that way! Developing an intuitive app is of course very complicated to design and build. Making simple things can be complicated, but the hard work is worth it when then customer experience becomes magical. We always want to make sure that the customer has the best experience possible and that can be done with intuitive apps.
In order to make our mobility experience the best, a lot of work went in on the technical FileMaker side of things. We used FileMaker's ODBC feature to connect to a SQL table that was provided to us by a dev team. Then they took care of the rest to make sure the data was updating correctly. It was impressive enough that we were given permission to work with them in the first place! Eventually after about a year of testing, we needed to start using a ServiceNow API. This was another fun development cycle that helped me learn more about the JSON side of FileMaker. It really helps to dive head first into the FileMaker environment to learn how to use the program. The community was really helpful during this process and members would answer any of the questions I had. The FileMaker community discussion page can be found here. This helped me to develop the features of the apps, but the design portion was drawn out by hand. It was important for me to design the app in a way that everyone else knew how to use the app as well, because as mentioned, the end goal was to deploy this app to other IT departments. In order to do that, I stuck with natural design concepts that already existed in software and in signage around us today.
As mentioned in the previous blog post, "Year 2: 2016 - New 9 to 5 Life and an Unexpected Development Paradigm Shift!" I was able to design the app so that when a barcode was scanned, the data was instantly determined by a red or green color to quickly show the user what was going on. I used Apple's iOS Human Interface Guidelines Documentation for all of the colors that I used in the app. Also, if the user was just starting out with the application, there would be only one button to press that would guide them through the process of scanning a barcode. When a barcode was scanned, they were then guided to proceed to make changes to the data. The app always was designed to flow the user through the process of making data changes and prevented them from making any mistakes. After the success of this app development project, I knew that I could use FileMaker to help other individuals and business to improve their workflows. Luckily, I had an individual that knew I was capable of taking on the challenge and set me up with my first client.
Client #1: Invoice/Proposal macOS solution and iOS Payroll app for iPhone
This client needed a macOS Proposal/Invoice Manager solution and a Payroll iOS app for the iPhone. Both solutions were very easy to use and helped the business owner to focus a lot less time on paperwork. All communications were done over phone and email. It was challenging because I was very meticulious about the details of the project and wanted to understand everything exactly as they wanted. From this I learned to trust my own design and programming knowledge to deliver a product that the user could then revise during a testing period. This helps to guarantee that the user is happy with the application before the final payment is processed. Aside from the programming, project and client management experience, I ended up with a few hundred dollars from both projects. This really got me excited for the road ahead to see what I was able accomplish next. I was thinking to myself, if I am able to sell these solutions for a few hundreds of dollars to one person, how many other people can I sell these exactly same solutions to? This is what has always excited me about software development and I was very excited because these were the first software products that I had built for clients. I knew that my hard work was getting my closer to my goal!
Client #2: Visitor Log and Membership ID generator iOS App for the iPad
For my next project, I was introduced to a non-profit organization called PhillyCam in Philadelphia, by a friend who made sure that their technology was running smoothly. They decided to change the way visitors logged in from paper and pen to a guestbook app to log visitors into a database. This information would then be used to generate membership cards with photos and barcodes for members to later scan in for fast entry. A pain point for them was having to page through the Visitor Log book for reporting. We are changing the way they think about using visitor logs for their business by deploying a FileMaker iOS app for them to use on an iPad! A learning experience from this project was to always double check your work and also set up your environment so that it is as hands off as possible. In this case we should have gone plain and simple by using FileMaker Go instead of using the FileMaker iOS SDK and using a launcher file to open a file on the FileMaker Server. This way, we can always remotely manage the project and recreate it in our own environment for testing.
Client #3: GuestbookGuru iOS App for the iPad
The same friend introduced me to another individual who needed a Guestbook app for her business. At this time, this individual did not have a way to manage, organize and customize multiple guestbooks for events on the iPad. We were able to design an iOS app that did just that and the client was very happy! This iOS app was developed in the FileMaker environment and was deployed to the App Store. A FREE version of this app can be found in the App Store and on our website www.guestbookguru.com! Our next step is to upgrade and convert this application over to a native Swift environment with a team of iOS developers. We are now looking for hungry and passionate iOS developers to work with us on future projects. It will be an extremely resourceful, valuable and education experience for everyone involved. This exciting project can be found here! From this project we learned to use a testing week where the user would use the application and we would iron out any issues. This turned out to be great and we pushed out an update when we found a bug. This application also happened to be in the App Store and the user had a last minute request that could not be implemented in time for her event. Although we had clear communication that all changes would be final after the testing week, these are valuable learning experiences that remind us to have clear communication with the user to make sure they understand the environment. From these experiences we are growing stronger and hope that you can learn from them too!
Client #4: TBD - It might be you!
How to develop an intuitive app - A quick introduction
-Take the lazy approach to help find the easiest way to do something
-Place yourself in the user/customer's shoes
-Very simple step by step functions and workflows that leave the customer impressed
-With design, stick with what users already naturally tend to know
-Use the least amount of button presses possible
-Create a simple, efficient, powerful and magical experience for the customer
-iOS Human Design Guidelines Documentation
-Be clear and direct with any text, buttons, and directions
-Intuitive apps should not require training
Automating Twitter with FileMaker 17!
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