App Idea

So yesterday I had an idea for an iPod app and I did some research on the topic and existing apps and I think it helps to fix an unmet need. I’m thinking of doing up a concept for it, but since I have almost nil programing experience, unless I get some support it most likely will stay in the concept phase. My question is as an Industrial Design student is it advisable to have projects like these in my portfolio even though it doesn’t really fit into my major? Do you think that most employers will view it as a distraction or a benefit?

If you learn how to develop it then yes, I think it would be good to put in your portfolio. It’s showcasing one more skill you may have. However if it’s only a concept, but you lack the skills to develop it then I think I would leave it out. Why set yourself up for having to answer the the question “Why didn’t you develop this?” You’re answer will be “I don’t know how” and that’s not something you want to say.

Yes, I see what you mean. The thing is I’m not even sure how hard it would be to program. It could be a couple day sit down with a how to book, or I could spend the rest of the summer working on it just to find out my idea isn’t supported. I could ask developers if my idea is possible, but there is a risk of them running with it themselves. I guess my next step would be to download the SDK and poke around in it.

I disagree with mrtwillis. I think you can fully develop the concept with mockups, some flash animations, icons, graphics, wireframes, etc. Of course it will make you more desirable if you actually developed it, but even a flash animation can help convey your concept. Many of the interaction design projects I’ve seen from designers are just that. Showing the app in context (storyboarding a scenario/video of use case) also helps a lot.

If they ask you why you didn’t develop it, be honest. If you’re not much of a programmer, say so. If your concept is strong enough and your presentation of it is compelling, there’s no reason they will reject you just because you can’t program. (Unless you’re interviewing for Google or Facebook, who expect all designers to be a code-wiz.)

Edit: Here’s an example of such a project where the concept is presented, yet the application was not developed.

I would go as far as to recommend you design it, present it well, and STAY FAR AWAY FROM DEVELOPING IT. And here is why:

If I was interviewing a designer who mocked up a concept for an app, Id say to myself “fantastic, he can think broadly and apply his problem solving skills to other areas”

If I reviewed a portfolio with an app that had been coded by the designer I’d ask if you wanted to be a designer or if you wanted to be in software development. You don’t design the PC boards for your consumer electronics projects and I wouldn’t expect someone would write code either. I’d wonder why that time learning code was not spent perfecting other design skills, especially if there was any weakness in the core skill set.

Now it is about apps, but when I graduated in the 90’s .com boom it was about websites. Many of my ID classmates went down that path because the cash was really good at the time, learning how to write code for complext sites… of course the .com money went away and they were left with more experience in code than concepting products.

Thank you everyone for the advice. I think that I’ll focus on the core idea of the software and doing concepts of the UI and not code it myself. If it turns out really nice I guess I could always find someone to collaborate with and program it after the initial concept is done. When I finish it I’ll post a link.

Fleshing out a good app idea with design tools, then organizing experts to make it happen - That would be impressive.

Totally. That would show initiative, team work, follow through, and projec management. All valuable things to a design org.

Sorry it is taking so long. Other things came up and I put this off for a little while, but since school is starting next week I thought I should finish it. I still need to make a sample UI, but the work I have so far illustrates the core concept of the app. Do you think that it is a useable idea for personal portfolio work, or do you think it’s technically impossible, useless or something else? Also do you think there is anything I still need to add other than the interface that I’m still working on?

One more image

I think what you’ve done is great. That’s about as far as an industrial designer needs to take it. We (ID’ers) need to keep our focus on what we’re good at. It’s easy for many of us to think that we should expand our skill-set by venturing into graphics, Flash, UI and maybe even some programming. But that’s not what most of us are hired to do! Be good at one thing and be darn good at it. If you are on the payroll for a company as an in-house industrial designer, that’s what they want you to do, not be a complete jack of all trades.

A bad analogy of this is triathlon. You only have so much time for training, so you can either be pretty good at all three sports (cycling, running and swimming) or pick one and be incredibly good at it.

Thanks for the response. So are you saying that I am essentially done with this concept, or do you think I need to make a page showing what the app might look like and how people would interact with it? After sketching and making models in my studio classes it feels a little weird leaving it so conceptual.

I think that one more page of showing what the app might look like mocked up on an iPhone would be good to do.

This is the perfect fidelity for a concept, and yes, it counts as Industrial Design and belongs in your folio!

But iPods already solve this in two ways. Go to:
Settings > iPod > Volume Limit
Settings > iPod > Sound Check

Also read: Sound and Hearing - Apple

But what I find interesting is that Apple has two points here that have not been addressed in software. This could be an opportunity for you to further iterate your concept:

Think about the volume
There’s no single volume setting appropriate for everyone. You may experience a different sound level with different earbuds or headphones and with different EQ settings. Some hearing experts recommend that you set the volume while in a quiet environment, turn the volume down if you can’t hear people speaking near you, avoid turning up the volume to block out noisy surroundings, and limit the amount of time that you use earbuds or headphones at high volume.

Keep Track of Time
You should also pay attention to how long you listen to audio at high volume. Remember: you can adapt to higher volume settings over time, not realizing that the higher volume may be harmful to your hearing. Hearing experts warn that noise-induced hearing loss can also occur as a result of repeated exposure to loud sound over time. The louder the volume, the less time required before your hearing may be affected. If you experience ringing in your ears or hear muffled speech, stop listening and have your hearing checked.

Thanks CG for the suggestion, but those built in settings don’t solve the problem of answering how loud is my iPod? The volume limit could be useful, but only if you are informed enough to use it. My guess is to most it is just notches on a bar and they are just guessing as to safe volumes. The “sound check” I think is a little misleading as it only balances the volume of all the songs in your library relative to each other. If users had an app that gave them a close approximation of the dB level of the music they were listening to and a page of information showing safe listening practices, I think that users will be able to use those settings much more effectively. I do agree with you that is shouldn’t just be straight “safe” or “not safe” dB values and the app should inform you of some of the intricacies of the topic.

I think I’m still going to polish it up a little more before adding it to my portfolio and I’m going to come up with a better name, but this last page is finnished enough to give you an idea of what I was going for. What do you guys think? Is there anything you think should be changed?

Do you think your app design is doing that? Right now your design is basically a dB meter. To a layperson, that’s the equivalent of ‘notches on a bar’ – they’re meaningless. As a designer, your opportunity is to add context and make it less scientific and more useful and usable.

Per the points I posted, loudness is relative to the user, their environment, and headphone style. That’s why Apple suggests calibrating “your loudness” in a quiet place first. It also mentions duration as a factor, which would be really simple to add to your app.

I now see what you mean. I tried to address this by adding the link to a page of information on safe listening practices, but upon looking at it again it seems tacked on. I will look for ways to integrate that information into the core features of the app. Maybe I could add a timer to the part that tests your music and add information on what each level means in the part that plays tones at different volumes. I’ll try to think of others as well.

Thanks to CG’s suggestions I’ve tried to make the app more informative to the user, and I think that more people would find it useful now. As for different headphone types I’m not sure what the software could do about that other than to include a disclaimer that the app is calibrated to the headphones that came with the iPod. Maybe the output is similar enough where all you need is to specify a type of headphone like over the ear or earplug style to get a fairly accurate reading, but as a student I don’t really have a way to test that. Do you guys think that this is working better? is there anything else you think I need to work on?

I don’t think that adding more text is the solution. What if the dB bar was color coded? From green to yellow to red so that at a glance the user could see how dangerous their volume levels are?

Also, remember that iphones have microphones. They already use ambient noise levels to adjust the phone call volume (I’m pretty sure, correct me if not) and it would be easy to have an ambient meter “overlayed” or used to adjust the safe zone in the background. If the listener is in a loud place, the app would know and be able to 1) tell them this information and 2) possibly raise the “safe zone” to account for the enviroment?

I would love to be able to run this in the background, and pop up an alert anytime my music gets too loud. Or better yet, what if your iphone alerted you to sustained loud enviromental noise even when you weren’t listening to music (vibration alert)?

Right now your app is more of an eduactional tool, which requires the user to engage it. I’d prefer active functionality that would help the user prevent hearing damage even when they forget to check their volume levels.