We Drove 3000 Miles, So You Wouldn't Have to Use a Crappy App

min read
by: Dan Sep 6th, 2016

It is important when creating a new product that you test the prototype in the intended location. When we build mobile apps at TheoryThree, we ask ourselves where the user is likely to use the app, then we go there and try to use it. It's called field testing, and it is an invaluable part of the process of building a better app experience.

So that is how we found ourselves on August 26th packing up a car and two motorcycles to drive to Yellowstone National Park. We decided a ten-day road trip would be the perfect testing experience for our new app, Norrin. 

Over 3000 miles later, we all agreed, the two months of work we spent on the alpha version had to be thrown away, and we had to start over from scratch. -

When we embarked on our adventure, we were convinced that the app was almost complete. The trip would help us sort out which features were useful and which ones we had to tweak or ditch entirely. 

Over 3000 miles later, we all agreed, the two months of work we spent on the alpha version had to be thrown away, and we had to start over from scratch.

Throwing away hundreds of hours of work may seem like a failure to some, but to us, it is part of the creative process. We don't start out hoping to trash our first round, but when our testing points to a total misfire, we accept the results and move on. 

We knew that building a unique app like Norrin came with some risk attached because we were applying several untested assumptions when creating the original version of the app. And, as it turns out, that was exactly where we went wrong. What we built made sense in the office, but it was misguided approach when we tried to use it on the road. Without the 3000-mile road trip, we would never have discovered that fact.

So after a few days, the topic of our daily campfire meetings quickly pivoted from what we would change in the old app, to what we need to build into the new app. We all agreed that we had hopes for what Norrin could be, and what we made did not live up to those expectations.

Everything was rethought, down to the UI and gestures that would make the new  app unique. We sketched, roleplayed and discussed interaction scenarios. What we didn't do was crack open our laptops and start redesigning under the Wyoming sky. No, it was important that our process be more low-tech than that. 

There were no funerals for version 1.0 of our app; we were too excited to start work on the next, better, version that we didn't look back. Who could look back, with such a beautiful scenery around us and a clear path in front of us? Our trip served its purpose, and by mile 3000 we knew where we had to go.

About Dan

Dan is the founder of TheoryThree Interactive, a mobile app and interactive studio based in Madison Wisconsin. With a mix of both creative talent and programming ability he focuses on leveraging emerging technologies to solve complex needs for his clients.