A Digital Magazine by American University's Kogod School of Business
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How to Make a Mobile App
    Executive-in-Residence Bill Bellows gives his students an exercise that shows just how connected we feel to our smartphones. He asks them all to take out their phones, and then to enter the password and hand the phone to a classmate. Not surprisingly, students recoil: Hand over my phone? But that’s my life in there!And that is Bellows’s point. Users’ interactions with their mobile devices have become not just personal, but something deeper—intimate. Bellows takes that relationship into account when creating new mobile apps at the company he co-founded, OneWhitePixel.

    “You can’t just put an app out there and expect people to do anything with it,” he said. “You have to think about what happens from the minute the user takes it out of a pocket or bag to the minute that user touches the screen, and every step in between. It’s probably the most intimate device we have, and that has to be tied to the user experience.”

    OneWhitePixel, based in Reston, Virginia, and Utrecht, Netherlands, has worked with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and academic researchers worldwide. Most recently, it launched FieldReporter, an app that allows the public to collaborate with scientists by reporting environmental data.

    Bellows’s current project is News Reporter, an app to facilitate public contributions to news media. Imagine: a citizen uploads a newsworthy photo with voice annotation to his local newspaper’s website. Bellows envisions this as a boon to small news outlets, a cost-effective way to preserve important local coverage.

    He’s also on board for the Kogod Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative, a new enterprise the school is launching this spring, which will serve as an incubator for student projects.

    The desire to connect communities, Bellows speculates, is driving app development. “I think people want to be more engaged in the world around them. To me, that’s the ultimate power of these devices.”

    Harnessing that power, however, requires great design. The stakes are high, because the average user spends precious little time giving apps a chance: if people have a bad experience the first time they use an app, they rarely ever use it again.

    Bellows says a bad experience often means a developer tried to shove too much into an app. Instead of value, it creates overload and an app that is ugly, unwieldy, bloated, or just too complicated—all cardinal sins in the app world.

    “You have to constantly edit yourself down,” he says.

    With an eye toward minimalism, he seeks to craft apps that are elegant in their simplicity and seemingly effortless to use. KN mark

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