Quickly scan/respond to all of your media feeds without flipping between apps
There are times, like when you're on a crowded subway platform, that staying on top of your social media activity is cumbersome. Flipping back and forth between apps is hard to do when you're squeezed in on all sides.
For these occasions, I’m designing a small app that shows you everything on one screen. What you lose in functionality (I’ve kept only the barest of features), you gain in speed, ease of use, and readability.
Later, when you have more time and are less cramped for space, you can use your regular apps to update your social media feeds.
A small app for keeping up with your social media activity
Instead of designing apps around tasks, let’s focus on people instead
If you look at the apps on your phone, they’re organized by tasks — get a map route, email a friend, add an event. Each task has its own launch icon (Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar).
This task-based focus causes seniors endless frustration. App switching doesn’t come naturally to them. One wrong tap and they're lost.
Seniors don’t automatically gravitate to tasks, they intuitively think about the people who are closest to them. They choose a person first, then associate a task with that person (send an email, a photo, or lookup their address).
To help seniors do more with technology, I’m designing an app that places people first. All functions relating to that person are contained within a single screen, without switching apps.
(Why are the Contact apps on our phone so under used? They’ve changed very little over the past 15 years. They are long overdue for an update — which I am working on with this app.)
Launching in the spring of 2021 (Apple iOS/Android).
Making mobile technology easier for seniors
A Google Maps / Instant Messenger mash up
Like other apps on this list, the idea of this app came from my extensive work with Google Maps.
In an ideal world, schools would contact supply teachers the night before. But in many cases, supply teachers are needed at the last minute. Even if your find someone, the commute to the school might be too late.
My app concept matches available supply teachers with real-time driving/transit conditions to avoid this circumstance.
I went through a few design iterations and showed it to a few people at the local school board. They thought the design was very slick and practical, years ahead of what they’re using now. But they also said the app would have almost zero percent chance of succeeding. Vendors at the school board are firmly entrenched and won't open the door for anyone new. It’s a tight, closed market, with relationships solidified over the years.
When I was younger I might have been up to the challenge, but I have too many other things I would rather be doing today..
Matching schools with available teachers and real-time driving conditions
Should I buy an inexpensive house far from work? Or a more expensive one that’s closer? Which is the better buy in the long run?
Calculating estimated car costs for your new home is tricky.The farther you drive the faster you are likely to go through cars. The size, year, and model of your car affects your costs over time (luckily there are car databases that track these things based on averages).
I’ve come up with an app that uses Google Maps to calculate yearly driving distances to and from work (based on home location A, B, C or D). By matching the mileage logs with car databases and house prices, the app gives you a good estimate of your costs over time (better than guessing your costs — which is what most people are doing now).
Factoring car commutes into the total cost of home ownership
Scanning paper receipts on my phone was mostly hit or miss
I run a consulting business and tracking receipts on my phone was frustrating me. The apps were buggy and the OCR scans didn’t work most of the time. I thought of an easier way and designed an app for it.
I’m a creature of habit. I use the same gas stations and go to the same fast-food chains and coffee shops each week. Once I log my first receipt for a place (which may take a minute to input), subsequent receipts are a breeze. All I have to do is clone/duplicate the original receipt, then change the date and amount.
Cloning has another big advantage over buggy OCR scans. I apply expense categories and tags to my original receipts (for expense reports). This tagging information gets cloned as well. (OCR scans don't contain any tagging information. I have to re-apply each tag manually — which is slow and inefficient).
As simple as my solution was though, time has moved on and I don’t see much of a future for these types of apps today. Most of us use debit or credit cards for our purchases, so almost everything is captured online.
Sometimes a low-tech approach gets the job done more efficiently
Innovation often comes from small, nimble companies
For a few years I designed several iPhone travel apps (New York, London, Toronto, and a 20 city mega app).
These apps enjoyed a small, but loyal following (over 2.5 million downloads).
Along with many bigger brands in the travel market, these apps simply couldn’t compete with Google. I pulled them from the iPhone store a few years later (but anyone who had downloaded them could continue to use them).
Up to five years later, app analytics showed that people were still using these travel apps almost daily. That's a remarkable statistic when you consider the lifespan of most apps is about 48 hours.
The 20 city app was notable for its innovative technology. There were only three of us on the project — myself, the programming lead, and his assistant. Together we created one of the first cloud-based apps in the iPhone (iOS) store (I think only the Washington Post beat us to it).
From an app publisher’s perspective, linking to a cloud database is a big deal. Rather than having to resubmit content updates to the iOS store (which can take up to several weeks for approval), changes could be pushed out instantly (as long as Apple’s guidelines are followed).
In the years following the release of these travel apps, cloud-based technology has become more widely used by publishers.
Ahead of its time
Deciphering network activity.
Inside/Out was suggested by the Head of IT for Nevada Learning Series (see next section, below).
He setup a firewall and was trying to make sense of the network traffic. There were thousands of coded entries each minute and no reporting tool, so I designed one in my spare time.
We spent a few months coding my screens, then took the application (Inside/Out) to market. It quickly became the application of choice for dozens of small banks and government agencies across North and South America.
I ran the project for a while, then handed it over to the deployment team so I could move on to other projects.
Inside/Out Firewall Reporter
Over 26 million copies translated into nine languages.
Back in 1995, I was working as a software instructor at a local university. Students complained about carrying heavy books to class, so I designed a software cheat sheet (trifold printed guide) for Microsoft Word, then for other office applications.
A few months later, I set up a small company (Nevada Learning Series) to market these guides to Fortune 500 companies.
By the time I sold the company ten years later, we had sold over 26 million copies in nine languages.
From the classroom to world-wide distribution in less than five years
1996/2008 Software Guides (Printed)
A smart cooking assistant and handy resource guide
This is the digital cookbook I’ve always wanted, but couldn’t find anywhere.
I have dozens of great cookbooks, many of which don’t use metric measurements. It’s always a bit of a pain having to fire up a measurement conversion app on my phone. My cookbook design, on the other hand, handles kitchen math/conversions with a handy slider. Users can either change the measurements for specific recipes or apply them globally across all recipes.
Another peeve I've addressed is recipe portions. There's another slider so users can easily adjust ingredients and cooking times for one, two, or more people (once again, they can apply this setting locally or across all recipes).
When I'm shopping for meals (or even at home), I sometimes can't find ingredients. I pull out my phone and search on the internet for suitable substitutions (usually in the grocery isle). The cookbook app contains a database that conveniently suggests substitutions for you.
To make grocery shopping easier, the app connects to popular list programs such as Google Keep and OneNote. Just select one or more recipes, then export the ingredients with a simple touch of a button.
Our daughter is a vegetarian, but everyone else in the family isn’t. It’s not easy to find vegetarian versions of meat dishes, or good vegetarian pairings for meat dishes (cooking two meals each day is expensive and impractical). The smart assistant in the cookbook app offers suggestions for vegetarian pairings and vegetarian versions of popular meat recipes.
Launching in 2021 (Apple iOS/Android & web).
More than just recipes
Original Design Concepts
Some have made it to market and others haven't — that's the nature of this business.
Hello! I’m Blair Robert
a UX Specialist from Toronto
I’ve worked with companies of all sizes — from start-ups to large corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Pfizer, Bank of America, CIBC and RBC.
I have designed and launched several apps and products — some of which have been used by millions. I know, from years of experience, how to get new ideas off the ground: everything from early stage sketches, prototypes, and user testing, to final stage launches (many of my ideas have spawned businesses).