Designing for Fun on the Run

Last week’s Interaction Design class presentations at Stanford made me laugh. Scott Klemmer’s CS147 class, a mix of undergrads and graduate students, demonstrated applications for mobile devices, which featured Nokia N95 (supplied by Nokia) and the iPhone. Each of the 15 or 16 groups had one minute to explain their project and that session was followed up by poster sessions with more detail — a very nice format.

What made me laugh was how specifically personal the applications were. I might label these apps as Fun on the Run. Influenced by Twitter, these students focused on taking care of basic needs such as food and sleep, finding friends (often combined with food and drink), organizing their schedule, and what to do when they’re bored. Many of the applications were not particularly original — you can do many of these things via the Web already. Figuring out how to do them on the cell phone is a new challenge. Because the cellphone goes everywhere with you, it becomes part of you, just like your eyeglasses or your wallet or purse. It is you and yours, much more than a personal computer, and this is why these applications seemed so highly personalized.

Most of students followed the age-old design instinct to identify one’s experience with a broader group of people. These were students presenting to other students and they had make that connection in one minute. Several of the presentations started out “Have you ever…”, sounding like infomercials. One presenter said “How do you let your mother know that she’s calling you when you’re in class? And how can you say you’re in class when she calls and you don’t want to talk to her?”

Here are some of the applications:

  • Good Food Now. Find a restaurant quickly.
  • iLocator. Find lost devices.
  • wdzzup 2.0. Find out what your friends are up to right now.
  • Mobogotchi. Find out if your working out enough.
  • Alarm us. Set a nap alarm that blocks calls.
  • Simply on Time. A better alarm for power napping.
  • Shopping ++. A better way to list what you need to buy.
  • Food Hound. See Good Food Now.
  • Flight Finder. Find out how long your flight is delayed.
  • I’m There. Find out where your friends are.
  • InTransit. Find out what’s happening with your bus or subway.
  • Fidget. What to do when you’re bored on the bus or subway.

Another application promised to allow you to take a picture of an object in a store and do a look up on Amazon and other ecommerce sites. On its poster, the first component of the application was “Wizard of Oz” object recognition. A nice hand wave over a difficult problem.

One application that seemed more functional than many of the others was “Email Quick Replies”, a macro facility for iPhone’s email. Jeff Siebert and his team created a hack (which could become a native iPhone app once Apple allows it) so that with a few keystrokes you can recall a stock email reply. It was something that a guy over fifty like me might find useful.

These students apps could be a signal of what’s to come once we have truly open mobile platforms. These user-driven mobile applications are a lot more fun than anything the carriers have come up with on their closed systems.

Photos below by Mike Krieger.


Scott Klemmer talks to students about their projects.


The poster for an iPhone quick-reply facility.


The poster for I’m There.

The poster for the Fidget project.