MyPali Playcentre Sign in App
PALI (Play and Lesuire Ireland) is a group of 100+ playcentres in Ireland
The playcentres were having difficulty managing their paper sign in sheets so I created an app to allow parents to sign in at reception using a tablet, which made it easier for playcentres to manage and search through their records.
Full Stack Developer, UX Designer
Dec 2019 - May 2020
After the initial enquiry in November of 2019, I went to the local playcentre to talk with the manager to get an understanding for their needs and problems, then after doing research and ideating, I designed a prototype and demoed it to them. I was offered the Contract in December and created the app over 5 weeks and finished at the end of January. The first Playcentre trialled the app in February and after tweaking and improving the integration of the app, Several more playcentres started using the app later that month.
The App Resulted in:
Reduced the amount of paper used,
made sure all necessary parent details were filled in.
Faster to search and view all records for daily purposes.
Faster to find older records for legal purposes.
1. The Problem
Michael who was my contact and the manager of the local Playcentre told me that they were currently using paper forms to take people’s details, such as child name and age, parent name and signature, phone number, and other details.
He told me it was cumbersome to keep all of these forms as they had to store them for at least 6 months for insurance purposes, and also had difficulty searching back through old records, and sometimes had trouble reading handwriting.
Cumbersome storing of paper forms.
Slow to search through old records.
No Privacy for other Parents/Guardians,
Accountability for accidents, fraud.
Waste of Paper.
Rough thoughts and requirements taken at first visit to a play centre
2. My Role in the project and how I collaborated with others
My role was to come up with an idea and design for an app that would best fit their needs and then create and maintain it for them.
I collaborated with others in the project by going to some of the play centres and talking to the staff, management and parents at the Playcentre to get a better understanding of their entire experience start to finish, inside and outside of the play centre from before they had arrived to after they left.
I also talked with my parents, Aunt and others who were regular users of the play centres to get a better understanding of their experience from their perspective.
For the play centres, I didn’t go to I video called them. Throughout the project I constantly kept in touch with the parents and staff to see how they used the app, to ensure it was easy to use and that new additions to the app
continued to satisfy their needs.
3. Research: How I came to the proposed solution
Through talking to Michael at my local Playcentre, understanding his needs,
Taking notes while I was there and then conceptualising them when I got returned to my office, I drew out a basic design of what the app would look like and need to do.
After drawing out the designs, I created a basic prototype on Marvel
(Link to Marvel Prototype) This was really when the app started coming to life for the first time, and I could see it, test it out and see
How it flowed and what I needed to change.
After iterating a couple of designs and creating a plan of:
What I'm going to make,
How long will it take,
How much it will cost to make.
I presented the prototype to the play centres at a meeting. They were impressed, but I came under heavy grilling on what it could do and its futures capabilities. I explained that it has the potential to do anything but it’s a good idea to keep it simple at the beginning and focus on the core problems they were looking for it to solve first and then add more features in the future.
Thankfully they understand the app and soon after the meeting I was offered the contract! 😊
Pali App Agreement
4. How my solution solved the problem
I set out to create the app. I had planned to create the app in 5 weeks.
I created a web app using React. Creating a web app had many advantages for me
as the creator and also for the play centres.
For me, it meant I could create one app that could be used on iPhone, Android, tablets and even computers. This saved me enormous development time and gave the play centres more flexibility allowing them to use the app On any device, they wished. Also creating a web app meant that new releases were instantly applied, compared to the lengthy update process with the App Store and Play Store. This meant I could iterate faster, which was a real game-changer!
Solutions to initial Problems:
Cumbersome storing of paper forms.
Using the app meant all of the forms were stored in the cloud and accessible By any device, which cut out the paper forms, although they did keep some just as Backup in case the app went down.
The records could be searched instantly by many different criteria such as Parent name, phone number, child name, shoebox number, date. The app also returned All of the records matching the criteria, not just one, which was handy as you could see how many people were in a certain day, or how many times a specific person had come in.
Now that all the forms were being typed, there was no problem reading the text.
Another unforeseen bonus that came from having to use the app was that some people would leave the fields blank on the sheet, but on the app you couldn’t submit the form without entering all the required fields!
Also, the app only allowed you to input the correct values in the text fields, i.e numbers into phone number input box, this kept the data a bit more uniform.
Waste of Paper.
By using the app the waste of paper was majorly reduced.
5. Challenges I faced, including designs that were ultimately not pursued
I started out testing the app with 5 play centres. Which led me to come across some
Challenges mentioned below.
Sign-in Form being used for more than just a disclaimer form.
Initially I was told one of the main reasons for the form was for insurance reasons.
After observing the staff and parents at the play centre on a normal day using
The paper forms before the app had been created, It became clear to me that
The form was not just used as a disclaimer for insurance purposes but a lot more.
To keep track of which shoebox the child’s shoes were in, how much that group paid and in the event of a fire the sheet would be used as a role call to check everyone was out of the building, as each sheet had the name of parents and kids who signed in.
So I had to design the form and create a manager’s section to incorporate these aspects.
Realizing this completely changed the use of the app from something you use once and store records long term, to the table on the mangers section being used frequently to check people in and out and track other details.
Example of sign in sheets from 2 different playcentres
Play centres forgetting their pin.
One of the decisions I made when creating the app was to store details of the play centre like their logo, name and the pin to access the manager section within the app itself, not in the cloud.
One day a play centre forgot their pin and were not able to reset it using the method I was giving them by resetting their local storage for the app. I was stuck as they became locked out and I didn’t know how to reset their pin either! I eventually recovered their pin and then decided that the play centre details should be stored on the cloud, which gave me more control but was also more secure as well, which I didn’t realize initially.
Speed of use.
I found when I got the app into a play centre to be used for the first time, that not surprisingly the play centres are busy places with lots going on, and people coming and going all the time. I had to make sure the form was fast to fill out, as there could be queues of people waiting to enter, and that the manager's table was quick and easy for the staff to search the records too for signing people in and out.
After watching parents signing in I started to remove fields that weren’t necessary such as the start date and time, which is something I changed to be auto-filled in once they opened the form page.
I frequently timed how long it would take to fill in the form and removed other things to reduce seconds.
The average time to fill out the form was 40 seconds.
Manager table cluttered with columns.
As I iterated with the app, the manager’s table started to become more cluttered with new columns that the parents could enter on the form. To allow for new fields that the play centres requested such as price per group, how many people were in on a day, and total revenue for that day, I created a 2nd tab on the table for those counts, to keep the table as lean as possible.
Original manager table design
New manager table design
New manager daily counts table
6. Project Outcome
By switching to signing in using the app, paper was saved but the real benefit was the records were more organised and a lot quicker to search through, this saved the playcentres a lot of time.
7. What I learned
I learned that it’s very important to observe how people actually operate in their normal environment. Only when you observe do you truly see who the real users/stakeholders are and what problems they face.
I bought myself a tablet to the test the app and get that bit closer to what it would actually be like to the use the app. I chose a cheap one, as I knew thats the type a play centre would buy. I knew there could be a huge difference in the experience between an iPad and a budget tablet!
Cheap tablet popular with playcentres, I purchased for testing
Tablet with the MyPali App.
The most critical people can be your best resource for learning.
In my local play centre, two young girls were managing the reception.
One of which I knew, the other I didn’t know. the one I knew told me the app was great, which was good to hear, but the one I didn’t know who was a bit more irreverent, and said it wasn’t going to work because it was too awkward and slow to fill out the form especially for parents distracted by kids hanging out of them, and that often grandparents would come in with poor eyesight.
This was good for me to hear as it was constructive and allowed me to improve the app rather than being told it’s great but in reality, it wasn’t being used.
Thinking ahead can pay off nicely.
By taking shortcuts and not doing things the right it will catch you out after time.
Putting in a good effort to try and think ahead of what might be needed or how the users Might use the app by taking a more holistic view of their entire experience can help avoid problems when users use it in unexpected ways!
One example of this, was in one play centre they had the same door for entry and exit so the tablet was placed there, another play centre had two separate places for entry and exit and each had a tablet. Amazingly though when a parent signed in on the entrance tablet, their sign-in automatically popped up on the manager screen on the exit tablet, the two were completely in sync.
This setup in a play centre was not something I Initially had thought of but was covered by the way I designed the app.
Good design is less.
The fewer features you have, the easier it is to use and the more focused it is on doing what’s genuinely needed. Also from a development point of view, the less code you write the less you have to manage, which saves time.
UX Designer, Full stack developer
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Frustrated on missing out on events I was interested in, as well as there was no app to show you what was going on in my hometown. I created DapDap to allow people to see what was going on locally and made it easy for anyone to post an event to the app for everyone to see!