This was an individual assignment that had me in the role of the user and the designer. I formulated a design for an application using open data. For the assignment the class was tasked with identifying an application that we wanted to develop that makes use of open data from the City of Toronto Open data website or the Government of Canada open data website.
The City of Toronto offers many activities and programs through their community centres and divides them into two categories: registered and drop-in programs. Currently, to access the list of these programs a resident must visit the City of Toronto website at www1.toronto.ca and navigate the types of activities to find what they want. The alternative is a one hundred and fifty-two-page PDF booklet that the resident would have to look through to see all activities, their duration, and fees. Finding programs is a difficult task if a person is unfamiliar with how information is presented on the website and navigating to it can be frustrating. For example, information about registered programs is prominent on the website but if a person is looking for a list of drop-in programs finding it is not immediately apparent. In addition, the website does have a map interface for both types of programs, but it is not mobile friendly and it is housed in two different places.
Knowledge Media Technology
The RecTor application is a mobile information service that allows Toronto residents to view registered and drop-in programs on a mobile device using their geographic location. The application combines the existing data about recreation programs around Toronto and adds a layer to the Google Maps API to show residents what programs are nearby and whether it is free or a paid. According to Professor Ron Baecker knowledge media is defined as “documents, artifacts, technologies, and systems intended to enhance human creativity, learning, and knowledge building” (1997). RecTor is considered a technology of knowledge media because it fulfils the criteria set out by Professor Ron Baecker’s definition. The app provides knowledge of programs provided by the City of Toronto and informs residents where they are located and what type of activity is offered. It is an information service so it enhances the knowledge base of residents of Toronto about the recreation programs available to them.
Description of the Application
RecTor is a mobile information service platform that combines all the data from the City of Toronto website about recreational programs available to residents throughout the city.
The RecTor app is designed for residents of Toronto with a smartphone or mobile device from ages sixteen and older. The app will provide residents with details about recreational programs across Toronto in one place instead of having to wade through the many hyperlinks and the information overload that is currently presented on the City of Toronto website. The data in the app will provide residents with more options of available programs in their area especially drop-in programs for those who cannot afford paid programs. For example, retired adults or new immigrants to Canada will be able to enjoy the benefits of activities and exercise from their community centre. Consequently, users will be able to filter results by program type (registered or drop-in), activity type, date available, and location. In addition, residents will be able to look for activities that are designed for those with accessibility needs.
Platforms and Datasets
RecTor will be developed for Android mobile devices first and then Apple iOS. The app relies on the Google Maps API that would be easier to develop for the Android platform initially and later integrated into the iOS platform once proven successful. RecTor will serve as an augmented layer to Google Maps and use GPS functionality to help with geolocation of the customer using it. In addition, the RecTor application will rely on three open datasets available through the City of Toronto website.
The Parks and Recreation Facilities dataset will help in providing the following information for the application:
- Location ID, Name, Address, Postal Code, Phone Number
- Facility ID, Type, Name, Display Name
- Nearest intersection to the location
The Wellbeing Toronto – Recreation dataset will provide information about the recreation programs, registration, various types of facilities, and permits. This dataset is broken down into the following fields:
- Neighborhood, Neighborhood ID
- Community Space Used
- Permits Issued
- Free Program Registrations
- Program Registrations
- Facility Amenities
Finally, the Recreation Drop-in Programs dataset will be used for the list of locations where drop-in activities occur. The dataset includes information such as:
- Age Group
- Course Title
- Weekly period
- Time Slot
Complimentary to these open datasets, the Fun Guide PDF published on the City of Toronto website has all the information about registered programs in the city. Unfortunately, there is no dataset available for registered programs and no past information is publicly available. However, the Fun Guide has the most up-to-date information about recreational programs in the City and is published for each season of the year. The other open datasets are from 2012 – 2014 and current information is only available through the website and the Fun Guide. Other particulars, such as location and address, are static and only need to be cross-referenced occasionally to ensure that the community centres are still open. Combining all the data into one place will ensure that residents can find the programs they are looking for without the confusing layouts of the current City of Toronto website.
The RecTor app will draw on the details provided from the three open datasets in addition to the Fun Guide PDF to amalgamate the information into one place for residents. By creating a layer of information about recreational programs for the Google Map API, RecTor uses GPS and the data available to create an interactive interface for users.
Personas are used to create a realistic reference for your key segment of your audience. For the RecTor app we have different audiences to cater to such as, retired persons, new immigrants, and families with children. The user segment that will be focused on is the families with children.
Use Case for RecTor Application
- User Looks for Drop-in Program
- The use case starts when the User accesses the app through the mobile device and waits for the loading screen to disappear. The system loads the interactive map. A check of their location is done via GPS.
- If the User’s GPS is not on, they are prompted to allow the app to gain access to their location.
- The User is prompted with two radio buttons to choose between “Registered”, “Drop-in”, and “Both” Programs.
- The User selects the “Drop-in” option from the radio button. They wait while the map in the background updates.
- Users are shown five pins of the closest “Drop-in” Programs from their location.
- The User enters their home address at the top of the screen to check programs where they live.
- The Users selects the time period of March 14 – 20 to look for activities during March Break.
- The User filters their options further by selecting from the activities list: Skating.
- The User selects the community center they wish to look at by tapping on the pin on the map.
- A bubble pops up showing them the Name of the community centre, address, phone number, and a calendar of events for the time period selected.
- The User sees there is Public Skate: Unsupervised from Tues – Thurs from 9:30am – 11:30 am.
- The User starts the activity to save the calendar and search results.
- Users also have the option of emailing the schedule or printing it.
- The User finds the activity they are looking for and closes the app.
Use Case Diagram – Drop-in Program
The following prototype is a storyboard of the processes for a typical user for the RecTor system.
Using personas helps in identifying the key stakeholders and user groups for the application. By creating a typical user, the developer can imagine themselves interacting with the system as the user and make decisions based on their needs. However, there are always segments of the population not considered for the application that might end up using it more than the target audience. Use case scenarios are a good way to think about the user interactions with the system. This helps in determining flow and what responses are expected from the system. It can also highlight variants of the main process. For example, as shown above, if the user does not have their GPS on they are prompted to allow the app to access their location.
Finally, low fidelity prototypes such as storyboarding are often used in conjunction with scenarios showing how users might interact with the system (Sharp, 2007, p. 393). The advantage of using a storyboard is that it gives stakeholders a chance to view the process of using the application and any issues can be pointed out during this stage of development. Iteration is done rapidly and the final design requirements can be completed during this process. However, one weakness of this method is that it assumes how the system will work; it does not take into consideration the navigational aspects or errors that could occur during development. In addition, low fidelity prototypes have limited usefulness when it comes to usability testing, e.g. a paper prototype does not compare to the actual interface of an application. Consequently, only limited functionality can be shown with a low fidelity prototype, the main scenario of the target user is shown, but no other interactions are taken into account that could cause an error or fail to perform the request by the user.
The RecTor app is being developed to assist residents of the City of Toronto find recreational programs around the city. It was designed to amalgamate the existing information into one platform that is user friendly and quick to use. The creation of a user persona is to give an example of a typical user of the system. The use case scenario and storyboard show the user interactions with the system. In addition, the prototype shows the interactions and iteration that can occur on a faster level with user input. However, there are limits to what the low fidelity prototype can accomplish. Usability testing will be an important aspect to investigate during the development of the application.
The open datasets available through the City of Toronto website are not up-to-date, therefore, finding information about current programs would require creating an algorithm to parse data from the Fun Guide PDF in order to find events and sort them into the paid and free programs for the app. Reliance on the City of Toronto website is crucial for this application to work, any delays in publication would impact the accuracy of the RecTor app. However, to get current information the City of Toronto could be approached and asked to partner with the app to release the most recent schedules.
As stated earlier the City of Toronto could be approached to partner with the RecTor application to keep it updated. However, the City of Toronto could end up being a negative stakeholder in this process. The City makes money through registered programs in order to pay staff and continue having programs. This app could disrupt the current service model by allowing residents to look for drop-in programs only and circumvent the current registered program system, thus causing loss of revenue.
Baecker, R. (1997). The Web of Knowledge Media Design. Highlights of a speech given by Professor Ron Baecker at the OISE Auditorium Toronto, Canada.
City of Toronto. (2016). Drop-in Programs. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=a226547d993b8410VgnVCM1000001d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=af803b1b66658410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
City of Toronto. (2016). Recreational Drop in Programs. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=bbcd08675e984410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=02e6e03bb8d1e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
City of Toronto. (2016). Parks and Recreation Facilities. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=d28b12f464151310VgnVCM1000003dd60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=02e6e03bb8d1e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
City of Toronto. (2016). Wellbeing Toronto – Recreation. Retrieved from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=36c1d914ec71b410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextchannel=02e6e03bb8d1e310VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
Sharp, H., Rogers, Y., & Preece, J. (2007). Interaction design: beyond human-computer interaction. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons