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Emily Niespodziewanski

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July 11, 2012

Building a mobile app as a novice: tools review

July 11, 2012 | By | No Comments

Going into building TALUS, I had minimal understanding of programming. Maybe in the 90s, I learned that if you surround text with <b> and </b>, that text will be bolded. And something about the existence of a hexadecimal number code system (weird). But that was pretty much it.

However, as a consumer, I feel more knowledgeable. I can tell the difference between a smoothly functioning app and a crappy one. I’ve noted broad trends in the evolution of internet and mobile aesthetic. Of course, most self-aware consumers can say the same things. And none of that vague understanding meant that I could make anything at all. One of the most basic obstacles I faced was not knowing how different programming and mark-up languages interacted with each other.

If you’re starting from the ground up, like I was, you may not know about the W3schools tutorials. They are an easy way to learn the basics of html markup. As @zenparty has noted about the benefits of learning to code, this gives you the ability to break down, tweak, and rebuild any html-based “stuff” you might be working with.

Once I had a sense of what I wanted to put into the app, I gathered my text and images and put them into a series of text files, from which I copied the material into new “pages” as I needed it. JQuery Mobile allowed me to overlay an attractive skin onto my information architecture and text. JQuery Plain is a javascript library oriented towards website design. There are a few standard themes (black, blue, yellow, and silver), the usual buttons, radio-buttons, and checkboxes, and full flexibility in the layout. In addition to up-and-down menu navigation, TALUS requires some horizontal movement as well – JQuery Mobile’s navigation panes made this easy. Although I didn’t take full advantage of the all of the options available, the “look” created in this program is preferable to any html skin.

Recommended with reservations is a user-friendly app called Codiqa. These folks have worked hard to create a wysiwyg editor for the JQuery code. Codiqa uses a drag-and-drop method to put your skin together. This tool provided me with an easy way to familiarize myself with some of the more basic tools offered. The free version only allows a user to work on one project at a time, but the html for the project can be downloaded at any time. That way, I was able to see what buggy things were still happening. However, because Codiqa does not accept uploaded html, any fixes I find go into the changes log – I’ll polish everything at the end, but it doesn’t do any good to do so now.

I found that by discussing the difficulties I was having with my team, I was able to find the tools that I needed. And the tools to understand the tools. If you’re hooked up to a university as we are fortunate to be, you may want to investigate the tutorials available at Lynda – these do require some prerequisite knowledge, though. Even as a novice, I was able to stumble through the steps of gathering text, sorting it into an architecture, and designing the layout using JQuery Mobile (and Codiqa).

What tools did you use to learn to create digital products?

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