Meet the Team: Paul Hagan, User Interface & Mobile Development Team Leader
Tell us a bit about what your team does.
We actually used to be two separate teams, hence the rather long team name, but we’re essentially a 5-strong group of designers and developers, who spend the majority of our time building bespoke mobile apps for staff and students.
We also do design work for colleagues in the department, which can range from re-branding off the shelf software, to print design, infographics and all kinds of other stuff. The strangest thing we’ve been asked to design is a pen with a secret banner hidden inside it!
You must get to work on a wide range of projects?
Absolutely - our work tends to be a roughly 50/50 split between administrative tools for staff and students, and more adventurous projects supporting the research of our academic colleagues.
In past 12 months we’ve contributed to projects as varied as apps for tracking infectious brain diseases, recording equine surgical procedures, and exploring the sites of the Spanish Peninsula Wars - all the way to an iPad app for health and safety inspections in halls, and an online tool that helps the University recruit more students from under-represented backgrounds.
If people want an app for a project how can they get help with it?
The first step is to contact our Service Desk with an outline of your idea, which will make it's way to the appropriate person on our team (usually me).
It may be that there’s already a mobile platform in use at the University that meets your needs, or an existing solution that can be bought in – but in the instances where you need something uniquely tailored to a specific project or situation, that’s where a bespoke app can really help.
Some people have a formal proposal for a fully-realised app, but if you’d just like to discuss where mobile technology might fit into your research, teaching, or general working life then we're still happy to hear from you. The best projects usually start off with a cup of tea and a chat!
What challenges does your team face?
Being a small team working in a growth area means that there’s always more work to be done than there are hours in the day, but I know that being busy doesn’t make us special - and it definitely stops us getting bored.
What’s often more of a challenge is helping people understand the difference between mobile apps, the mobile web, and the whole grey area in-between. The best mobile apps focus on a specific task that lends itself to handheld devices, and build the entire experience around it to drive engagement and encourage repeat usage.
Mobile technology seems to constantly change, what direction do you see it going?
We know from recent projects, such as the Scholars Apply web app, that for some of our users a smartphone is the primary, and sometimes only, method of getting online.
We’re also past the point whereby, for our students at least, mobile support for any given service is expected to be the norm. I think of it as the “why wouldn’t it work on mobile?” attitude to service provision – that if something doesn’t work on mobile, it’s perceived as being defective somehow, rather than simply not being “mobile compatible”.
Two specific technologies that might finally reach maturity in 2017 are Augmented Reality and Indoor Navigation, with the advent of Google’s “Tango” platform allowing rich interactive AR experiences, and Apple’s typically secretive indoor mapping app popping up on the app store. On a personal level, I’m particularly interested in the indoor navigation area, as there are a million and one potential uses. No more getting lost inside the buildings around Abercrombie Square for a start…
How long have you worked at the University? What did you do before you worked here?
I’ve recently had my 10-year anniversary at the University, which in itself is quite scary, but I’ve been lucky enough to move around a bit during my time here. I started out in Marketing and Communications doing web design, and supporting those staff who maintain the University’s public-facing website, before joining Computing Services in 2012 as a User Experience designer, and eventually transitioning to my current role.
Prior to that I worked in Local Government in similar digital roles, first for the Library Service, and then Planning department, although my favourite job was working in Chris’s chippy on Rose Lane. I sleep soundly in the knowledge that when people eventually get fed up of apps and websites, I can go back to doing a ‘steak pie in the fat’ (shudder).
What do you like most about your job?
It’s got to be a combination of the really interesting projects we get to work on, and the great people in the department who help bring them to life.
I’ve recently had crash courses on the centuries-old roots of the current war in Syria, the impact of mindfulness on weight loss, and the causes and symptoms of a pedunculated lipoma (who knew a horse could be allergic to grass?) – all thanks to apps we’re currently developing.
Thankfully, as a team we get along really well, so even when we’re under pressure there’s always an enjoyable atmosphere in the office.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself…
In a former life I was a professional musician, being lucky enough to perform and record alongside some of my heroes, including Christy Moore and Elvis Costello, as well as playing shows at all kinds of amazing venues like Abbey Road, Glastonbury, the 02 Arena in London, and our very own Echo Arena. I also had a degree of success as a member of the band Amsterdam, who are a bit of a local institution, and currently have 3 entries (at last count) in the Guinness book of hit singles.
These days I’m semi-retired, and am content meeting up once a week with a few likeminded friends to crank out our favourite 90’s indie anthems just for the fun of it, but you never know – Sleaford Mods didn’t have their breakthrough until they were well into their 40’s, so there’s time yet…