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Designing an Experience

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From Pleasantville to Priceline.com, Spain to South Africa, Dyson Communications student John Robb has been all over the m-app.

Designing apps, presenting them at conferences in Spain and South Africa, winning the Pace Pitch Contest, publishing a paper, hosting a UX exhibition, helping design a mobile app for Priceline.com. This may sound like the achievements of someone with 30 years of experience, but they’re just a few of the things Honors College student John Robb ’14 has been up to over the last three and a half years at Pace.

As a high school student, Robb was ready to go to SUNY Purchase—he attended all of their programs and portfolio review, but a trip to Pace’s Westchester Campus turned it all around.

“I realized that this was what college was supposed to look like,” says Robb. “It felt like a place I would want to live.”

His first year at Pace brought the communications student around the country and world, something he wasn’t expecting during his freshman year in college.

His suite-mate, Peter Francheschini, was an Android developer taking Seidenberg Professor Jean Coppola’s service-learning course. He came to Robb for help designing an app, and the two teamed up on Candoo. Built for the Android platform, Candoo helps the elderly population and those with fine motor function difficulties access and read e-mail, web pages, and basic applications such as a medication tracker/reminder by incorporating simplified and enlarged designs and buttons, a utility to launch other apps, and a text-to-speech utility.

Taking their app across the country and world, Robb and Francheschini competed first at the Berkeley Mobile International Collaborative (BMIC) Challenge as part of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where they placed fourth and were invited to the Mobile Health Challenge in South Africa. In addition, they brought Candoo to the 2012 Pace Pitch Contest, where they took home the grand prize.

“The purpose was to make a tablet and modern technology accessible to everyone, instead of the demographic they’re built for,” says Robb. “If there was no Candoo, I don’t know what I’d be doing at Pace.”

After Candoo, the pair teamed up on Seamless Messaging, a messaging app that combined Facebook, Google Hangouts, and SMS all in one place without having to switch between platforms. Seamless Messaging earned them third place at the inaugural Pace Mobile App Design Contest and 500 subscriptions to the beta app within a week.

Currently, Robb is working with Professor Coppola’s mobile app team in PLV on AliveInside, an application that provides older adults living in senior homes with a “music listening list” based on their responses to a series of guided questions and their subsequent selection of songs, artists, and albums. 

“This was based off of a documentary called Alive Inside and a viral video, where a man was unresponsive and then music started to play and he would sing and dance and talk in full sentences,” says Robb. “AliveInside gives people the music they might remember from their childhood to bring memories back.”

In May 2014, the team presented their published paper at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Conference on Long Island.

In addition to taking his designs around the world, Robb has showcased work right on the Westchester Campus.

As part of his Pforzheimer Honors Research Grant, Robb was awarded $1,000 to create a UX exhibition on campus. He created "Design that Works," an exhibition held at the Choate House Gallery showcasing user-centered design concepts, that was inspired by his spring and summer internship at Priceline.com, where he served as a mobile design intern and did wireframing and designed user experiences for the Priceline mobile app.

“Towards the end of my internship at Priceline.com, I was learning more about scientific and technical aspects of design instead of aesthetic—the cognitive science and psychology behind design. I learned all these different fields and concepts and I wanted to be able to teach them. I never knew anything about it and most people don’t, so this exhibition was a really unique experience,” he said.

This summer, Robb will continue his work in the field as a user experience design intern at Warner Music Group, an internship he landed through Pace’s eRecruiting site.

“It’s not just about designing a mobile app, but about the experience the user has had,” he says.

In addition to his design work, Robb took a semester to study abroad and immerse himself in the culture at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain. He also served as treasurer of the New Dorm Hall Council, as well as and public relations manager and now president of WPAW Radio Station in PLV.

And his favorite thing about Pace, is a combination of all of these things.

“Being able to access these opportunities. There are a lot of different things I’ve done and I love having done all for different reasons. I love the social life here. I was incredibly ambitious about the Honors research grant and was able to accomplish something by myself; while, with Candoo, I was able to accomplish something with the team,” he adds. “It’s almost not one experience, but the variety of experiences.”

After graduation this December, Robb has his sights on the Copenhagen Institute of Interactive Design, a top design school in Denmark, which accepts only 25 people per year. Robb will also be applying to other graduate schools and for a Fulbright research grant.  

“I’ve had opportunities [at Pace] that I don’t think I would’ve have had at another school,” he says.

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