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Jan's Jubilee

Creating a virtual reality experience for my Grandma and 250 of her closest friends.

Jan's Jubilee is a virtual reality memory viewing application created for my grandmother's 75th Diamond Jubilee birthday.  

When experiencing Jan's Jubilee, the viewer watches my grandmother grow up from a child to present day as photographs of her over 75 years float by in a surreal memory space.

If you want to check out the app yourself, grab a google cardboard and download Jan's Jubilee from the iOS App store, or the Android Play Store.

Here's a quick demo video.

The story of Jan's Jubilee

It all began with some branding for my Grandma's 75th Diamond Jubilee birthday

This project had started even before I realized it. My mother contacted me about doing some simple branding for a big party she was putting on for my grandmother.  I had a few working sessions with her talking about my grandma’s love of wildflowers and ‘barbie colors’, and we ended up with a few flavors of branding work for her to use on the invitations (or so I thought, more on that later).

Then I had an idea.

I had been toying with the idea of creating virtual reality applications, and it clicked - I could give my my grandma a new take on the photo album, but in virtual reality! A guided experience, with an embedded story arc (watching my grandma grow up) that would also be a fun piece of the party event itself as well as a gift.  It would mean bringing Google Cardboards to a group of seniors who'd never heard of it, and creating the software myself, but I it would also create a surreal and memorable experience for everyone in attendance - especially my grandmother - so I set off in pursuit.

Turns out, I needed to make a VR application for almost 300 people.

I was called to go over some items for the party, and it was revealed to me that there were going to be over 250 people attending.  That was far cry from the 15-30 I had initially planned on.  I could have babysat 15-30 people getting set up with the application and getting everything running, but 250?

After some research, I realized that the only consistent way to deliver an experience to even 250 people at a party like this one would be to make Jan's Jubilee available on the iOS app store and the Android play store.  

The headcount led me on bizarre journey through app distribution, poor cell connections, and tricking the iOS app store review system using some clever UX

My grandmother lives in the mountains.  Cell connections up there are spotty at best, nonexistent at worst, and the internet can be quite slow (especially for 250 people at an event).  The app would have to be small, small enough to download over even the worst of connections.  

After about a week of work, I finally thought I had everything ready to go for the app stores. I learned the hard way that Apple doesn't like 'niche' apps - and it turns out making a photo album for your grandma is pretty niche (who knew?).  I am writing a longer post on the specifics around using UX to bypass app store requirements, but for now I'll just say - in some ways it's easier to make an app for a thousand people than a hundred, and not every feature you need to go live is a feature your users need to see.

Regardless, the app ended up going live, and after a few iterations for comfort and overall goodness (too many to go into here, but contact me for more details) it was ready for prime time (and most importantly, for my grandma!).

And finally, showing the piece at the event

I packed up my bags, 20 google cardboards, and headed on a plane to Colorado (where my grandma lives).  Remember that branding work that was done earlier?  Turns out those branding elements ended up going on wine bottles, hats, t-shirts, street signs, etched into wine glasses, turned into backpacks - the list goes on.  I had branded all the photos in Jan's Jubilee with the same items, which helped ease people's comfort level with the application in context.

Over the course of the party, I had to do a lot of explaining about what a google cardboard was, and that no, I did not make the google cardboard - just the app - and that yes, I was Jan's grandson.  But over the course of the party I also saw so many people get to experience something they didn't even know was possible, with a device they carry around with them every day.  I saw them get to engage in a more personal experience of my grandmother than any photo album.  Once they got inside the app, it was hard to get them out.

Final thoughts

How do you measure the success of a project like this?  The audience wasn't coming for the project - it was a surprise.  They weren't paying for it, it was a gift!  Often, it wasn't even being used of in front of me at all.  I want to evaluate it on how excited it made people; on how impactful the experience was for them.  

Impact and excitement are hard to measure, but I found a proxy for it by the end of the party.  When the guests had cleared, only five of the original twenty google cardboards remained.  Jan's Jubilee had been their first introduction to virtual reality, and the impression had been so good that they wanted take it with them.  The cardboards were not party favors, but I'm happy they found new homes.  Nothing says 'I liked what you did' quite like ' I'm sneaking it home with me'. 
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