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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. 

Jan's Jubilee

Creating a VR experience that was personal and easy to use for people who are older than 65 was challenging and rewarding.

Demo Video and Design Walk Through

Here is a short demo video of this experience. I have narrated some of my design decision making and overall thoughts on the project as well.

It all began with my Grandmas 75th birthday.

My mother contacted me to see if I'd be willing to do some simple branding for a big party she was putting on for my grandma.  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 Cardboard 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, there were over 300 people in attendance.

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 300+? 

After some research, I realized that the only consistent way to deliver an experience to this many 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.

To the app store we go.

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. This presented an optimization challenge, as the app contained over 200 photos.

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 had to come up with a pretty clever 'anti-ux' solution to get it accepted into the app store without compromising the experience. If you'd like to hear more on how I ended up getting this app accepted into the app store (it's a fun story), please contact me.

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?  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 the transition into VR for new users by bringing a piece of their outside context into the experience with them.

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.  

Over the course of the party I 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, and the feedback was amazing. 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 like to evaluate it based 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 cardboard chassis remained.  

Jan's Jubilee had been almost everyone in attendance's first introduction to virtual reality, and the impression had been so good that they wanted take it home with them.  The cardboard frames were not party favors, but I'm happy they found new homes.  

Nothing says 'I liked what you did' quite like '...so I'm sneaking it home with me'.

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