Mobile internet shopping has seen incredible growth over the last 5 to 10 years. Time has become our most valuable commodity and the use of mobile devices is accelerating daily. Being able to quickly order goods online is now the most efficient way of getting things done. Tesco recognised this growth and wanted to provide their customers with a beautiful and optimised mobile experience, by building their own flagship app.
But this project wasn’t simply about an app. Rather, this was about designing an entirely new native experience integrated into the affordable Android tablet that Tesco were aiming to put into the hands of millions. This would create a uniquely intuitive shopping experience for the whole family. Their radical vision was to transform the way they connected with their customers and Novoda was asked to help them deliver the goods.
Tesco’s ambitions were wide and varying. The logistics of this project would require some serious strategic and technological savvy to co-ordinate. The first step had to be to sit down and identify exactly what constituted ‘success’ and what we were aiming to achieve together. This would allow us to prioritise our goals to ensure we had a clear roadmap. After a few discussions, we realised that honing in on the core offerings of their business would ensure the app had a much clearer purpose and maximise its chances of success.
This wasn’t a case of being lazy—far from it. Focusing on core functionality and ensuring it was of highest quality will always provide a better experience for the user over many, lower-quality features. The key to achieve this level of quality was a deeply collaborative process between Novoda and Tesco, fuelled by a mutual passion to create the best product possible.
The unique challenge on this project was that the software we were developing was being built for an unannounced device still in the early stages of development.
The requirement was therefore to ship a high-quality product for shifting hardware on an immovable deadline, meaning we needed to be able to adapt to new priorities and refocus very quickly if necessary. The first goal of the development process was to ensure everyone had an end-to-end understanding of the user-experience via wireframing. This would allow us to quickly iterate through developing a well-understood design.
In order to ensure we were as responsive to development challenge as possible, we relied on deep collaboration with the Tesco team during the lifetime of the project.
This was largely solved through the Agile development process used throughout the project. Before each development sprint, we scheduled sprint planning meetings and worked with Tesco to prioritise goals, ensuring that the most important elements of the application were built first.
In addition to daily standup meetings, sprint retrospectives also allowed us to get feedback at regular intervals and stay on track. We made sure that at the end of every sprint milestone there was a usable and tangible end-result: an updated app build shipped with that sprint’s highest priority tasks and features.
As the project progressed we brought on full-time designers to begin iterating on UI and UX. We’re committed to working with the best people for the job and this project was no exception, with our friends at Opoloo helping us to take the design to the required level. Lo-fi concepts became higher fidelity wireframes which were gradually polished and iterated upon, all the way up to unique imagery and iconography right across the app.
One of the biggest design challenges was steering and educating the client on the app’s visual direction. With our extensive knowledge of Android design guidelines and Holo principles, we have a good idea of what users of the platform expect, what the visual language of the app should convey, and where the future of the platform’s design was heading. Our primary goal at this stage was conveying this and helping the client understand these principles, thus ensuring better collaboration as well as future-proofing the app’s aesthetics.
It was critical for us to maintain an extremely high-quality codebase and to ensure that we didn’t lose time due to miscommunications and missteps. Intensive pair programming—splitting our team of 10 up into 5 pairs—was the key here. With no developer working alone, no single developer ‘owned’ a single part of the codebase. This lead to much greater code stability and higher code quality.
We also had 2 full-time QA testers from TestingCircle working with us on-site, ensuring that despite the rapid development process we were still producing stable, working prototypes. With an initial lack of prototype hardware, we began the development on emulators, before moving to the evolving Hudl prototypes as they became available.
With all the challenges that surrounded the project, it was soon affectionately known in the Novoda offices by the code name ‘Kwik-E-Mart’.
Despite a tight deadline and challenging development process, the project was delivered on time and to a warm reception. The Hudl launched in over 1000 retail locations throughout the country on September 1st 2013 and, with over 500,000 units sold to date, has proved to be a huge success with Tesco’s customers.
While the project was not without its challenges—including unstable prototypes and blown USB controllers—Novoda managed to quickly establish a collaborative relationship with Tesco and deliver a high-quality product that delighted customers.
A project is an ongoing conversation. In our blog, we share a more in-depth view about the strategies, development, and features of our projects. Here’s what else we contributed to Blackphone:
We helped TESCO build a native suite of Android applications, customised OS and Launcher, and an entirely new set of features for the hudl2 tablet, including a child safety project.