Online Exclusive: How to: Build a Mobile App

RISD offers step-by-step process on building a mobile application.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

In Becky Schilling’s cover story about online tools, she wrote about the Rhode Island School of Design’s mobile dining app and what it is being used for. But how exactly did the app come together? What are the steps the department took to get it built and launched? FSD spoke to Pierre St-Germain, associate director/executive chef for RISD Dining, to get the details about the app-building process.

Step 1: If you can, get a student involved
“I had a student named Jeongwoo Lyo who was working for me. We had been trying to create a mobile app for a while. At that point we’d run into a barrier with using a module for our menu management system that would have allowed real time updates of information via an iPhone app. So instead of dealing with that challenge, Lyo said he thought he could create a mobile app for Android phones. I thought that was funny because I think students tend to have iPhones and the faculty and staff have Androids.”

Step 2: Building it out
“We went to the Android app store where they offer a process where you can build an application. We could do for a nominal fee—I want to say it was $30. Creating iPhone apps are a little bit different. It’s automatically a $100 fee, and it’s a much more in-depth process. Lyo did a lot of the legwork on the actual construct of the application. The goal was to make it as user-friendly as possible. The app is designed to pull info from Google Documents. All we have to do is share Google Documents with a certain number of our staff and those people are responsible for that information. They can see the document and modify it accordingly. Lyo did all the exterior construction. We worked together to get create some imaging for the app, and he helped us create our new dining logo as the logo for the app. The app gives users info on all the venues on campus. It also lets the users know if there are any dining events going on.”

Step 3: Launch
“Once we got the app constructed and we had given everyone instructions on what their upkeep responsibilities were, the launch itself was tough. It took us three hours to make the app go live. Pushing it live was a matter of authentication, so there was this constant back and forth. It was also difficult because Lyo had to leave and go to class in the middle of the launch, so that delayed us a bit.”

Step 4: Maintenance
“We gave one or two of our managers and chefs access to the application’s Google Documents. They update it on a weekly basis. The app shows changes in real time. It’s kind of an interesting approach. We don’t have that many people signed up for the app. We’re trying to promote it on our Facebook page. Between two different venues on campus we have 1,200 friends on Facebook, so you’d think we’d have more people using the application. However, we get students who come through who say, ‘it’s great you have an app, is for iPhones?’ That’s why we’re going to start working on an iPhone app.

Step 5: Adapting
“Since so many students have iPhones we are looking to redesign the app. We may have to do the whole thing over again on a site that allows us to make both iPhone and Android versions at the same time. I think doing it that way will be money well spent. We have more knowledge now so we can bring that knowledge to the application.

One of the things we wish for even though it is very difficult is, I’d love it if our menu management system could deliver nutritionals into a mobile app. Menus would be awesome, but providing the ability for students to access nutritional information would be great. We tried to have a points calculator on our website and it kept having glitches. If we redo the application, I’m going to see if it can do something like that.

We actually want to see if there is a way to make the app more static. We want to be able to push the changes out rather than them happening in real time. We’re hoping to get to a point where it will automatically pull information out of our menu management system. But we had to walk before we could run.”