Today I launched my first independent software project, Quick Grades. Quick Grades is a free easy grader iPhone app built for teachers. I created this app for my wife several years ago, and I kept it updated for her. This fall I rewrote it from scratch for iOS 8. My wife, the original tester, loves the app and uses it often—and my hope is that many other teachers discover it and feel the same way.
I will post more of the technical details later, but I want to give you a short overview of the app. For those of you who aren’t teachers, let me introduce to you a tool that nearly every teacher in America knows well, the EZ Grader.
This tool allows a teacher to set the total number of points for an assignment, and then quickly refer back to it to get the correct score for each graded paper. These graders have been around forever. I remember my mom using hers in the early 80’s, and it is the same one that’s sold today. It’s a useful item for teachers, but it’s also one more thing to keep track of.
Many teachers now use apps instead of the old physical EZ Graders. It makes perfect sense, but most of the apps aren’t very good. The one I my wife used before was not user friendly. The font was hard to read, the color scheme was distracting and hurt readability, and it did not have sensible settings or options. After watching her struggle with the app one too many times, I decided to build her a new one.
After three years of updates just for her, and all the changes from iOS 5 through iOS 8, the app evolved quite a bit. The functionality never changed, but the simple premise of this app offered lots of room to experiment and find the right design.
A four column design with a scrolling table for the scores turned out the be the right approach. Other applications jam too much information into one view. The choice to use a scrolling table view allows for larger and more readable text, and scrolling to find the right score is intuitive and fast.
The second major design choice was to allow the user to decide exactly what columns they want. Every teacher likes to see a different view based on their grading systems and preferences. Allowing the user to remove certain columns from the view also improves readability.
Additionally, I made the easy decision not to interrupt my users and ask them to rate my app. This is a topic that has generated a lot of conversation in the last year, and I land firmly in the ‘anti-prompt’ camp. Yes, App Store ratings are important. Yes, I really do hope my users like the app enough to rate it favorably. But no, I will not be interrupting their work to ask them to do so.
This app is small and focused. It’s simple by design, and a perfect use case for a mobile app. Your phone is always with you, so you don’t have to keep up with the old cardboard EZ Grader. On a phone the simple interface is better than a more complicated one. Clean design and a focus on the user’s needs yields a simple, yet very useful app.
That’s my hope for every teacher that downloads Quick Grades—that it makes their work just a little bit easier. Our teachers work so hard, for so little pay and have many challenges in their way. If I can help by adding something to their toolbox that is just a bit better than the alternatives, then I will consider this project a success.