5 Reasons Why You Should Donate Your Old Shoes: Save Lives With Safe Water

Think about all the shoes you probably own. How many of them do you actually wear? If you’ve been waiting for a reason to get rid of some of your old shoes, this is it.

Don’t just trash them. Donate them!

For the fourth consecutive year, The Iona Group and Float, in partnership with St. Ann’s WATCH program, are co-sponsoring a shoe drive from August 1-31 throughout central Illinois. Drop-off locations are primarily located in Morton or Peoria, but check to see if any of the more than 75 locations are located near you.

The drive will benefit WaterStep, a nonprofit based out of Louisville, Ky., that helps save lives with safe water. Believe it or not, more than 1 out of every 10 people on this earth lack access to safe water. That’s nearly 750 million people, according to a 2014 study released by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. WaterStep is trying to spread safe water through one person, one family, and one community at a time.

Since 2012, we have donated nearly 50,000 pairs of shoes to WaterStep with your help. This year, our goal is to collect and haul away 30,000 pairs of shoes.

This shoe drives benefits every single person  involved. Here are five reasons why donating your shoes makes a difference.

1. Get rid of your clunkers.

Free up space in your home by getting rid of that old  pair of shoes you’ve had for far too long. No matter what condition your shoes are in, you can donate them. And if you lost a shoe? It doesn’t matter. Feel free to donate that sole shoe, too (get it?). Shoes are just a starting point. You can also donate sandals, boots, heels, and anything else you put on your feet to ride your bike, mow your lawn, complement your working clothes, and more.

2. Go shopping for new shoes.

Use this shoe drive as an excuse to treat yourself. Once you get rid of your old pair of shoes, you’ll likely want to replace them with a new pair, right? Take advantage of that coupon that just came through your mailbox or your inbox and get yourself some fresh kicks.

3. Help provide funding for safe water equipment and training.

“So,” you might be asking yourself, “how does donating shoes actually help to solve the planet’s water problems?”

When you donate your shoes to one of these drop-off locations, WaterStep then sells them to an exporter. WaterStep uses that money to develop projects that include water filters and water transportation or chlorination systems, repair wells, and to educate communities about the benefits of safe water.

4. Support local businesses.

When the exporter buys shoes from WaterStep, those shoes then turned around and sold to merchants from all over the world. The merchants then take shoes back to their own regions and sell them to support both their local economies and their families. WaterStep has shared with the team how some merchants make monthly visits to the exporter, buying enough shoes to take back and sell at home before starting their process over again.

5. Prevent abrasions and health hazards.

As you might imagine, many regions of the world are not as developed as the United States. Feet can be damaged in many ways – from traversing rugged terrain to debris strewn about the land to stepping on a bee – and the resulting wounds could get infected. A scratch similar to what our children may encounter on the playground could cause serious injury or even death to those in less fortunate places because they didn’t have the proper footwear. By selling these shoes in their homeland, merchants help prevent these types of injuries from happening.

You can make a difference. All you need to do is donate your old shoes.

Visit one of these drop-off locations in central Illinois and help bring safe water to someone who needs it, or donate to WaterStep today.


Importance of Prototyping

Here is an image from “paper prototype” testing we performed recently for an experiential learning system we are building for the National Sequestration Education Center (NSEC) in Decatur, IL.

The user testing was for the Sequestration Technology Educational Learning Array (STELA) we are developing for the NSEC at Richland Community College. Sequestration? Basically, it is a relatively new technology that captures surplus carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants or ethanol plants and stores this material safely underground. STELA will show visitors how this process works and why it is important.

Building interactive experiences that entertain and engage their audiences is always a challenging job. Quite a bit of careful planning and work goes into strategy, graphic design, content creation, moodboard development, wireframes, graphical user interface design, etc. At The Iona Group, we place a high value on audience feedback and testing. We schedule rigorous testing sessions at several points in the design and development process to make sure that users “get it” and are able to explore the material a fun and intuitive way. Invariably, our test participants give us valuable direction and surface new issues we realize we have to solve.

Test participants last week ranged from 8 years old to 30 something. One thing was universal; participants were driven much more by graphical information than written instructions. With every testing session we conduct, I realize how true this observation is. People want to be excited, jump right into an experience, and be entertained and engaged. If they happen to learn something along the way, that’s OK. Having said that, we understand this reality and have built many installations that have engaged audiences and achieved their intended leaning objectives.

Several of our assumptions for game play were upheld by our testers. Most users were able to move through the experience without issue. The need to move some of the elements to different locations to increase overall interaction became apparent.

It is far better to discover this now than after we have built graphics, animations and programming that need to be revised. Paper prototyping is almost always a bumpy ride but it’s a great discipline that pays off with good insights that make the rest of the development process go smoother.

Five Ways to Improve Your Graphic Design for Mobile

Over the past few months, I have been researching and practicing mobile design from a graphic designer’s perspective. As a graphic designer, I wanted to learn about the constrictions, features, aesthetic direction, specifications and constraints when working on a mobile design. Through creation, online classes and research, I discovered how to better create effective and innovative mobile designs.

1. Aesthetic and Layout

As a designer, I’ve learned that my choice of metaphor dramatically affects the design aesthetics of the interaction. It brings meaning to the design. Interactive elements should be visible, recognizable, reactive (i.e., elicits feedback), safe, and consistent.

A good mobile design does what the user expects it to do and has positive responses to the interactions. I think it is important to consider what the audience desires or likes through an emotional connection with the design. The look and feel should be consistent and designers should obtain any corporate branding materials from the client during the definition phase of the project.

Jen Gordon of Tapptics suggested that when selecting a color palette, a designer should consider the variety of environments for the user when they are using a mobile device. Designing high-contrast elements are helpful in legibility and readability. She said that a designer should have a character count limit for the body copy. This will help keep the design layout less cluttered during the development of the app.

Jen also noted that a four- or five-column layout is best for an app. The reason is because the standard iOS tab bar on the bottom can have no more than five icons. It is best to create columns for every tab element that a designer has within their design.

2. Process

I found that Brian Fling’s mobile design process is best suited for a graphic designer when designing for mobile. It also was clear and concise. I have listed Fling’s process below:

“IDEA The first thing we need is an idea that inspires us.
NEEDS & GOALS Identify a basic need with our desired user.
CONTEXT The circumstances where information adds value.
STRATEGY How we can add value to the business.
DEVICE PLAN Choose the devices that best serves our audience.
DESIGN Create a user experience based around needs.
PROTOTYPE Test the experience within the context.
DEVELOPMENT Put all the pieces together.
TESTING And test, and test, and test some more.
OPTIMIZATION Reduce all assets to its lowest possible size.
PORTING Adapt for other devices that fit our strategy.”

3. Features and Gestures

When designing, every screen should have a purpose and gestural interaction defined. It is important to plan out the gestures that the user will be using during storyboarding/wireframing. A designer should define the navigational flow when creating sketches. All of the sketches should be rough at first.

Next, a second round of sketches should be created within a grid structure that has more detail and written definition. I have found that these second round of sketches can be used within a basic prototype.

As a result, the navigation and user experience issues that occur later on in the process can be address before any art is created. Through the creation of a prototype made from sketches, the usability can be tested before any graphics are created within Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.

4. Guidelines/Specifications

Because there are so many different platforms and devices when designing for mobile, it is important to know what the specific platform and device will be for the end product. As a result, I’ve come to know that a designer needs to know the dimensions, orientation, sensors and inputs on the device. They must know if it is iOS, Windows or webOS. These choices are going to affect the size of the assets for a developer and overall resolution.

I discovered that when complex designs are displayed on different mobile devices, the limited color depth on one device could cause banding, or unwanted posterization within a graphic. From a production standpoint, I realized it is good to use Adobe Photoshop with vector smart objects that are from Adobe Illustrator. It is best practice to use vector shape layers rather than bitmaps. If bitmaps have to be used, it is important to recreate create them as shape layers or smart objects.

Here is a list of the specifications for various iOS devices:
For iPhone Retina Display
640px wide
960px high
72 ppi

For iPhone Non-Retina Display
320 px wide
480 px high
72 ppi

For iPad (portrait)
768 px wide
1024 px high
72 ppi

For iPad (landscape)
768px high
1024 px wide
72 ppi


I discovered that it is so important to design everything at the smallest file size first then the largest size to maintain fine details and prevent problems with composition and limited real estate. It is also best that when prepping file for the developer, you need to make elements the size they are going to appear in the final application. For example, a vector smart object in Adobe Illustrator should be the final size it will be exported as in Adobe Photoshop.

There are some good practices to follow when saving out files for a developer. For example, leaving a pixel buffer around images when saving out images will allow for better rendering of graphics. I also have come to know that PNGs are the best file type for all graphics when providing them to the developer. The reason is when any other file format is utilized, the iPhone has to do the same processing that Xcode does but it is doing it at run time rather than build time. Basically, the app will run slower if anything other than PNGs are utilized.

For iOS apps, designers also need to save out app icons in various sizes for developers. Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines explains them.

5. Usability

As with any design project, the user and target audience need to be a major factor during the entire phase of the project. When designing for mobile, designers need to consider the persona of the user and when will they use the device, how often they will use the device and where they will use the device. It is important to remember that unlike the iPhone, iPad users won’t always have Internet access.

In addition, it is more effective to design a website for mobile first and then design for the desktop. “Users don’t complain about lack of features,” said Red Foundry CEO Jim Heising. “Users complain about features that don’t work.” Designers need to compress content where possible, and avoid providing unnecessary content.

I’ve learned that a designer needs to create and test the app during the sketching and wireframing in Adobe Photoshop. There are only two states when creating buttons, an inactive and an active state. Test designs on the device it will live on at the end of the project. I’ve used FieldTest and found it very efficient and effective. A designer needs to consider the tactile interaction design and use the icons and buttons that are recognizable in mobile design. This makes the usability more efficient for the user.

GROWMARK iPad and Touchscreen Interactive Design for Farm Progress Show

Iona was asked to help GROWMARK increase one-on-one contacts with their customers at the 2011 Farm Progress Show. To do this, we partnered with GROWMARK to develop an interactive gaming strategy that was entertaining and engaging. GROWMARK provides customers with the inputs they need to be successful in their operations. Their divisions work together to provide member-owners and customers with not only the products they know and trust, but also the means to deliver, market, and store those products.

I had the privilege of working as the lead designer on the team. The end product was really well received at the show and pushed the boundaries of interactive design and development at Iona.

After meetings with GROWMARK staff and determining the goals for this experience, Iona developed written user case concepts for possible development. From the concepts, GROWMARK staff selected the one that was entitled Yield Maximizer. This concept was an interactive game that had an appealing physical interface with an immediate visual WOW factor – how is that happening?. This concept combined the physical nature of an iPad into a game involving FS products. This was achieved by transferring images from an iPad to a touchscreen interactive. Animation, sound effects and music helped create a gaming feel.

There were a total of four interactives that focused on GROWMARK’s main branding products: seed, grain systems, energy and agronomy.

The video for the seed interactive can be found here:

invited users to envision themselves as farmers. A user walked up to a large, touchscreen monitor that showed a patch of fertile land and the growing conditions in that field. Next to the monitor was an FS bag that had an iPad embedded onto the surface. The user then saw a question that related to the field conditions and asked them how to best maximize their yield based upon the given conditions. The user had to choose a seed product that best answered the question on the touchscreen. After selecting which product would work best, the user was prompted to pour the seed out of the bag. When the user picked up the physical bag to begin pouring, they saw the seed pouring from the iPad onto the touchscreen monitor. The seed looked as though it was raining down from the top of the touchscreen. Depending upon the seed choice, the conditions provided, and how fast the user poured the seed, their score was calculated. The user’s score corresponded to how tall their field appeared on screen. Users could post their scores to a leaderboard at the end of the game, which created a fun, competitive environment.

The remaining interactives were very similar in the user experience. This made the game play friendly and understandable as the player moved from interactive to interactive.

For the agronomy interactive, the user drove an applicator that sprayed either pests or weeds in the field. The material used was chosen based upon the prompted question and field conditions.

The energy interactive had an iPad attached to an FS jug for lubricants. The user had to fill a tank by pouring the liquid out of the jug with accuracy. The liquid choice was based upon a question posed to the user on the touchscreen monitor. When the user picked up the jug to begin pouring, they saw the liquid pouring from the iPad onto the touchscreen monitor. The liquid looked as though it was falling down from the top of the touchscreen into a reservoir.

Lastly, the grain interactive allowed the user to physically move a knife gate that had an iPad attached to the front. Once the gate door was lifted, the user saw a touchscreen monitor behind the inside of the gate. The user had to answer questions on how to properly dry and store grain. . The interface opened and closed with the knife gate, mimicking the concept a slot machine pull. Once the user answered the question, the seed fell from the inside monitor and provided the user with a score.

Just like any project at Iona, we followed our 4D Process. During the Define phase, we created sketches, determined the goals and objectives of the project, identified the desired learning and experience outcomes, recognized the target audiences, and determined the functional and technical requirements. During the Design phase, wireframes, node maps, sketches, the graphical user interfaces and the system architecture were created. There was also a lot of animation created during the Design phase of the project. The animations and visual style were very fun, energetic and rich in their graphical look and feel. Iona worked closely with Growmark to illustrate all of the elements in the interactive such as the crops, pests, products and machines.

We worked with the client to integrate the software and hardware on site so that during the Development Phase of the project, we were working with the actual final hardware needed for the final output of the project.

Adobe Flash was the main platform for the interactives. The software running on the iPads was written in Objective-C using the cocos2d game engine with the box2d physics engine running under the hood. The iPads communicated with the computer using a socket over a WiFi network. During the Development Phase of the project, we conducted usability testing. We collated the feedback from the testing and created the appropriate revisions to the designs and programming efforts.

One of the unexpected developments at the Farm Progress Show was the extremely high level of wifi interference. We solved this problem by installing individual routers at each station.

As a designer, it is a thrill to see users enjoying and learning from your created product. This project combined interactivity and mobile devices in a fun and appealing way that allowed the client to advertise their product and have users learn about the product they provide. Most importantly, there was a noticeable increase in the one-on-one conversations following the game play. The visitors had fun and the level of engagement by young visitors was extremely high.

The following are photos of users with the interactive from the 2011 Farm Progress Show.

Viral Video is Tough Assignment

By Adam Bockler


You wouldn’t think making a viral video would be all that difficult. Come up with a funny idea, push a product with it and get a million hits on YouTube overnight. But it’s not that easy.

This summer, I’m working primarily for the Iona Group’s sister company, Float Mobile Learning, as their social media marketing specialist. Float is about ready to push out a new version of its RabbleBrowser app, so I thought I would do what I could to generate interest in it.

Unfortunately, there is no set formula in creating a viral video. Take any viral video and you can’t really find a common element. Tay Zonday played the piano. The sighting of simultaneous rainbows was enough to get a guy to cheer and shout.  A camera just so happened to zoom in on a chipmunk as it turned around.

Viral videos have reached such heights that comedian Daniel Tosh was even able to make a television show about them. Tosh.O features nothing but videos from the web, and on each show he performs a “web redemption” on somebody whose (in)famous video showcased them in an embarrassing light.

The worst part about trying to come up with a viral video is the all-too-real possibility that it will bomb. Not everyone has the same sense of humor, but almost everyone knows when you’re trying too hard to be funny.

I suppose the most common element among viral videos is that they feel spontaneous. There is some element to them that no other video has, which makes it hard in an era where you can upload footage from any device connected to a WiFi network.

As I’m in the early stages of coming up with a concept to help spread the word about this app, I don’t know what the final product will turn out to be. I just hope it helps our product.

Editor’s note:  I understand Adam’s pain.  We’ve tried to work with other clients in the past to achieve “viral” and it’s a tough assignment.  However, it can be done in a commercial project.  This ad on how Greek dancing started really made the rounds of my in-laws.

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