Designing for the blind and visually impaired— TapTapSee

Interviews with those responsible for driving mobile learning innovation forward.

Technology is changing the options available to teachers and students and challenging our perceptions of education. In this series of interviews, I talk with digital designers in the education space about what they foresee for the future of education technology.

Related: Designing for Education — Tentouch

Julia Gallagher is the Community Relations Associate at TapTapSee, a mobile camera application designed specifically for blind and visually impaired iOS users. The app utilizes the iDevice’s camera and VoiceOver functions to photograph objects and identify them audibly for the user.

How did the project come about? What was the original concept? What problem was it solving? What were your original goals for the app?

Dominik Mazur and Brad Folkens — CEO and CTO of CamFind Inc., respectively — had worked together in the search world for years on smaller site-level search engines. A 2011 eMarketer study showing the decline of the traditional search really struck a chord with them, and they decided to pivot into mobile. The first immediate-use case they thought of was to utilize this type of search-and-identify technology to benefit the blind and visually impaired. They developed TapTapSee over the course of a few months in the fall of 2012.

After really seeing the potential in mobile, especially when Google hadn’t quite mastered it with Google Goggles, Dominik and Brad also developed CamFind, which was then released in the Spring of 2013. CamFind is a mobile visual search app that lets users take a picture of any object and CamFind identifies it. CamFind uses the same technology as TapTapSee but also provides users with related images, local results, shopping results, and web results.

Can you go into depth as to what your role was? How big was your team? What were their roles?

I joined the company in the Fall of 2012, right when they were developing both TapTapSee and CamFind . At that time, our team included our CEO and CTO, a VP of Operations, Quality Control team, Marketing and Social Media, and, of course, iOS and Android programmers. My initial role was with the Quality Control team, moderators who continuously measured the quality and functionality of TapTapSee and CamFind. I helped monitor the issues we were encountering with the app as well as document our download and monetary numbers. Because of my previous roles, I now handle our customer service, as well.

What was your process for creating the product? First steps?

App interface and the speed/accuracy of the app itself were definitely top priorities for us. We had never worked on creating an app for people who are visually impaired, so we worked very closely with the Braille Institute when we were first designing the app to figure out what features would be most beneficial to users. Elements like minimal design, intuitive navigation, and fast but accurate results were also huge priorities for us. That was our creative backend.

What was the biggest challenge creating a product for such a unique user base? Greatest learnings?

A huge element that came into play was API costs for the app. Our in-house designed API, CloudSight, is the computer technology that identifies objects for our users. A lot of apps utilize ad space in order to help curb costs, but since TapTapSee’s interface is designed specifically for blind and visually impaired users, we realized that implementing ad space would only hinder the functionality of the app for our users. We’re constantly looking for grants that will be able to minimize costs for our users in the future.

What is the next step for the product? How do you hope to use your learnings moving forward with product development?

Our mission is to provide the best image recognition and visual search technology in the world, while serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired. We plan to deliver on that mission by continuously innovating and improving our technology to ensure it’s cutting edge and ultimately helping and improving peoples’ lives. Understanding what features are useful to our audience is paramount to ensuring we’re providing a product and service that’s useful, beneficial and ultimately follows our mantra of making it easier for those that are blind and visually impaired to live their lives and execute everyday tasks.

We depend on our users as much as they may depend on us.

We continuously interact with our users via our social media pages and those who email us to welcome any feedback and input that will help us to develop more useful features in the future. We depend on our users as much as they may depend on us.

Where do you see education in the digital space in the immediate future? 5 years?

Education is moving online, as seen with so many successful startups over the years, such as Coursera . With so many aspects of our lives influenced by mobile, there’s no reason to think education won’t also be affected. Imagine on field trips if you could learn about plants with TapTapSee? We strongly believe that visual search will play an increasing role in education, and we’re proud to provide applications that we believe will help educate and improve the standard of living within our communities.

Related: Designing for Learning — Plickers