Former teacher and student find themselves ‘app’ily reunited!

When former Computer Science teacher, Mal Blackburne, wanted a company to design a digital treasure hunt app for his new business, he didn’t expect to find himself reunited with a former pupil.

He was looking for app developers to help him with his vision for his Heswall-based business, PuzzleDuck, which designs and builds digital treasure hunts that take place in cities around the UK.

When he came across the Informatics Centre, which is based at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park – he knew that he had found the right ‘fit’ for his business ideas. It also helped that Lead Developer, Matt Griffiths, was a former student of his, when he taught A-Level computer science and ICT at Birkenhead Sixth Form College. After 20 years of teaching, Mal decided to establish PuzzleDuck in July 2018. Once he had established the company, he needed to find a developer to bring the ideas he had for the app to life, as Mal explains: “I was looking for developers that would ‘get’ me and my vision. The Informatics Centre was one of a few that I approached, but the moment I realised who Matt was, I knew I’d found someone who would understand me. Let’s face it – he managed to understand my teaching methods!”

Matt Griffiths, from the Informatics Centre, explains how the partnership came about: “Our initial contact was a phone call where we spoke about getting together to discuss the development of a ‘treasure hunt app’. We met several times over a few weeks, and then agreed to develop a prototype using a process we call a ‘Design Sprint’ – an intense five-day process to design, create, and test new ideas. The prototype is invaluable in developing version one of the app, and within six months I was sitting with Mal while he ran his first live hunt! We pride ourselves on getting to know the client and the business thoroughly so that we can provide added value; in Mal’s case, we’ll always try and do what’s best for PuzzleDuck in the long-term. I believe that philosophy came across, and that’s why he chose us!”

Mal says that the Informatics Centre’s input has been vital to the app’s success: “From the beginning, it was clear that the team at the Informatics Centre loved the initial concept of PuzzleDuck and, in the first few meetings, they were already suggesting things I had not thought of. I think if you can establish that sort of open and honest relationship with your developers, then you know you have made the right choice.”

With the Informatics Centre’s support, the app is now being used by teams of participants to navigate themselves around a city, revealing hidden locations, answering trivia questions, solving logic puzzles and completing photo challenges. The overriding aim of each event is a fun and frantic shared collective experience. As each individual in a team has the app on their phone, they are actively engaged in the hunt from start to finish. Without everyone’s input, the team do not progress.

Matt explains more about the process: “The product itself is in two parts - the backoffice and the app! Mal takes the time to design each hunt for his clients using the backoffice, and participants download the app to participate in the hunt. On the day, participants will get together in teams to compete to visit locations and complete challenges, all while competing with other teams. There’s a leaderboard in the app that everyone can access, and that can make it quite competitive!”

Mal added: “I fully endorse the service offered by the Informatics Centre. We are only at stage one of the overall development and I’ve been very impressed with the progress that has been made. I have a tendency to throw out lots of ideas and Matt and the team either accommodate them, tweak them or dismiss them – and that is important. I see this as a partnership more than a customer/ provider thing. There is a great rapport between us and that helps move things along.”

The Informatics Centre at the University of Chester offers software development services to both internal and external clients/ businesses. The Centre has worked on hundreds of products for over a decade. More information can be found at: https://www.informaticscentre.co.uk/

More information about PuzzleDuck is available at: http://www.puzzleduck.co.uk

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