After years of design practice, changing his major, and sheer perseverance, senior Experience Architecture (XA) student Jonnie Rozin has finally released his first mobile app Squeel. Users can now participate in a forum streamlined for playful sports banter on mobile devices, bashing the opponents of their favorite teams while forging friendships at any location. While its premise for user interaction is rather light-hearted in nature, the co-founder, CEO, and lead user experience designer says the inspiration for the app originated from an earnest attempt at bringing seemingly incompatible groups of people together to overcome their differences. For Jonnie and his four other friends who created the app, its inception represents a valuable bond and triumph over cultural disparities— a more serious and meaningful impact from a sports trash-talking app than one might expect.
“My freshman year, I introduced myself to my friend’s suitemate, and while I’m not proud of this moment, I immediately returned to my friend and said ‘Hey, don’t say anything about us being Jewish, because I think he’s Muslim. We might have to be careful,’” Jonnie recalls. Growing up, he was told to be afraid of people who were unlike him and his family. It wasn’t until the three spent more time together that they became great friends, despite their different religious and cultural upbringings.
“We ultimately learned that he was taught the same thing: to be afraid of people like me. It was funny, though, because he would come over more and more to play [the video game] FIFA, and we started trash-talking each other during the games. We realized that if we took everything we were taught and threw it out the window, we could create something really powerful for other people, and that was this app for us— creating sports as a medium to bring people closer together.”
The process for creating the app started back in September of 2014, but as bad luck with developers and other obstacles interfered with their progress, Jonnie and his team decided to set a slower pace for the project so they could refine their strategies and designs. “The reason that I kept going was that little bit of light. When you struggle with trying to get your app or project off the ground, it’s hard to keep going. But when you see that someone believes in what you’re doing, when I’ve been testing it and seeing people’s positive reactions, that makes me feel good. That means that what I’m doing is important, and it’s actually working.”
Jonnie has long enjoyed interior design, but he didn’t always know where that passion could lead him. In fact, he couldn’t always pinpoint what it was that drew him to design until he enrolled in the XA program at MSU. “One of my favorite things to include when I design a floorplan of a house is a nook. I’d always imagine what it would feel like if I were to walk into it, and sit down, what I would see and how I would feel. If someone else were to walk in, would they feel the same way? I had never connected that to XA until I realized that’s what I truly love about design. I’ve had that feeling of caring about other people and wanting to design amazing stuff for other people my whole life.”
The XA program has given him the tools and support to explore how he can solve social and technological issues as well as build communities through design. “I’ve always wanted to own my own company, and my learning through my XA courses and internship at Quicken Loans have shaped my path for how I want to make it happen and at what standard I’m going to do it, all while improving my creative process.”
Jonnie’s advice to young XA students, or anyone looking to create their own app, is that it’s not easy. “People nowadays say that starting an app is like starting a band ‘back then’ in college— everyone wants to do it. As a freshman, that was my idea, but it took me three years. It’s going to take a lot of work and effort. I spend hours every single day working on my app on top of school and part-time work.”
Squeel was released in September of 2017, and is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. “Trash-talking and sports is the bulk of the app, but I think at the end of the day our main goal is to see how we can bring the world closer together, because we come from different places, and are told to hate each other and be scared of people who are different from us. There are other apps out there that have trash-talking platforms, for example, the Cleveland Cavaliers app. They have fans participating, but they’re only talking to each other. So what kind of engagement does that create? At the end of the day, don’t want to make it too complicated—we’re making a sports trash-talking app!”
Written by Allison Costello