R.J. Schodowski

Lansing Help Guide

"Lansing Help Guide provides a quick starting point for Lansing newcomers in accessing help in times of need."

Lansing Help Guide is a React progressive web application, which was built using the GraphQL-powered Gatsby.js static site generator, Tailwind CSS, and Material UI styled components.

mobile version of application's home screen


  • React
  • GraphQl
  • Gatsby.js
  • Tailwind CSS
  • Material UI
  • Netlify

Project Background and Purpose

Lansing Help Guide’s inspiration came from having been working with young adult, refugee youth transitioning into independent living in Lansing, Michigan. After having spent many days with refugee youth moving to Lansing, it became clear that many were unfamiliar with the city’s community resources, and I decided to create an easy-to-use app for them (and other Lansing newcomers) to have handy in case of an urgent or emergent need. The goal was not to create an exhaustive list of all local organizations and businesses in the city, but rather a quick and accessible starter guide with well-known and trusted resources for people who are just getting to know Lansing.

Technically speaking, this project allows users to quickly access listed content (community resources) items by phone, Google Maps, live chat (whenever available), and their respective websites. This project was built mobile-first due to the fact that the majority of users are more likely to be using mobile devices vs. laptop and desktop computers. The app is fully responsive and SEO-ready.

The first version of this progressive web app is far from being the last - upcoming versions will include more assistance categories, a language selector for the content to translate to other common languages spoken among the various cultures in the greater Lansing area, and finally a rating system for users to be able to share their experiences and ratings with other users. This app will also soon be available on the Google Play Store.

Desktop version view of application's screen

Web Stack

I chose to build my project with Gatsby.js since this static site generator is React-based, is powered with GraphQL, and enables developers to easily convert static sites into progressive web applications. With the installation of a few helpful plugins, I was able to add in Material UI components, easily style the application with Tailwind CSS, and convert the project into a downloadable progressive web app. Finally, I chose Netlify for web hosting and deployment.

Problems Encountered

Of several problems I worked through, one particular technical challenge I faced was learning to style the Material UI button components. I had initially assumed I could easily style them using Tailwind CSS, but I rather quickly realized that this was not the case. This forced me to consult the Material UI button API documentation and the Net Ninja’s Material UI YouTube video series, and there I learned to customize and override default styles with CSS rules.

Another problem I ran into was design-related. I knew during the ideation and design process that I wanted to include an emergency 911 button for users to easily access if needed. I initially thought to put the button at the top of the page under the header for visibility. I had a few colleagues test out the app for user experience feedback, and the feedback I received was that the button may be touched unintentionally since it is likely the first thing the user will see. This feedback helped me to move the button to the footer component, where it is still visible and easily accessible, but less likely to be unintentionally pressed.

Lessons Learned

This, being my first progressive web application dev project, was truly a tremendous and exciting learning experience. I learned how to:

  • Refactor code to create, use, and reuse React components
  • Use props for component variations
  • Perform a GraphQL query and add the code into Gatsby to make site features dynamic
  • Install and configure plugins
  • Troubleshoot site rendering problems
  • Enable the project for SEO
  • Use and modify Material UI components
  • Convert it to a progressive web app
  • Deploy the project to Netlify

Overall this project taught me to think more programmatically while maintaining a goal of providing a positive user experience. I also gained a lot of confidence in solving problems utilizing internet searches and consulting with other seasoned developers.

Want to work with me? Reach out.