Otto Gumaelius, London. Earlier this year we embarked on an exciting app project for the National Heritage Board of Singapore, funded through the Hi²P project. We were tasked with delivering a city-wide tour of Singapore, which you can now download on iOS and Android smartphones. Having thoroughly enjoyed working on the project, I’d like to share some insights into the ingredients needed for building an app-based city tour.
Before setting off on building an experience of any type, we need to dedicate some solid ‘white board, coloured pens and coffee’ time: the brainstorm. There are questions we must understand: Who are we building this for? What interests that person? What do they need the app to do for it to be useful – and what would they like the app to be able to do? Where are they when they download the app, and where are they when they use it?
The answers to the above trickle down to give shape to the two main elements of the app – the narrative (the journey we want to take people on); and the framework (the functionality of the app through-which the journey is delivered). With this locked down, we can then start planning the build.
The best tours are those that are authentic and written through the eyes of those who are experts (in one right or another) in whatever subject it is we’re speaking about. We frequently make use of our international network of collaborators and suppliers, and for this project we chose one of our local Singapore-based writers to work on the narrative aspect of the app.
The scripting process begins by proposing a list of points-of-interest to include in the app, and ends, typically 4-6 weeks later depending on the type of tour, with a final script in hand. We then head to the recording studio with our chosen voice-talents, and it’s off to the post production team for any polishing up and layering of sound effects. As simple as this brief description might sound – it’s actually an intricate process that requires a lot of thought and careful planning. It’s 50% of the experience you’re developing, if not significantly more in terms of what people will remember, so you have to get it right.
Parallel to the scripting process, we develop the framework of the app. This process begins by mapping out the functionality we want the app to have. That is, how our app users access content once they’re in the app, and what functionality is available to them around that experience. For CultureKey Singapore, we wanted two main ways of accessing content – via a city map with pins, and via a stop list.
At its most basic level, our map, covering a large surface area, would need to have zoom and pan functionality. We felt we also wanted our users to be able to filter the points-of-interest visible on the map; to be able to geo-locate themselves on the map; and to have the pins on the map colour coded and themed for ease of navigation.
For our stop list, in addition to collapsible header sections and thumbnail vignettes, we felt that a user of our app would find it useful to be able to sort stops by: Type – “show me museums only”; by Area – “show me what’s in China town only”; and/or, by Distance – “show me what’s closest to me right now”.
With functionality locked down, plotting out wireframes is next in line. Wireframes are the skeletal representation of your user interface. They define the relative size and positioning of all on-screen visuals. Once approved by our development team, programming can get underway – and our graphic designer can start building the visuals required to populate the framework, including backgrounds, headers, tabs and icons, etc – the beautification of the app.
Once coded with graphics in place – we can start populating our app with content. The map requires custom-built pins; the stop-list requires thumbnail vignettes and titles; and each point-of-interest requires its relevant audio narrative, images, point-of-interest information (opening times, admission fees, website etc) and a transcript of the narration for users who may prefer to read rather than listen to the commentary. It’s a huge admin job, but once in place it brings the app to life.
We now get to see the first beta version of the app, which is always an exciting moment in the project timeline! We test, review, fine-tune and eventually sign off the app, and then typically replicate to other platforms.
App projects like these are a lot of fun and we love the creative process! Getting your app right can be tricky, and requires plenty of thought and planning. With over a million other apps on the App Store and Google Play ready to compete with yours, the need is great to develop something that users will want to talk about and recommend.
For more information on what we do at imagineear, feel free to browse our website and get in touch!