Here’s the thing about designing an app experience: it could end up a perfect little pudding or a saggy old Christmas jumper.
And while no two experiences are exactly the same, there are some common UX and design factors that can help or hinder visitors to a heritage site.
What you need is a list (and not the kind you post to the North Pole with “iPhone X” at the top, underlined three times in red ink). Fortunately, we have one. Here’s how to tell if your design is naughty or nice…
Nice – Story First
Good King Wenceslas looked out, Marley was dead to begin with, and have you heard the one about the three wise chaps?
Christmas is a time for telling stories, and stories are the root of the emotional engagement that makes for a great heritage experience. A heritage app’s job is not to get so many thousand downloads or so many five star reviews for chasing the latest hot design trend – it’s to bring out the story of the site. Everything it does should be geared toward that.
Naughty – Tech First
The dark side of development: loving the tech more than you love the audience. If you fail to take the user experience into account and jump on the exciting new tech bandwagon, loading up on features nobody asked for, you end up with a present nobody wants: an impractical mess of an app that’ll be deleted by New Year’s Eve.
Nice – Simplicity
Sometimes the perfect gift is a warm, soft pair of socks – something simple and practical that does exactly what you need and nothing more. The same is true of app design. A user-first experience that anyone can pick up and get into beats overly-sophisticated, convoluted design that only tech-heads can appreciate.
Naughty – Wireless dependency
Remember Pokémon Go Fest? Niantic’s huge, high-profile Chicago get-together for players of what was, at the time, the largest AR app game around? What’s the one thing that absolutely had to work for that event to come off? Wi-Fi. What didn’t work? The Wi-Fi. Like Boxing Day without a Bond movie, Pokémon Go Fest was entertaining for a while, but ultimately a flop.
Apps that depend on Wi-Fi to run are at the mercy of technical failure. At heritage sites, where coverage may not be complete, it’s vital to have some content that runs regardless of signal strength.
Naughty – Pushiness
Heritage app experiences can build worlds – using sight and sound to place visitors slap bang in the middle of great battles, important historical scenes or compelling personal stories. The last thing you want is for these experiences to be interrupted by a two for one offer on brie paninis from the canteen.
There’s a time and a place for push messages. App design Scrooges know the cost of everything and the value of nothing – that’s why they hound their users to subscribe and like and share and update, regardless of what the user actually wants to do at that moment in time. Push messages can, of course, be effective and useful for users. But pushy messages cannot.
Nice – Inclusive
Christmas Day is an inclusive holiday, a time for loved ones to get together (and have a blazing row about something by the afternoon, but ignore that). The key word here’s ‘inclusive’. Translated to apps, this can mean engaging with a broad range of demographics, offering content that caters to different ages, races and genders. making sure that underrepresented voices are being included in the storytelling.
It can also mean accessibility. Apps are an experience – can a user with disabilities still experience what you’re offering? Visually impaired people could connect with Historic Royal Palaces’ tour of The Lost Palace because it was about imagination – ‘seeing’ what isn’t there. That approach ports to any heritage site, even one that’s still standing.
Naughty – Off-brand
What do you expect from a Christmas cracker? A paper hat, little toy, joke that makes you cringe and a decent noise. The silent cracker with some boring trivia question and no paper hat is a disappointment, and someone’s bound to say it – “well, we won’t be buying these next year.”
Off-brand design is the cracker that doesn’t crack. A heritage app that doesn’t use the same vocabulary, show the same images, and represent the same values as its site is failing. Like the cracker, the brand is a simple thing, but all the components have to be there for it to flow seamlessly between app and site.
Nice – Playful and engaging
Monopoly is a bad game – too easy to break, too dependent on luck, and takes far too long to win or lose. It’s more likely to ruin Christmas than any number of dull presents or overdone roasts. It’s not so much played as endured – a game we take out once a year and swiftly bundle away again when we’ve all finished sulking.
Good design basically means… not being Monopoly. It’s something that puts control in the hands of users, lets them engage when and how they choose, and create their own stories by interacting with the app and the site on their own terms.
Good design is ultimately a matter of form serving function. This isn’t only about testing your app to make sure beacons trigger, signal covers the site and audio is on topic – although all of those are important.
It’s about mapping out the user journey from start to finish, and understanding how your audience will interact with it at all points. Can your users download the app before they arrive – and is there an incentive for them to do it, like basic information in an easy to navigate way? Can they get useful notifications – like reminders of specific, timed events they’ve booked to attend – while they’re on site? Can they continue using the app to give you feedback or make recommendations?
A well-designed app is for life, not just for Christmas – and an original, helpful app that guides users through their whole experience and beyond is one that’ll stick around long after the tinsel’s down and the wrapping paper thrown away.