Learn more about user experience, web development and digital marketingView training courses

Our thinking

Over the last year or so there has been a huge amount of debate surrounding responsive sites, dedicated mobile sites, and native apps. Specifically, debate is focused on which is best and what you should develop.

Recently I came across an example of a native app that’s fit for purpose whereas the other two mobile formats wouldn’t be. The app in question is the official 2013 Sónar Festival app.

Sonar is the International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art which takes place in Barcelona for three days every June. Apart from 3 days of multi-venue, non-stop music, there is also Sonar+D which offers workshops, hackathons, interactive installations, product demos and a lot more.

Presented by such breadth of… stuff, I initially felt overwhelmed, and the official lineup did not help at all.  How was I going to manage my itinerary for such a three-day feast? Their solution was a native mobile application, which I downloaded (for free) not expecting to use it much at all.

The best bits

After a frustrating and lengthy attempt at organising my time I turned to the app for help. Much to my surprise, it did just that, helped.

How it helped:

  • There was a great feature which allowed me to be able to bookmark my desired performances and events and create my own calendar which then alerted me a few minutes (5, 15 or 30) before every selected show. With my personalised itinerary mapped out in advance I didn’t need to worry about missing any shows
  • Using the app I could listen to the festivals official play list which were directly streamed from the app using Deezer (a music streaming service). There was also Deezer stream for each artist which was easily accessible along with a synopsis of each artist or activity. This was useful as I could browse and listen to all the artists from one location before and during the event. The collaboration between Sonar and Deezer was great, I’ve never tried Deezer before but now I might give it a try and potentially rethink my Spotify subscription.
  • For a festival with such a plethora of acts and activities they had  present this information in an user friendly format, which they did. Details on the venues was divided into ‘Sonar by day’ and ‘Sonar by night’ as well as integrating Google maps and information on transportation. Similarly, in the ‘Artists and Activities’ tab, the three types of events, the music, Sonar+D and SonarCinema were separated to avoid confusion and results for each were displayed clearly in alphabetical order with photos. In general the usability of the app was brilliant

Any UX glitches?

As a UX consultant, I am always aware there is room for improvement:

  • It’s not easy to find out how to mark an event as a favourite for it to then be added to a schedule
  • The app has some very detailed, interactive indoor maps of their venues. However, It’s not obvious which parts of the venue maps you can interact with

Despite a few small problems its assortment of user centred functions won my heart. It was great to use a festival app not primarily used as a sales tool, it was to help better the user experience. Have you had an experience with a great festival app? If so, please do share it with us, we would love to give it a go!

Kayak‘ is a tech company ‘focused on making online travel better’. With 20 million+ downloads their travel app is one of the most popular on the market.

I took the time to look at it because not only is it popular but it’s a shining example of how to design an application that incorporates multiple features into one simple, user friendly application. Oh, and it also does mCommerce pretty well.

Highlights:

  • Clear and big call-to-actions
  • Same features as desktop version
  • Comprehensible sorting filters across all features
  • Map/list option and the map runs really quickly and shows consolidated results, e.g. 5+ hotels in the same area appear under the same tab when map is zoomed out
  • Generally, the app is quick and light
  • The auto-fill option is brilliant, and for an app which requires a lot of information at regular intervals this can really save a lot of time
  • There is a ‘Guest login’ option if you book via Kayak, another great time saver for making purchases on a mobile device

Areas (small) for improvement

  • Calendars could be more contextual, so that they don’t show previous weeks
  • Some icons and information isn’t intuitive. For example,   looking for flights a number appears on the right side, but it’s not immediately clear what it stands for
  • As per our recent mCommerce study we know that security is very important to users making purchases on mobile devices. While the Kayak app does display a symbol (padlock) close to where you enter credit card details, it could provide more reassurances, especially give the high value nature of purchasing hotels or flights
  • If you chose not to pay via Kayak the checkout process largely depends on how good website is to which you are redirected, a necessary evil for bargain hunters

 

As an Agency we are very proud of the work we do with charities and non-profits – as such we like to keep abreast of the latest developments in the sector. Enter Charity Technology Conference 2012 (#Charitytech).

All in all it was a great event – We exhibited via our ‘advice hotspot’ (a nice idea to encourage clients to engage and for agencies to offer advice over a pitch)  and attended some brilliant seminars.

Generally, a constant feature of most technology events we have attended this year (everything from ad:tech to Figaro digital) has been Mobile. It is undeniably extremely important for any business, charitable of otherwise, to keep abreast of developments in this arena – thankfully, charity tech had not overlooked this.  The seminar, ‘Engaging with donors in a mobile market’ – A British Red Cross case study, actually coupled two of our favorite things: mobile and customer experience, definitely our highlight of the event.

Other mentions go out to great talks on social from Bertie Bosredon and seminars on another prominent feature in the tech event circuit – the cloud. In all a great, engaging event. Charity Tech 2013 anyone?

To see some photos of the event head over to our Pinterest page.

A few months ago, I spoke at City University London about Wireframing for Responsive Web Design where I proposed that paper could be a useful tool for responsive design. Since then, I haven’t had many chances to try the technique I proposed hands-on, but a suitable opportunity came up recently when we decided to look into making our own Webcredible site more responsive.

I helped facilitate a workshop to start our responsive design project, and I decided to introduce the idea to my colleagues taking part in the workshop, both UX designers and internal stakeholders. As we were adapting an existing site, we already had a baseline for the content we could include so I started by printing out screenshots of some of our most important pages. Each person was given one or more of these screenshots, some empty paper, a pair of scissors and some glue. The only instructions I gave was to try and slice up and rearrange page content so that it fits in a single-column layout.

Here’s some examples of what came out of that workshop:

Linear layouts of Webcredible pages

What we all really liked about this method was the speed (as we didn’t have to sketch much from scratch) and the flexibility of rearranging pieces of paper before committing to a final solution. The developer in charge of delivering this project also found it helpful to have a visual overview of the intended mobile result based on the existing content. Of course, there’s some limits on how much interactivity you can try to convey through paper, but this didn’t stop us from trying. One of the tricks I really like is this folded piece of paper showing how a long list of tags in our blog might be collapsed into a drop-down menu:

Folded piece of paper signifying a drop-down menu

To see more high-resolution photos (and a sneak peek at our upcoming responsive site), take a look into our responsive design Pinterest board. And let us know what you think in the comments below – would you consider using paper for responsive design?

 

I first created a free account and started using the Evernote note taking app in an on/off basis just over a year ago. I’d seen others in my industry using it and thought it might be quite useful for taking notes whilst on the move using my smart phone. For those of you who’ve not used it before, Evernote is basically a cloud based digital notebook. Using the free app on your phone, tablet and desk/laptop gives you the ability to create ‘notebooks’ containing ‘notes’ that can include formatted text, digital photos, screenshots and even digital audio clips. Content added to your account is stored online and can be added to, edited and accessed on whichever digital platform you are using.


Example of the Evernote ‘notebook’ structure on the desktop app

Example of the Evernote ‘note’ structure and desktop interface

Going ‘Paperless’

As a relatively new starter at Webcredible I took this as an opportunity to attempt going ‘paperless’. Working in a bustling agency means that on a daily basis you can often find yourself performing numerous tasks, anything from project kick-off’s and internal development projects to writing blogs. All of these tasks require note-taking for which I’ve relied on a combination of:

  • A4 notepads for client specific work
  • A5 notepads for daily ‘to-do list’, and quick rough notes
  • ‘Moleskines’ for personal/professional development and note taking at industry events
  • An sketchpad or whiteboard for designing screen layouts or rough prototypes
  • Twitter: For the sharing and ‘favouriting’ of useful online resources and links
  • Outlook:
    • ‘Tasks’ – to keep on top of requests from others
    • ‘Calendar’ – to define and share meeting agendas, and make preparation notes to myself for a particular activity

Just looking at that list makes me shudder. It brings back memories of misplaced notebooks, untraceable notes, illegible scribbles, last minute struggles to find stationary, not to mention the sheer amount of head-scratching needed to locate materials relevant to a particular task. It may seem that such a system was simply extraneous and somewhat redundant to begin with, but I’m the sort of person who likes to write stuff down. I find it offers the following benefits:

  • Full records of what has been agreed between you and your colleagues/clients minimise the amount of follow-up communication needed, and reduces the chance of mis-interpretation when it comes to responding to briefs/objectives
  • Simply jotting down summaries of conversations or talks increases my ability to remember their content
  • Writing down thoughts or ideas as soon as they pop into your head means you can forget about them in the short term and return to them at a later date without losing that initial spark

Since starting at Webcredible I’ve been refining how best I can continue taking extensive notes, and remove the headaches caused by keeping everything in a variety of paper and digital formats. Like I said above I have been trialling Evernote for the best part of the past year taking notes using the Android mobile app on my phone whilst at conferences, documenting what was said at meetings to even saving recipes. I’d subsequently access and update these notes at a later date, at home or work.

Evernote in practice

Initially I decided to see if I could do away with using paper at work altogether, so I installed the Evernote app on my work desktop, and made sure to keep my phone or the company tablet at hand when in meetings or travelling to and from clients’ offices.

Using the app is relatively easy, as shown in the screen-shots above you simply create a folder structure of ‘notebooks’ and populate them with notes. The notes save locally (on your device) in real-time, this is handy as on occasion the app does have a tendency to crash;  I’ve not lost any notes to date. Though you don’t have to worry about ‘saving’ notes you must make sure that you’ve ‘synced’ them to the cloud for access on all your devices, again this happens automatically but not in real-time. Since I’ve been using Evernote recently there have been times where I’ve booted my computer up at home to copy across content into the app in preparation for a day’s work, or tried to embed a photo as a note only to realise that I’d forgotten to to ‘hit’ sync or give enough time for the sync to take place (particularly when I hadn’t opened the app for a while). On these occasions I’ve arrived to work missing vital documents to make my job easier, and as a result had to come up with some interesting work-a-rounds.

In terms of going paperless I have managed to ditch the notebooks, and now have a way to quickly retrieve work I’ve done on sketch-pads or white-boards by including them as photos in notes I’ve taken. I also find the hierarchical folder structuring of Evernote’s ‘notebooks’ has improved the efficiency of how I both take and retrieve notes; I can now easily group all content related to a particular project or topic. It has also changed the way in which I take notes, I’ve found:

  • As soon as I have an idea I am more likely to type it straight into my phone (as I always have it on me) and don’t have to fumble around for a pen and paper
  • I can now easily pick out the most relevant information from digitl documents I read and save it as a helpful reminder of either how to do something or how long I’ve got to do something

Writing digital notes also has also given me the additional benefits of being able to:

  • Include screen-shots or copy and paste links and content directly from the web or other digital documents. This greatly reduces the time it takes to copy out such information by hand, and increases the likelihood I will reuse the information
  • Transcribe meeting notes instantaneously, and subsequently tidy up the formatting
  • Edit and re-edit notes to make them shareable with colleagues

Drawbacks

I must confess however, for some tasks you will still find me relying on Post-its or a sketchpad to quickly write rough, throw away notes and calculations. I find this is the case when I write down a day’s to do list or I’m in a situation (or mood) where simply using  good old pen and paper is more appealing. Similarly I’ve noticed a few drawbacks of using Evernote (and digital note taking in general):

  • Getting used to the notions of ‘saving’ my work locally and ‘syncing’ to the cloud took a while to get used to
  • In client facing meetings taking notes on your smart phone can come across as looking like your dis-interested and responding to emails rather than taking notes or making a contribution (Tip: make clients aware of how you are taking notes)
  • Spending an hour or more tapping away on to your smart phone and even your tablet quickly becomes uncomfortable if you have numerous meetings in one day (Tip: take a laptop)
  • Using the mobile version of the app it can be difficult to organise and navigate content (Tip: Jot notes in any location on the move, and organise when at your desk)

Conclusion

I would say that over the course of the past year I’ve gradually found making digital notes more and more useful. I have developed ways to use Evernote to improve my day to day working efficiency and am now less reliant on paper based alternatives and even other less ‘fit for purpose’ digital products (such as Outlook). Using the free version of the app I’ve found the functionality more than adequate for my needs, and though it’s taken me a while to get used to certain parts of the interface and functionality, the benefits outweigh the effort this has required.

I mentioned that I was only using the free version of Evernote, and I’ve not tried some of the more advanced plug-ins to the app or really felt the need to upgrade to a premium account (with a paid subscription) . Also I have noticed that Microsoft now include a similar product as part of their MS Office suite (called ‘OneNote‘).  I did try it but I did not like the interface or the fact that I had to link my archaic Windows Live account (which I’ve forgotten the details of) to use.

If you have any comments on your own experiences with digital note-taking, or know of any other alternatives, please let us know!

Case studies

Our success stories

  • UCAS

    UCAS's Track portal is award-winning, achieving a 95%+ satisfaction rating across its 750,000 users

  • Hotels.com

    Hotels.com gained a much stronger competitive advantage due to a great mobile & tablet strategy

  • Pearson Education

    Pearson Education has embedded user-centred design into all their digital design processes

More case studies

Training academy

View training courses

About us

We're a user experience agency (UX agency) that creates people-centred, efficient and delightful digital experiences.

Get in touch on 020 7423 6320