iPad app from McLellan Group showcases photographic autobiography
22/09/15

Case Study by Paul Jurkovic RGD, McLellan Group

Ian Coristine is an award-winning photographer and well-known in the 1000 Islands region for his aerial, landscape and nature photography. Ian approached McLellan Group after becoming acquainted with our work for other clients in the area.

 

Ian Coristine is a race car driver turned pilot whose photography work has been recognized around the world through numerous best-selling books. In 2012, Ian embarked on a new challenge – his autobiography titled “One in a Thousand.” Working with co-author Donna Walsh Inglehart, Ian wanted to combine his personal journey with breathtaking visuals in a digital release that would far exceed what people expected from an eBook. In a growing tablet market, the technology was finally available to do precisely that. We set out to design an iPad app that would be visually impressive and allow readers to experience Ian’s story and the 1000 Islands region for themselves.

 

 

 

 

Process

Like most interactive projects, our process began with research. We looked closely at what others were doing with eBooks and storytelling apps to analyze for ourselves what worked well and where there were usability issues. As expected, we were unable to find an existing eBook or App that did everything we envisioned, so our research was very broad. At the same time, we drew creative inspiration from print magazines and travel books. In our minds, this had to look and feel like a quality produced print piece. 

 

The iPad was still considered to be new technology at the time, and it was important to define what was even possible. Our design and development teams worked closely with the client to prioritize our requirements and map out the user experience through wireframes, page templates, prototyping and testing. While we were layering in a range of functionality, our priority was to tell a compelling story and ensure that the added elements wouldn’t interfere with that goal. Extras that were deemed superficial or distracting had to be removed and other elements that reinforced our story were added. For example, a variety of video clips that were originally planned to be sprinkled throughout the book were subsequently moved to a video gallery page as an appendix to avoid disrupting the overall flow. From the other perspective, we discovered that readers’ unfamiliarity with the region negatively affected their enjoyment of the book, so we added a mapping tool to help visualize the location of points of interest relative to others. Other issues of file size and usability were also flagged at this stage.

 

This R&D phase drove our design layouts and UI. Perhaps most importantly, it protected us against endless design and development cycles and removed any risk in not being able to reproduce what was presented to the client. With a clear understanding of how our app would function, we could move ahead with applying design to our framework.

 

 

 

As the author and photographer of this project, our client was very involved in the creative process, collaborating with us on how his work should be handled in order to preserve its artistic integrity. We ended up with a skeuomorphic style that simulated paper textures and matting. This approach was consistent with Ian’s previous photo books, and also aligned with the style of Apple’s iOS apps. This consistency in UI would prove beneficial to the overall usability of One in a Thousand.

 

Challenges

McLellan Group was asked to design and develop something that (at the time) had never been attempted. The iPad was still in its infancy, and the task was to develop our vision using relatively new technology. As a result, we spent a significant amount of time at the outset of this project researching a wide range of custom and third-party approaches. We eventually developed a workflow that would combine a third-party publishing tool from Aquafadas with Adobe InDesign and custom HTML.

 

 

Result

Our final product is a feature-rich iPad app that compliments the client’s story. To showcase the highly visual content, the app integrates embedded slideshows, video, audio and HTML5 components. These added media elements are unusual to find in an eBook, and helped define One in a Thousand as a unique storytelling experience. Readers are able to immerse themselves in Ian’s journey, see what he saw and even find points of interest on an interactive map.

 

 

The eBook/App received a strong response by readers and media outlets alike. Our promotion efforts consisted of print ads in related magazines as well as more in-depth articles featuring Ian, his book and the app. Ratings in the iTunes store reached 5 stars, and the app itself won several design and interactive awards. After two years, sales continue to roll in for the app, suggesting that we were able to develop a product with some longevity in a market that continuously evolves.

 

 

Designer Takeaways

  • Technology alone shouldn’t drive design. We purposely abandoned some very “cool” features, and custom built others in order to preserve the overall experience.
  • Keynote is an excellent option for prototyping an iPad app. It is native to the iPad and simulates user interactions through buttons, page (slide) jumps and built-in transitions. 
  • Remove the guesswork before designing anything. Testing, prototyping and involving Developers early on saves time down the road and creates a better product.
  • When diving into a project that has a lot of unknowns, it’s easy to get consumed by obstacles along the way. Consider taking a break, or moving onto another project for a while. Clearing one’s head can work wonders.

 

Client Takeaways

  • Let the users decide for  themselves how they experience your product. In this case, some readers chose to read the entire book first and circle back to explore the added features. Others enjoyed viewing images, videos and audio in context to what they were reading. Some even skipped the story entirely until they had absorbed the extras.
  • Keep in mind that what is perceived as a “quick task” often involves much more effort behind the scenes.
  • Good communication is critical to building a successful product.

 

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