Well folks, we’ve made it to the end of the semester, and therefore the end of my History and New Media course. In this post, I want to talk a bit about what I have learned throughout my time in this class, and I also want to introduce you to the final project produced by my partner Maria Eipert and myself.
Perhaps you’ll remember an earlier post of mine in which I talk about our plans for the final project. Well, over the course of the semester, while some ideas and objectives changed slightly, the final product is exactly what we had hoped it would be: a fun way of getting people interested in history.
The original inspiration for the creation of this app was based on work Maria and I did for another class we took part in this semester. In our Public History Practicum class, we worked with the White House Historical Association to create a guided walking ghost tour of Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. This tour takes people around the Square, stopping along the way to point out various places where ghosts are said to haunt the hallowed halls of what was once the social center of Washington, DC. This tour, unlike some others you might find in the area, is based upon historical facts uncovered in our extensive research of both primary (newspapers, etc.) and secondary (books, websites, etc.) resources. While telling ghost stories was the main attraction of this tour, the goal was to make tour attendees realize the history behind the tales we were telling. We did not want to frighten people; rather we wanted these scandalous and sometimes shocking stories to connect people to the past in a new and exciting way.
For our History and New Media class, we were then given the opportunity to supplement this physical walking tour experience with an app for personal mobile devices. As public historians, it is important for us to think about not only those who have direct access to our resources and events, but also to reach out to those who perhaps are too far away to take advantage of what we can offer. Thus having an app for personal mobile devices allows those outside of the Washington, D.C. metro area to experience and learn about the history of a neighborhood in their nation’s capital.
In our New Media class, we learned a lot this semester about the current shift taking place in academic institutions from libraries, to museums, to schools. Everyone is aware of the impact that new technologies and social media have had on how people find, interpret, and interact with information. While there were many options open to us for this project, including creating a podcast or website rather than an app, we felt that an app would really give us the reach that we were hoping for with this project. Think about it: just about everyone, everywhere is on their smartphones almost all the time. And as an additional bonus, this would be perfect for people who live in the D.C. area but who do not like going on guided tours. With this app, users could go on their own self-guided tour, following any route they wanted, skipping areas or stories that interested them less, and stopping or starting whenever and whereever they liked. It was clear that an app was the best way for us to go.
Before I show you the wireframes we created for the final project, let me show you how it all started. Many books and articles I read about designing an app explained that the first step was to create a concept flowchart which would guide the design aspects of the app. Here is the flowchart we came up with:
After having a firm understanding of how we wanted our content to be organized within the app, we were able to set about designing individual wireframes for our client. Below are some early sketches Maria and I created to give us guidance in our app design.
Once we had our ideas sketched out, it was time to try to do some actual design work. Now I have never designed anything like an app before in my life, so I did a Google search looking for some tips and guides that might help me. What I found (aside from hundreds of blogs and web guides to app building for beginners) was a program called Prototyper, which provided me with a choice of templates and tools to use in creating a prototype for a phone, tablet, or web app. One aspect of this program that I found particularly interesting was that it gave you the ability to “simulate” your design. This feature opened up a web browser displaying what your design would look on the device you had chosen. This was really helpful, and I highly recommend this program for anyone trying to figure out app design.
So, without further ado, I’d like to share with you the official wireframes representing the culmination of all our hard work this semester. The wireframes are presented here in the order in which our flowchart was oriented. Each picture below contains two parts: on the left is the actual screen which would appear on the user’s device; on the right side is a description of that screen and instructions on how we envision a user interacting with the app physically (ie- tapping, pinching, swiping with one or two fingers etc.).
1. Loading Screen
2. Home Page
3. Location Home Page
4. Architectural History Page
5. Biographies Home Page
6. Selected Biography Page
7. Images Page
8. Ghost Stories
This app is more than just an extension of our guided walking ghost tour; it is a new resource that will engage users of all ages, accessible from almost anywhere! The content of this app represents a way of mingling historical fact with folklore, and of revealing the incredible past of a neighborhood in the nation’s capital.
So, what do you think? I’d love to get some feedback on my very first attempt at designing a historical resource using new technologies. As we progress further into the 21st century, it is important for those in cultural and intellectual institutions to understand that our users/visitors/patrons no longer interact with information in the ways they used to. We can no longer simply wait for people to seek us and our institutions out; we must meet people on their own turf, whether that be through social media, on the web through digitized collections, or through new apps and other programs. These new technologies provide us with exciting new ways to reach our publics, and I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring!