Planning a DIY Mobile App for Visitors

So you’ve decided to create a mobile app to enhance the visitor experience – that’s great! Now what? Well, a little strategizing can go a looong way. Sure, you can always go with an on the fly, kitchen sink approach, but we often find that method to be a little frustrating – often accompanied by a lot of backpedaling. With a little forethought and communication the process can be quite smooth.

Get ideas for your app

One of the best ways to think about how to approach your smartphone app is to look at what other people are creating. Remember, all apps had a planning stage, and it’s a great to see the end result. Navigate various mobile apps and note things you like – and dislike – about them.

As you go through existing apps, you’ll begin to see they have elements in common:

  • a home or introductory page
  • a list of services or points of interest
  • a property map
  • an about us or contact page, or both!

You also have to remember that as an organization, you are connected to hundreds, if not thousands, of people – you are in a prime position to gather info. Ask your future users what they would like to see or hear in your app. Ask your front end and floor staff what questions your visitors are asking and what suggestions they are making – you’ll probably begin to see a pattern.

Think about your content

Now that you’ve done a little research, ask yourself some questions:

  • What type of content do I already have access too? (Are you converting an audio guide into a smartphone app? Do you have videos? Photos? Text for all of your pages?)
  • What additional content do I need to complete my app?
  • Is it important to give users quick access to visitor information such as hours and contact info? What about certain points of contact once your visitor has arrived?
  • How many tours/routes will I have? How many points of interest will there be?
  • Do I need a map to accompany my app? How many? (Do I want to use the geo-locate capabilities of a Google map because there are outdoor points of interest? Do I have access to a custom map for your property?)
  • Do I want my users to access an RSS feed or blog to stay up to date with ongoing events?
  • Would my organization benefit from responses from a survey?
  • Is there a need for a keypad? Are my points of interest numbered and easy to spot?
  • How can I use the app to further promote my organization?

Determine the flow of your app

You may find it helpful to visualize what your final app will look like. You don’t need any fancy tools to do this, the classic pen and paper approach will work just fine! If you’re not crazy about showing off your drawing skills, opt for something more sophisticated. You can always download a free trial version of a mockup program, like Balsamiq.

Try creating a mockup of the general flow of your app – begin with your “Home” page and the main navigation buttons – think about how visitors will use them to navigate your app and your museum or property. What features of your app should be highlighted and easy to find?

Your mockup will serve as a your blueprint while building your app.

Gather your content

Once you have a general idea of the direction your app will take, and have determined what content you need – pull it all together! When you get started with your app, one way to keep it moving smoothly is organization and making sure your assets are the proper quality, file types, and ready to be placed in your app.

It helps to organize your files in an orderly way. Simple, easy to identify, and consistent naming conventions are very helpful. Think about other contributors that are helping you create the app. If they were to look at all the files you’ve gathered, would they be able to determine which files go where?

Now that you’re a few step closer to creating your app, don’t forget, one of the many benefits of creating your own app is that you have the flexibility to change your mind!

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