Like a lot of agencies, we’re constantly looking at how technology can help us to innovate. Whether we’re looking for technology to provide users with an enhanced digital experience, or simply looking for new software tools that can help us to improve efficiencies across our own working practices, we recognise that the right technology can be a game-changer for any business. And I’m very much of the mindset ‘let’s just try it’, to see if a new technology is actually going to be of any real benefit.
Two platforms that I’ve recently been looking at both have the potential to help our development team who are always pretty busy. The first is UXPin’s Design Systems which was released in May and can help to bridge the gap between UX and Development through a single scalable platform. The second is a new software we’re piloting called Lightwell that enables creatives to make fully interactive, animated apps without writing a single line of code.
Embracing UXPin’s Design Systems
We adopted UXPin as our ‘go-to’ product development and prototyping tool in 2015. Most of the work we were doing on the platform was creating wireframe prototypes that we could quickly validate through user testing. We were also using it to stitch together high definition prototypes to explore and define how things like complex navigation systems should behave before starting any development. However, we were still using Photoshop to do all the design work, creating UI kits in single PSD’s and mocking up page layouts for multiple devices.
Photoshop gives the design team absolute precision over the design elements, but it doesn’t really integrate with anything else - so as far as collaboration goes between the rest of the team, it’s kind of siloed. And the workflow isn’t really optimised as you’re having to export chunks of design to then import it into UXPin for prototyping. Photoshop also doesn’t really help the developers, who have to either go digging around in PSD’s to get the front-end build information they need, or refer to guides written by the designers which can take quite a while to produce.
Enter UXPin Design Systems. Whilst we’re still in the early stages of adopting it, the signs are looking good. We can now start to use UXPin as both a wireframing and UI design tool, building up pattern libraries and digital style guides. This will massively impact on speeding up the whole design process by establishing centralised and collaborative design systems that can evolve as projects progress. Products can be designed and tested on the one platform, but it gets even better. The design system can generate specs and style guides for developers - giving them the information they need for the build in terms of CSS. These time-saving features can help us to run our production process more efficiently, which is ultimately a saving that we can pass on to our clients so they get better value.
Making interactive storytelling apps with Lightwell
Lightwell is a platform for creating interactive storytelling apps without having to write a single line of code. It’s makers, Hullabalu, had been making a series of apps for children since 2012 and decided productise its app creation engine to give creative agencies a simple way to bring their interactive stories to life. We were contacted by Hullabalu and asked if we’d like to pilot the software. We work with a lot of charities and have been looking at ways to engage younger audiences, and here was a possible solution just crying out to be tried.
We’re still in the early stages of getting to grips with the software, but already the signs are very promising. Our design team have been given free reign to unlock their inner child to produce a short animated story to help us evaluate Lightwell and see if there’s a good business case to adopt it. We definitely have a captive market in a number of our clients to take this to, so it’s just about getting something designed and published on the App Store to fully understand the end-to-end process and any potential pitfalls.
In terms of our development team, that’s the beauty of the solution, it doesn’t require any development time which greatly reduces production time and cost. Naturally, the type of apps that we can produce with Lightwell are very specific and relatively simple, but we’re looking at how we might be able to create more of a gaming element to them to open up the product offering.
What excites us about Lightwell, is how this technology puts both the design and development process in the hands of the creative. They can create their illustrated assets, import them into Lightwell, and add animations, text, audio and interactions to quickly build up a narrative based experience - all of which they can preview on device through the Lightwell Previewer App. From there, it’s a simple step to publish to the App Store via Xcode and you’re done. We’re looking to get something out there by the end of Summer, so expect to get an update on how we found the process and the potential for interactive storytelling apps.
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