Filmhouse: An app for cinema fanatics

During a week-long design sprint, I used a lean UX process of rapid prototyping to address a core problem for a fellow General Assembly classmate.

// App Background

Filmhouse is an application designed as a simple, enjoyable interface for cinema fanatics to, in just one click, check screenings at their local cinema, as well as explore other cinemas in London.

// MEET AUSTIN

Finding out your new local spots in an unfamiliar city isn’t easy, and is usually a process that requires a great deal of trial and error. Austin has just moved to London and is trying to find his feet in a city where there’s a bar, club, cafe, gallery or shop squeezed into every nook and cranny. But before we go into this, there’s something you should know about Austin.

Back at home, Austin goes to the movies every Wednesday and Sunday, without fail. On the morning of these days, he will simply open up Flixter, browse the films at his local cinema and checks which films suit his (rigorous) schedule. If there’s more than one film that suits, he’ll use the trailers and rotten tomatoes rating to make a decision.

But as soon as he touched down in London, his world was turned upside-down. There are lots of apps out there for exploring London events, restaurants and bars- but for a cinema fanatic like Austin, he misses his trusty local cinema back in California. His first experience with finding a cinema near his new home wasn’t so great- thinking a quick Google search would suffice, he types in ‘movie theatre’. Oh how wrong Austin was. Up pops a list of 1000001 “cinemas” in London, of every shape and size.

But lest we forget, Austin is a logical man. He thought, I’ll just find one which is near to me, but also has fairly decent ratings. Having located his target, he set out.

Fifteen minutes later and Austin is wandering through the backstreets of Stratford to find this “cinema”. He finally finds it… and it turns out our friend Google is not so wise after all. This “cinema” is in fact a flimsy backroom with a makeshift seating arrangement- nothing like what Austin is used to back in California. As an avid cinema-goer, Austin won’t settle for this. He gets his phone out, Googles ‘Vue’, because he’s at least heard of them before, and gets an Uber to the nearest Vue.

After this experience, Austin is now reluctant to try anywhere other than a Vue cinema- because it’s simply not worth taking the risk of travelling all that way, just to find a shoddy little backroom.

That’s when I started to think, what apps are out there for Austin to use? Cinema chains such as Vue and Odeon have some very basic apps with minimal functionality and interfaces which are reminscent of 2006. On the flip side, you have apps like Dojo and YPlan which are a dream to use but aren’t specifically geared towards cinema fanatics, such as Austin.

It dawned upon me that this could be a space that has great potential. I began by concept mapping his relationship with cinemas, to find out what they represent to him and how the app would be able to honour these sentiments. This also helped me decide which features would be most important to him. Consulting Austin, I began planning out some initial user flows and designs- and henceforth sprung the first app for London-based cinema fanatics, Filmhouse.

The first key decision was what information would be accessible in just one touch, on Filmhouse’s homescreen. Related to this was an important aspect of Austin’s cinema habits: that he will rarely plan things in advance.

He therefore far preferred a home screen that allowed him at a glance to see the film listings at his local cinema that day.

But what about the initial stages when he doesn’t have a local cinema yet and it still trying places out?

I made sure that Filmhouse allows Austin to browse cinemas nearby, or even those which are a little further afield but have excellent ratings, and check them out before he goes. With photos and a link to instagram geotagged photos, he can get a feel for the personality of the cinema. I also included ratings for the three most important factors that his cinema concept map revealed: Food & Drink, Sound & Picture, and a third that gives him an indication of how reliable his experience will be: Uniqueness. This arose from research conversations in which it became apparent that Austin views the best cinemas as those which are large, trustworthy and reliable, with all the typical features of a large chain cinema. This is largely because of the cinema culture in America, which follows that the bigger, the shinier and the louder, the better. Interestingly, the cinema landscape is very different in London; smaller independent and quirky cinemas such as pillow, beanbag, rooftop and even hot tub cinemas are being favoured over larger chains. Austin would be open to exploring these quirkier places, so long as some core needs (Food & Drink, Sound & Picture) were satisfied. Hence this uniqueness rating means there are no nasty surprises when Austin turns up and it’s not the IMAX experience he knows and loves back home.

Another key iteration was the introduction of a “time availability” filter on film screenings across London. Schedules are very important to Austin and Filmhouse needed to reflect an appreciation for that. Hence, if a film he wants to see isn’t on at a suitable time at his local cinema, he can browse when it’s on, during a specific time slot or multiple timeslots (e.g. 2pm — 5pm and 8pm — 10pm), at other cinemas- then make a choice from this narrowed list.

The information design of Filmhouse was also key in reflecting Austin’s preferences, which is for text lists with just essential information as opposed to the wider image-backed lists, which he finds distracting and less easy to process.

// Outcomes

After many iterations and adjustments, which mostly revolved around making it the simplest app possible, I produced a clickable prototype of Filmhouse in Marvel.

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// Next Steps

The next step in bettering Filmhouse would be to integrate personalised cinema recommendations based on the type of cinema, as there’s a large distinction between larger chains with all the bells and whistles, and smaller independent ones which offer of a unique, fun experience. Other features, such as social sharing of film times and recommendations and iCal integration, would make it easy to plan a trip to the cinema with friends. However the key strength of this app lies in its simplicity, so any new features would have to be geared towards being used on a regular basis.

Most importantly of all, Filmhouse would now need a shiny, clean interface that reflects its simplicity of use and trusted position in the London cultural scene.