The Historic Athens App
Home to exceptional food, outstanding athletics, and lively music, Athens, Georgia is a cultural hub of the Southeast. These features attract visitors from far and wide, and while they make Athens a great place to live and visit, there is more to the community than meets the eye. With a diverse culture comes diverse stories, so why don’t we know more about the people and places that make up the Classic City?
There are many ways to learn about Athens history, but none that are both convenient and comprehensive. Historic Athens, a local historic preservation and conservation organization, engages residents and visitors alike by providing broad access to local history. The Historic Athens App for iOS, a mobile app designed to compliment Historic Athens’ programming and events, bridges the knowledge gap between community members and local history.
A one stop shop to learn all things Athens history, the Historic Athens App features three key components:
- A calendar of upcoming Historic Athens events.
- A map identifying nearby historic locations.
- A directory of interactive community resources.
Successful historic preservation requires engaged local communities. The Historic Athens App inspires involvement and investment in Athens, Georgia for users of all ages and abilities.
The Historic Athens App was born in Summer 2021 when Dakota Werner, Meghan Telling, and Olivia Sprott started the Capstone Journey in JRMC 7011: Project Management & Innovation.
We spent the summer learning effective project management practices and idea generation and iteration processes. At the end of the semester, we put our knowledge to the test by ideating and prototyping three unique Emerging Media Solutions:
- The Plant App: an iOS app to help amateur gardeners plan outdoor gardens using augmented reality.
- Circle of Friends Animal Society: a complete website overhaul to strengthen brand awareness and site usability.
- The Historic Athens App: an iOS app that connects the local community to broader Athens history.
Most interested in working with a local nonprofit, we reached out to Historic Athens’ Executive Director Tommy Valentine and pitched our proposal for a collaboration.
We actually approached the first meeting with an idea for an augmented reality experience to complement Porchfest, an annual Historic Athens event hosted in and around historic neighborhoods. The conversation quickly made Historic Athens’ vision for a broader app clear.
With a new vision in mind, we used our design and project management skills to change the direction of our project. We spent months designing, developing, and refining the beta of the Historic Athens App. Now we look forward to user testing, which will help us better understand the app’s usability and set ongoing development goals before launching the app for public use in May.
Historic Athens “is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to celebrate and conserve community heritage in Athens, Georgia. For over 50 years, [they] have worked to improve historic preservation and heritage conservation in the Athens area.” Their mission is “to be a proactive force in developing community-wide understanding of the value of historic buildings, neighborhoods, and heritage.”
Historic Athens has three staff members, five executive board members, and thirteen trustees. Their team works alongside volunteers to carry out their mission.
Because Historic Athens has a small core team, we quickly realized how important it was for everyone to be on the same page about their expectations and our abilities. We had an honest conversation about what we felt confident we could deliver. We set out to prototype the Historic Athens App and decided to prioritize different features at different levels:
- Must Haves: If all else fails, these features must exist.
- Basic Wants: If things go smoothly, these features would be nice.
- Above and Beyond: If things go really well, these features would be exceptional.
Starting with simple goals set us up for success throughout the prototyping process and as we moved toward building the Historic Athens App in Xcode.
We aim to deliver the strongest possible product within the framework of the existing Historic Athens brand. We’ve learned some valuable lessons about working with a client along the way:
- Making the client happy usually means making things work their way. We’ve worked hard to include existing branding guides in our development process, even when it means we have to get creative with our resources.
- Sometimes it just isn’t possible to make things work the client’s way. We learned early on to leverage our expertise and offer our opinions when appropriate. Client relationships need honesty and collaboration to thrive.
Working with a client has been an overwhelmingly positive experience throughout the development process, but that’s not to say that client work doesn’t present its challenges. We quickly realized that our client’s professional goals and our team’s academic goals don’t always align perfectly (which is totally fine!), and maintaining strong, honest communication was essential to ensuring a successful relationship.
Once we nailed down the direction of the Historic Athens App, we prototyped in Figma before developing the app in Xcode using Swift UI.
We created a product that easily connects Athenians to the community and uses simple technology to do so:
- The Upcoming Events page pulls Historic Athens event details from an easy-to-update Google Calendar.
- The Sites Near Me page connects to a community-supported spreadsheet that populates a Google Map of nearby historic locations.
- The Join Historic Athens page links externally to existing Historic Athens resources to create a directory of interactive community resources.
Each of these features was built with Historic Athens in mind. Our client needs to be able to update the information in the app quickly and easily, but their team has few development resources. We created solutions with accessible and familiar technologies.
The development process has challenged us personally, professionally, and academically, and user testing proved equally as engaging. One user uncovered a key detail we never anticipated by explaining, “When frustrated, the source was more often my lack of familiarity with apps in general, not this specific app.” Suddenly, we found ourselves redesigning the Historic Athens App with an older, less technologically-proficient clientele in mind.
Even though our system usability score was above average at a 74.68, we asked ourselves: how do we improve this app to serve a population generally less experienced with technology? This question led us to overhaul the app’s aesthetics, incorporate stronger visual cues and prompts, and include a short “how-to” video with instructions for use and navigation.
Overall, we received a lot of positive feedback about the Historic Athens App, and we are excited to put our product on the App Store and in the hands of users. The Historic Athens App has the potential to connect community members with the history that makes Athens the city we all know and love.
The Emerging Media Masters has challenged us and changed us. We are all better students because of this program. We all agree that we are better equipped to join the work force as professionals because of this program. And now that we are older and wiser than when we started our EM journeys, we have a little advice to share:
Olivia: Pick a project that excites you! Think about the things you feel passionate about, the people you’d like to work with, and how you want to invest your time for the next year of your life. The journey is just as important as the product you produce, so make it a good one.
Dakota: My best piece of advice is to understand your reality. It’s easy to dream big from day one — but scope creep is very real. Understanding and working within your team’s abilities and skills will serve you well down the road. EM is designed to push you to sharpen your skills, and sometimes that means “working smarter, not harder” while you learn and look for solutions to your team’s problems. Use your resources (NMIxperts) and set realistic goals that will help you move your project forward.
Meghan: I’ve learned a lot along the way, but the one piece of advice I’d give to future EMers is simple: start early. As a team, nail down your goals and expectations and then get started. The more time you allow yourself, the better. Whether it’s a client needing to reschedule a deadline or Xcode giving you a hard time, you are going to run into issues along the way that alter your original plan. Give yourself extra time to ensure things go a bit smoother.
As a team, we have learned so much about design and development, project management and client relationships, and user experience and accessibility. But most importantly, we have built our professional team on trust, friendship, and community, all while creating a product bound to make a lasting impact on historic preservation in the Athens area.
To learn more about the Historic Athens App, visit projects.nmi.cool/2022/em/historicathensapp/em-template/.