November 2, 2017

Research

Imagine Norcross Research

At A Glance:

Our client, The City of Norcross, has a deep history echoed by its current call for innovation and imagination. Located just outside of Atlanta with a population over seventeen thousand, Norcross is eager to open its arms to exploration of their museums, natural highlights, historic spots, parks, and lively events. To increase interest and accessibility to this charming community, we are creating a web app. To learn more about web apps and how people use them, our group designed a survey that was completed by 171 people, giving us insight into the features of a web app that people would use as well as potential challenges. We are now incorporating lists of restaurants and shops, a calendar of events, and tours, as those were the most popular options for potential web app use. We also found that many people were unsure if their town had a web app, so we want to create a strong promotional strategy to combat this communication gap. When diving into design, it was clear we needed something simple to cater to our familial audience. We want to guarantee efficiency while in use by making the main menu only a few large icons. We found apps that channeled this simplicity and had both a similar look as well as features we are aiming for. Both NYCgo (a travel app for New York) and the BeltTour app (an informational app about Atlanta) serve as examples and reference points as we continue to develop our product. After looking into the best way to build something like this we chose to use a Bootstrap template for its flexibility and responsive nature. Our research has informed our plan and helped us define what an end goal would look like. We want to create an easy to use web app that drives tourism and increases exploration within the Norcross community.

 

Below you will find a breakdown of our research divided into groups by topic.  

 

Client Background: The City of Norcross

Norcross is a historic town about 20 minutes outside of Atlanta, Georgia. With a population just shy of seventeen thousand, Norcross has a small-town feel even being so close to such a major city. The following section will detail a little bit more about Norcross—  its people and its history.

 

Demographics:

 

According to the 2010 census, the racial and ethnic composition of the population was 40.8% white, 19.8% black or African American, 0.7% Native American, 2.1% Asian Indian, 10.7% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 39.4% Hispanic or Latino, 21.5% from some other race, and 4.3% reporting two or more races. Age distribution was 22.7% under the age of 18, 14.8% from 18 to 24, 40.9% from 25 to 44, 15.5% from 45 to 64, and 6.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 130.7 males.

 

History:

 

Norcross has been a chartered town since 1873, making it the second oldest in Gwinnett County, and the population of Norcross takes great pride in its history. Whether it be the informational display in the middle of Thrasher park explaining how both the town and the park were named, or the small plaque describing  the original uses of historic buildings,   history is everywhere. Norcross was the first in the county to be added to the Register of Historic places.

 

Norcross began as a 250-acre plot of land bought by J.J. Thrasher– the man behind the town’s famous Thrasher Park. The city itself is named after his dear friend, Jonathan Norcross, who also served as the town’s first mayor. Both Thrasher and Norcross were known entrepreneurs, and the town continued to keep the entrepreneurial spirit alive through various  ventures. The first car manufactured south of the Mason Dixon Line was made here, but unfortunately it was unsuccessful due to confusion over how to pronounce the name: “NorX.”  The manufacturer of this car eventually went under; however, a more successful example of the entrepreneurial spirit in Norcross lies within the Summerour family who developed a unique variety of cotton. The seeds became so famous that as told on the City of Norcross’s website (2017), “people from across the country could request a sample just by writing a letter addressed with nothing more than ‘Cotton Seed Man’ and ‘Georgia’ on the envelope.”  This operation was entirely based out of a building right next to City Hall in downtown Norcross.

Beyond economics, Norcross is known for its baseball history which the city enthusiastically displays in the Norcross Baseball Museum. The town even named some of the streets after famous players, like Wingo and Carlyle. The baseball museum is one of three in Norcross, accompanied by the Firehouse Museum and the History Museum & Welcome Center.

 

Today:

 

Norcross prides itself in being “A Place to Imagine,” but this is not just a vague tagline; rather, this phrase represents a philosophy embodied by the “Imagination Proclamation” housed on their website. The proclamation defines Norcross as a place where “New ideas are born, nurtured and brought to life”. The proclamation continues to describe how Norcross will be a place for those to speak their mind freely,  and how all community members have a unique gift to contribute. The proclamation highlights creativity as well which they define as, “the process of generating new ideas that have value in their power to make change for the better” (Norcross, 2017). This creativity is showcased in many of the city’s events such as the Jazz in the Alley: Nelson Ramos, or the Gateway International Food & Music Festival.

 

The proclamation also includes the phrase “remains a balance between economic growth and environmental protection:” the focus on nature can be felt in Norcross, especially when exploring the “Tree Walk” or variety of floral species at the Garden Club. The City of Norcross has requested a web app to highlight these aspects of their town and much more. The following sections will detail further research completed regarding the web app itself.

 

Exploring User Research: Survey Results and Analysis

 

When we first learned about our client and project, we had some questions about the accessibility of both native and web apps used for specific towns. How common are native or web apps for cities and towns? If they exist, do citizens use them and find them helpful? In order to better understand the questions at hand, we decided to create a survey and study the results. We believe that this survey will help us better understand the general knowledge regarding native and web apps that were created by and for specific towns. To begin, we created a Google Form with questions that focus on apps. We then distributed this form on social media, specifically Facebook, and received 171 responses. Below, we will detail our findings from this survey and how we will use them to guide our own web app creation.  

 

The Results:

 

Out of 160 responses, 56% of people we surveyed were unsure if their town had an app to use. This represents our first problem: promotion of the app and making it known to the community it serves. When we first started this project, we were also unsure if our towns had native apps for their residents, and we all had to search the App Store to find the answer to this question. This problem could arise due to the fact that most residents already know about their own town, and small towns may not receive many tourists to download the apps. With this in mind, we aim to create a web app that could be beneficial for both locals and tourists. We believe that creating a web app is a good solution to this problem because it can be accessed through any browser on a smartphone. If a user opens up the Google app to search for information about a city, they will find our web app and access it easily. Additionally, after learning that many people are unaware if their towns have apps for their use, we can better develop a marketing plan for Norcross to promote their app. Because their marketing group, Accent Creative Group, is involved with the project, we will have a contact to discuss marketing efforts and plans, and we will use this business to help us discover the best solution to making this web app as widespread as possible. One solution we’ve thought about includes using taglines and color schemes that are similar to what Norcross currently uses. For example, we plan on naming the web app “Imagine Norcross,” a name similar to their tagline of “A Place to Imagine.” We believe that by keeping the marketing consistent among their various platforms, it will be easier to promote the app, thus helping us solve the problem of making it known to the community.

 

The form we created also features hypothetical questions, such as “would you consider downloading an app in the future that could help you plan a trip to a new city?” in which 85.1% of people answered ‘‘yes.’ When we discovered that there is a need for apps to help tourists visit new places, we started digging, and we found some great examples in sites such as nycgo.com which is a web app that features a seemingly endless supply of information to help tourists in New York City. This web app features information about restaurants, hotels, stores, history, and general facts about certain areas of the city. When reviewing the responses of our survey, 92% of people answered that they would be interested in an app that featured restaurant suggestions, leisure services, and hotels & accommodation information. Using this knowledge, we plan on using nycgo.com as a model for our web app because it features the information that potential users want to see in a web app.

 

User Research Conclusions:

 

After reviewing the responses from our survey and exploring web apps of similar nature, we have a better sense of what kind of information can be included in a web app and how to do so in a feasible manner. We plan on incorporating lists of restaurants and shops, a calendar of events, and tours and information specific to Norcross. We believe that this app will be beneficial for both tourists and locals alike, and we are excited to use our research to help us create this web app.   

Design and Functionality

 

When it comes to creating a web app, we want to ensure that we design it well so that the average person in Norcross can use it and enjoy their time using it. To achieve this,  we needed to research common themes of successful web apps. One of the first things we found over and over in our research was the idea that we need to focus on our target user first when it comes to design. Based on the demographics that we found, a majority of the people in Norcross are families. As a result, this is the primary audience we want to cater to.

 

The Best Fit for Our Audience:

 

With a family aged audience, there is most likely a wide range of technological knowledge and experience; because of this wide variety, we need to play it safe and cater to the ones who have less experience with web apps. Within this, there are many ideas that we want to focus on, the first idea being common patterns. With a web app like ours, we do not want to waste someone’s time by making them learn something new and risk driving them away. Instead, we decided to go with a simple scrolling navigation. Scrolling is a natural action on the web and within smartphones, so it will not be difficult for our users to find what they are looking for.

 

Within this our research, we found that consistency within the web application itself is important. The first page uses scrolling navigation, and as a result, the individual pages concerning restaurants, art galleries, parks, etc follow this same pattern. This pattern makes it easier for the user to continue to navigate throughout the entire web app.

 

In the article “10 Useful Web Application Interface Techniques, Dmitry Fadeyev states that “to compete with desktop applications, web apps must offer simple, intuitive and responsive user interfaces that let their users get things done with less effort and time” (2009). Simplicity represents a common thread in all of the articles about web app design; this is because, in contrast to regular websites, their purpose is not for information but for completing a task. This means that the more simple the interface is the less time the user has to complete their task. In our case with the Norcross web app, we want to guarantee efficiency while in use by making the main menu only a few large icons. These large icons divide up everything that the apps does into obvious categories so that the user is able to find what they are looking for almost immediately instead of having to go through a huge list of options.

 

Challenges and Game Plan for Design:

 

One of the most interactive parts of the web app will involve a 360° form of a tour of Norcross. This will be a cool feature of the app, but we are aware that people who use it on a day-to-day basis will most likely not visit this part of the site regularly. During initial planning, we placed the 360° tour at the top of the web app, but after some research and discussion, we realized that this part of the menu needed to be lowered. This change came because it is inefficient for the user to scroll past this part of the app every time they use it; moreover, it is more likely that someone will regularly look at the app to find out somewhere to eat, and this is why we placed the food option at the top of the menu.

 

A very common recommendation that many sites had when creating a web application was to sketch out the application before hand. After the consideration of all of these ideas, we proceeded to sketch out the app page by page. This gave us a better idea of what the web app should look like and the way that the information on the app should be presented page by page.

 

Other Web Apps on the Market: Searching for Inspiration

 

From NYC to NorX:

 

The product inspiration research stemmed from the descriptions that our client had included in the proposal. Local city web apps are incredibly hard to come across, and good local city web apps are even more of a rarity considering that most cities tend to create a native app instead. Nevertheless, we found the New York City Go page, an interactive and dynamic tourism web app that gave us fantastic informational and design related inspiration for the Norcross web app. The NYC Go page is sleek, fun, and extremely easy to use. It provides users with an interactive map of New York City, offers tours, and helps users plan their next visit to the Big Apple. Furthermore, the web app allows users to see up to date events occurring all over the city, recommends Broadway shows, the best restaurants, attractions, and shopping locations around town. The information provided goes beyond that – it also includes maps, ticket deals, transportation guides, and even an official visitors guide. What inspired us the most, however, was that it compiles all this useful information in a very compact and simple design that never feels saturated. We intend to use this web app as our main inspiration and scale it down to the amount of content Norcross needs.

 

The (App)le doesn’t fall far from the (Tree) Tour:

 

Our clients also mentioned how they would like the application to have an interactive “Tree Tour” in which users could follow a route where they could read and learn about the trees that the city of Norcross has. As we began looking around for interactive tours of specific places in larger cities, we discovered that Atlanta had a couple of impressive interactive tours. The first example we found was the Atlanta Beltline Tour. This tour provides users with a pleasant location-based audio tour of the Beltline, giving us insight into what a personalized tour should look like. The BeltTour offers first hand information about things visitors can find along the Beltline— from exclusive interviews with the artists of the iconic murals, to commentary from Tree Atlanta experts about the arboretum that runs along the path. Although an audio tour does not fit our needs in this project, it offered us inspiration into how we could make our app more intimate by presenting exclusive information in a unique way. The second Atlanta tour app is the Battle of Atlanta Tour Web App, created by students at Emory University. Although the web app is not aesthetically pleasing or exciting, it presents users with a Google Maps-based tour of important locations of the Battle of Atlanta. The information isn’t presented in an impressive way either; there’s a paragraph of encyclopedia information and a slide with related images. We noted that our web app and the information we provide our users with needs to be thorough yet engaging. Additionally, we decided to incorporate Google Maps into our own personal tours, specifically the Tree Tour and Tour of Historic Homes, and we are looking into creating the Tree Tour with pins dropped at their specific locations. The arrival at that location would prompt the app to provide users exclusive and interesting information about that specific tree they are at.   

 

Bring on the Competition:

 

One of the first things that came up in our research was the conflict with big tour apps like Google Field Trip. In our conversation with the Norcross board, someone mentioned Google Field Trip app and how we should look to this product for inspiration. This location-based app incorporates Google maps and compiles information about specific locations, buildings, and even street art and shares it with the user in a complete yet easily digestible fashion— the Google way. The immediate issue that arose was based around the idea that Fieldtrip was already a fantastic app that, at least on paper, seemed to offer everything we hoped to provide in our Norcross web app; however, after further research on the Field Trip app, we found that it failed to be as intimate, personalized, or dynamic as we imagine our web app to be. Although Field Trip does have some interesting facts about Norcross locations, it fails to address all the Norcross sites we intend to showcase. It barely skims over the history and other important parts of the area that our clients want us to showcase; however, Field Trip does offer us solid guidelines for simple yet complete design for our tour.

 

One crucial and exciting aspect that our client mentioned was the incorporation of 360° video or Virtual Reality into our project. Although virtual reality and augmented reality are out of our scope and would not work within the confines of a web app, the use of 360° images for our tours would align incredibly well with our mission of making our app as entertaining, educational, and interactive as possible. In our research of 360° tours, we found YouVisit, a company that focuses on virtual reality tours of real locations like the City of Oakland and the University of Texas at Austin. The tours offer many beautiful 360° videos of different locations, and the videos include interactive pins on certain things in the frame. For example, in a tour of the Tuscan Gun (an italian restaurant in Brooklyn),  you can look around and click on a button hanging over a steaming bowl of pasta only to find yourself watching a 360° video of how that dish was made. This enthralling application took 360° tours to another level. It inspired us to aim to incorporate at least a handful of 360° images with interactive objects within them with the intention of offering users an exciting and new way to scratch the surface of all of the things they could discover in Norcross. Another aspect of this product that we appreciated was that it is just as easy to use on a desktop as it is on a mobile phone. It made us very aware of the design our web app should consider for functionality purposes in terms of accessibility in different devices.

 

Implementation and Limitations

 

Once we decided that a mobile web application would be the best fit for our client’s needs, our next step was addressing the limitations that come with the platform. One of the main reasons we chose to create a web application was its flexibility across different types of mobile devices. Accordingly, a responsive design is critical for our final product. This can be accomplished in a few different ways, but the most important is to start with a responsive framework. We chose Bootstrap because of our familiarity with it and the large number of free Bootstrap templates available. Additionally, the web app’s many interactive elements need to be highly responsive, as they are the primary features of the web app. Google Maps and 360player are both embedded within iFrames which can easily be made responsive by setting the width to 100%, but this may not be ideal when the user switches to a landscape orientation. In CSS3, you can create media queries that give specific display instructions for when the user is viewing the web app in landscape. Another problem that arises when working with the design of web apps is that web-based code for desktop does not always work on mobile devices. When working on the app’s functionality on mobile devices, it is important to keep in mind that certain tags and properties within HTML5 and CSS are not supported by mobile browsers.

 

Yet, the design and display of our web app will likely not be the only obstacle we encounter. Because many of our users will be away from home and not connected to wifi, the time it takes for our website to load should be as minimal as possible. Image optimization and compression of Javascript and CSS files will likely be the most useful ways to combat slow loading times in the Norcross web app. The Bootstrap template we chose included many CSS and Javascript files, and leaving those files uncompressed could cause the web app to lose users due to slow loading times. According the Google, website traffic drops 20% for every extra 5 seconds of load time. Therefore, we cannot risk having a slow load time, as the audience for the Norcross web app is already not a large group of people. Additionally, image files that are too large could significantly slow down the load time. We want to include high-quality photos to show off Norcross’s beautiful scenery, but if people close the browser before the photos load, the purpose of the photos is lost. Image optimization apps compress file sizes while maintaining a high quality image, and the usage of these apps will be crucial for the many images we plan to include in the web app. By combining these design and loading time techniques for mobile web app development, our group will be able to create a functional and aesthetically pleasing web app for the city of Norcross.