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4 simple tips for creating an award-winning university app

When it comes to producing college publications, it is important to captivate your audience. There is no better way to communicate with students, staff, faculty, alumni and potential prospects than on the devices they already use.
University Business, March 2015

When it comes to producing college publications, it is important to captivate your audience. There is no better way to communicate with students, staff, faculty, alumni and potential prospects than on the devices they already use. Distributing your college marketing materials, alumni magazines, admissions brochures, university athletics, student portfolios and more through mobile apps is a great idea, but what does it take to create an app that is award-winning status?

As designers at the school voted the “Nation’s Most Wired Campus,” we need to ensure that we are always ahead of the design curve and up-to-date on our technology skills, and here are a few tips we follow:

1. Quality Apps on a Time Crunch

When Ringling College decided to create an iPad app for its new college magazine, CONTXT, there was only one problem—our team had never done it before. Timing is important when you are producing and rolling out something new, especially if you are under a tight deadline like we were. It should be obvious, but sometimes designers fail to remember that accurate time estimation is crucial for a project. In order to achieve success, you need to set achievable deadlines that you can meet, plus you need to be dedicated to the process and choose a platform that is easy to use for optimal results.

Since the design elements had been already created for the print version of our college magazine, it was a matter of creating the interactive experience. There are several great mobile publishing platforms to choose from. The platform we used offers simple design tools, an easy learning curve and integration into Adobe products already being used. Our designers at Ringling were able to fully learn, design and publish our very first iPad app in a total of only 5 weeks. The result: an app that has won numerous local and regional awards, including being named a finalist in the 2013 Digital Magazine awards in two categories.

2. Your Audience Matters

Any good designer knows that you need to start the design process by defining your key audience. It is important to look closely at the demographic and psychographic makeup of the audiences you are targeting and determine what real value your app will bring to this group and how. Ringling College recommends that the design team and the client meet to develop a plan for creating the content and to determine what is needed to create the app, video content, interactive features, etc. The vast majority of our audience is very tech savvy—particularly current and prospective students, as well as recent alumni. Therefore, having a digital version of the magazine was extremely important.

3. Interactivity is Key

Ringling College’s audience is highly adept with digital media, so it was very important that the app we created helped engage and intrigue the audience in a way that simply could not be done by traditional print media. Storytelling is important for our students, so it was important that the app featured plenty of animations, short films, motion design, and a variety of interviews. By using an in-house videographer to create a series of short videos, it will help enhance the experience. Aside from video, consider other interactive elements important for optimal engagement like pop-ups and Twitter feeds.

4. Utilize your campus community and best design students

By utilizing students and alumni from design and technology programs, the process becomes more cost effective and no one really knows the school better than the students and alumni. By tapping into their experience and creativity, you are sure to get an accurate and in-depth representation of your school. Ringling College is known for using their resources at hand for technology projects. At our in-house Design Center, professional staff designers work with interns to assist with creating design needs for the college. When it came time to create our iPad app for the college magazine, we utilized a Design Center intern and staff designer. Since both are far more knowledgeable about the school than any outside design agency, we were able to create an experience tailored specifically to the needs of the audience who they know so well. The result is a rich and engaging app that rocks.

Jennifer Mumford Brady is the Director of the Ringling College Design Center. She oversees the conception, creation, and production of materials produced by the in-house staff, student interns and assistants. Ringling College Design Center uses the Mag+ mobile publishing platform to design and distribute the content created by Jennifer’s team. Cody Maple is an Advanced Designer for the Design Center and works on a variety of projects for the college. One of his primary responsibilities is art directing and designing the print and mobile versions of CONTXT, the college's official magazine. 

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