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Mobile app design and organization

Mobile apps are hot. Everyone’s got one, from grocery stores to travel companies to whisky distillers. Last week Rob Giggey began an interesting discussion about whether or not agencies/departments within a single government entity should have their own mobile apps.Should we separate a public library database search from emergency services and general info into their own independent apps or should they be under one large, overarching local government piece of software?

I don’t see overwhelming negatives to either all-encompassing apps or department specific apps. Both can work well if created and designed correctly. Let’s look at two good examples from neighboring jurisdictions

  • Fairfax County, VA’s mobile app is basically a mobile version of it’s extremely comprehensive web site. You can access every department, elected official and county social media page from this one app. All information is accessed through a number of easy to read buttons on the app’s home screen.
  • Arlington County released the “Arlington Prepares” app last November. Created by county employees with some training in coding, this app contains the same important emergency information already found on the county’s web site. It also includes additional resources and a “make a plan” checklist.

I discussed the design aspect of mobile apps with Jack Hernandez, my graphic artist at Red Boot Media. With nearly 15 years of professional graphic design experience and local government contact, Jack had an interesting take on mobile app design:

Structure and hierarchy need to be established. Before designing the actual apps, design guidelines for your organization. This step is more critical in today’s online landscape because of the accessibility to tools that give departments the capability to create apps, blogs and web pages instantly. Realize that an app is not a Website. It’s more like an interactive tool — specific to a user’s interests. With this in mind, we can’t approach the design of an app and expect to integrate everything but the kitchen sink into it. There should be a primary “hub” app that acts as a launching pad to a number of apps specific to departments or topics. Users can choose which apps to install according to their interests.

One issue I have found, however, relates to tagging. Do a search in your platform’s app store for local government or public library. Several will come up, but a fair number are actually missing from search results because of improper tagging in the app store. (In an earlier search, I did not find a few county apps I knew existed for just this reason.)

Regardless of whether or not the app covers a single function or a whole government entity, successful apps share the following characteristics:

  • content – it must be valuable to have this particular information in a mobile format
  • design – it must look nice and be easy to navigate
  • functionality – it has to work well on all platforms

What’s your feeling on app design and content? What kind of content would be most valuable in your hand?

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Profile Photo Mobile Gov

Realize that an app is not a Website. It’s more like an interactive tool — specific to a user’s interests. With this in mind, we can’t approach the design of an app and expect to integrate everything but the kitchen sink into it.

Here! Here!

Profile Photo Don Fitchett

Great advice and insight. Anyone heard of a mobile app developer site that ranks developers, so one can find the best without the expense of trail and error? We are on our 3rd developer, looking for mr/ms right. So far finding limitations in developers tried, design capabilities, speed and/or cost.