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  • Phil

CalMigration Mobile App - A Case Study

Close up of someone's foot, taking a step on the sidewalk.

California Migration Museum (henceforth CalMigration) wanted to create a new version of their mobile application. The existing app was difficult to maintain and create content for and did not match their branding or design principles. They had contracted Spellerberg Associates to redesign both their web presence and the mobile app. Spellerberg would handle the visual and functional design of the new app but they were seeking a skilled developer, proficient in cross-platform mobile frameworks to develop the application for iOS and Android.

The app's core function would be to provide walking tours, directing users toward historically significant sites and delivering multimedia narratives from local communities.

One of the biggest problems with the existing app was that each new tour had to be hand-crafted by the developer in Unity. This meant that creating new tours was both expensive and logistically challenging. CalMigration wanted the new app to devolve content creation so that they could create and manage their own content without having to touch the app or deal with Unity.

A screenshot from the CalMigration mobile app, showing tours for Castro and Chinatown.

Another disadvantage of the existing app was its need to embed all of the content for a tour within the app. As the number of tours increased, the download size of the app ballooned to the point that it was off-putting for new users, who may have initially wanted to listen to just one or two of the tours.

In essence, the existing app had become both a barrier to new customers and an obstacle to content creation.

One of the reasons that I was picked for this project was my track record of creating content-driven apps, where the content is disconnected from the app. Typically, this is done via a RESTful API or a content management system (CMS). For CalMigration, I determined that a CMS would be the most suitable option and I began setting up a repository on Prismic for the project. I started by blocking out the content for the first tour so that I could build the app around it. Once we had refined the structure of tours, I walked the CalMigration team through the Prismic repository, showing them how content was organized for a new tour. After this brief tutorial, the team was able to create four new tours on Prismic in the following days, with no assistance from me.

A screenshot from the CalMigration mobile app, showing the chapter entitled "Jorge's Story'.

In order to keep the app itself as small as possible, I ensured that all of the content for the app was devolved to the CMS. The app retrieves the bare minimum information required to show the name, location, and some photos of each tour when the app is first run. New tours are retrieved automatically as they are added to the CMS.

I created a content caching system to manage retrieval of the full content for a tour. I worked with Spellerberg to create the user interface that allows the user to download a tour (and also delete a tour to free up space). The system checks for updates before beginning a tour so that users will always be able to experience the latest version of each tour.

The CalMigration app was soft-launched in September, 2023 with the first three tours. Two new tours were added in March, 2024 and the app was officially launched. The app was awarded a Gold MUSE award in the Mobile App - Arts category. Congratulations to everyone at CalMigration and Spellerberg Associates on the recognition for all of their work on this project.

A gold award for the CalMigration Museum mobile app for "Mobile App - Arts (NEW)"


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