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Lake Como App - Experience the sense of place

Lorenzo Bernaschina

“Lake Como App” is an iOS app aimed to show the highlights of Como, my hometown, founded by Julius Caesar in 59 b.C.

The area is nowadays famous around the world for the rare beauty of its Lake. For this reason, tourists usually focus on the most popular places like Bellagio, Villa d'Este, Villa Carlotta and Villa Balbianello... However, Como has been considered a must-see for many centuries not only for its magic landscape. We have an important history and a precious heritage of artistic, cultural and industrial peculiarities that are worth being told and I made this app to share those hidden gems.

My goal is to make you feel the sense of the place.

In order to do that, I needed the help of a local expert. So I asked my mom who is a professional tourist guide. I developed the software, she wrote the contents and we both selected the most significant images. We constantly refined the respective contributions according to the feedback of the voyagers she was meeting on her tours. Among them, the specialists of the National Geographic Expeditions that she guided on Lake Como for years. The outcome was a digital experience covering a huge variety of subjects that could guide visitors planning their stays by meeting time availability and interests.

An app for my city

App screenshots
Some screens of the app

Tailored information and recommendations are the first contents available on the home page. They are based on a set of user's preferences like “Science & Technology”, “Sport”, “Music”, “Architecture” and so forth. Selecting any content opens a section made up of an image, a detailed description, and related topics. For example, in Alessandro Volta's section, there are direct links to the Voltian Temple (museum), his home, the lighthouse that was built in his honor on top of a hill from where you can enjoy an amazing view, etc. In the sections concerning a place, you can also find the coordinates to reach it and the list of nearby attractions in order not to miss any point of interest.

We wanted users to entirely enjoy the beauty around them rather than looking at their screens. For this reason, each written description is readable by Siri as if the app were an audioguide.

Regarding immersive features, I also developed an augmented reality experience to identify monuments by pointing the phone's camera. At the time Apple hadn't released the tools to manage these kinds of features yet. So my solution was based on GPS coordinates. Getting the device's orientation through the accelerometer and calculating the distance from the device to the building, I was able to properly attach its name on the screen. It worked quite well with some approximation.

Another thing we really cared about was accessibility. I've paid special attention to visually impaired users by making every section of the app accessible with verbose descriptions of each element and option available. My mom edited a list of accessible places to visit and enjoyable experiences such as the touch of ancient bas-reliefs stone decorations for blind people.

I thought about the economic sustainability of the product too. As I previously mentioned, there are many industrial excellences on our territory worth to be promoted and we are internationally renowned for our silk-textile and furniture-design creations. Mom could help me again with contents as for many years she had worked in textile and for the best Italian fashion brands.

My idea was to make the app free for users and get sponsorships from the most prestigious local companies in exchange for a dedicated section. It was not intended to be a form of pure advertising though. Since the histories of these companies are deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of the place, we saw their presence as an enriching addition, coherent with the vision and mission of the app.

We saw content marketing as the perfect form of monetization for our product. However, it turned out to be very difficult to get those companies onboard without a full-time commitment. Since it was a side-project absorbing our free time, it hasn't been possible to manage this aspect. Although we had no external support and the app was entirely funded by us, I wanted it to be available for free and no ads were included.

The app is in English and Italian. At the moment it is no longer available on the App Store but it may come back soon. So stay tuned.

Beyond the screen

This project was an evolution of my first app “Volta Pagina”. Both the apps pursued the vision of inspiring tourists and fellow citizens through a digital experience of our excellences.

Compared to the first app, I improved the UX/UI design process in three ways. First, I took Meng To's courses.

His lessons and tutorials gave me very useful practical insights to think both as a designer and a developer. But most importantly, he made me believe that a holistic approach that takes into account both the perspectives is very important to achieve high quality results.

Whether you are a designer or a developer, being able to understand the implications of your decisions on both sides is extremely useful. If you are working alone this is vital, otherwise, you will end up with a working app with a poor UX/UI or a gorgeous mockup that doesn't do anything for real. If you are working in a team, it will prevent many technical frictions. Moreover, both the departments will be more empathetic and respectful of mutual work.

Second, I looked for much more inspiration on the websites frequented by professionals who shared their works. At the time I intensively visited dribbble and sketch app sources. Still today they are very precious points of reference for my work.

Third, I asked for feedback during the development process rather than in the end.

The sooner you show what you are working on to the user, the better.

Looking backward I made the mistake to ask for feedback only after developing the features. Although it helped improve the quality of the app prior to its release on the store, it would have been more efficient to validate concepts and ideas with the user with rapid prototypes rather than fully implemented features. At least it has been helpful in training my programming skills and improving my knowledge and understanding of frameworks.

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