App Development | Design | UX
A new level of audience engagement.
EnCue allows artists, musicians, writers and organizations to communicate directly with their audiences during live performing arts events. The goal is to enrich the concert experience by providing curated content that more deeply engages users in the moment.
To augment the concert experience in a way that engaged users more deeply with the performance they were attending through highly curated content that promotes active listening. This involved thoughtfully navigating the cultural concerns surrounding technology within the concert orchestra market, as well as developing a content strategy that did not enable distraction through the EnCue system.
As a founding member of the project, I have been involved in developing EnCue for over 6 years. Initially funded by internal university grants at UMBC to support the project as faculty research, I guided the project from inception through beta development as the lead UX, visual and interactive designer, as well as spear heading user testing and research.
From the earliest stages of this project I dedicated my efforts to iteration, knowing that the likelihood of immediate success was low. This proved key, as I became dedicated to voraciously figuring our what wasn’t working with each round of development.
With mobile technology ubiquitous, the focus of our system architecture revolved around minimizing data usage for personal devices and keeping a light footprint on network traffic, whether WiFi or cellular. I worked directly with Information Systems professionals and the dev team to build a flexible system that facilitated the unique considerations of technologically limited concert halls.
One of the most difficult challenges was deciding how the content should be presented. I felt very strongly that if we were asking users to look away from he performance, the interface and visual design needed to capture and match the richness of the concert experience.
A sample of flows from different components of the EnCue system.
As initial focus groups and stakeholder meetings identified the need to be “in the moment” with the orchestras, this initial version of the app let users follow a scrolling score, with certain measures containing unique color-coded information. This method proved highly distracting, and needlessly pressurized the UX. However, post concert surveys revealed that users valued the content delivered.
To resolve the rejection of the v1 interface I knew my redesign needed to provide users with A) control when accessing content, and B) allow them to revisit previously received information. Surveys from v2 revealed that users no longer felt pressure to view all content. These alterations allowed users to decide when was the best moment to step away from the app without missing content. While additional issues with the UI remained, overall user reactions improved greatly.
Surveys from v2 noted a lack of chronological orientation within longer works as a source of frustration during concerts. This additional insight led to necessary revisions to the UI. To better align the UX with a sense of progression through a time-based work, a flattened and minimized timeline provided users with a visual road map of where the orchestra was at any time. Additionally the interactions with the UI now featured the concept of “sync”, which complimented user choice by allowing them to rejoin the current moment of the concert with the push of a button.
A benefit to moving to a minimized UI was the possibility for more engaging visuals. I felt it was essential that if we were asking users to look away from a performance, the app had to deliver an equally rich experience. With my background in digital animation, I began interpreting the works in our library into animated sequences that would progress sequentially with content delivered through the app. These sequences not only added visual engagement, but through changes in color and texture aided in the sense of progression through individual works, particularly programmatic music.
The following videos document my ability to utilize motion graphics as a unique component of my UX skill set providing an additionally clear vision of UI models. My experience in working directly with developers also gives me a grounded sense of animated possibilities.
Not normally found as a component of academic research within the fine arts, I knew from the earliest stages that we needed some metric for gauging progress. I worked with Human Centered Computing faculty to design a qualitative reaction survey that would guide our progress, in addition to focus groups, and industry partners.
The word clouds below display the results of user selected words from the qualitative response survey between v1 and v3 of the beta application. Words selected with higher frequencies are larger, reflecting the progress made in developing the overall user experience.
- 2014 – TEDCO MII Phase I – Prototype Development
- 2015 – TEDCO MII Phase II – Market Research
- 2016 – TEDCO MII Phase III – Company Formation
- * First UMBC Faculty Startup to copyright software
- * Second Humanities based Startup to be funded by TEDCO/MII
In 2014, EnCue (formerly Octava), applied and received a TEDCO funded Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) Phase I grant. This program is designed to allow faculty research to move into the marketplace, and provides funding and guidance to develop a business plan and to do market research. The improved UX design, which was the direct outcome of the user testing and design iteration I championed, played a significant role in making this research tangible to TEDCO, and potential investors.
Funding awarded during MII Phase III allowed us to found Octava LLC, and for a significant scaling of the EnCue platform. We worked with Black Mercury Design to transform the mobile prototype into a full-fledged SaaS offering with an enterprise level CMS and scalable Amazon EC2 back-end for servicing multitudes of performances simultaneously. We also worked with VisionMark communications to rebrand the company identity.
I created the following motion graphics bumper and associated app icon animations based of the finalized branding delivered by the team at VisionMark Communications.
“I have used Octava, now EnCue, for the past 3 seasons at the National Orchestral Institute. Linda and Eric have created a manner of concert engagement unlike anything currently in the marketplace. While other apps focus on offering discount coupons or aggregate every piece of digital information about the music or the composer at nauseam, EnCue offers a truly authentic and genuine method for creating an emotional bond between the performers and audience members. In an industry built on decades of standard practices becoming the status quo, EnCue has the potential of being revolutionary in the manner we engage our audiences”
Richard Scerbo, Artistic Director, National Orchestral Institute