Do You Really Need That App?

Recently, my Smartphone decided life was far too easy and that it should add some excitement by requiring a system reboot. Granted, regular backups and Google accounts made comparatively short work of getting all of the data and apps back on the phone, but the process served as a good excuse to engage in a little app-pruning exercise. Simply put, the process was eye opening.

ITA-GUY-160More than half of the apps didn’t even make it back onto the phone because for one reason or another they simply weren’t that valuable and all of the performing arts oriented platform specific apps didn’t make the cut. Sure, some were interesting, but they were rarely used and the reality is an increasing number of web apps have supplanted traditional platforms specific apps because they provide a superior user experience.

Granted, most orchestras have yet to catch on to the fact that websites designed around responsive design standards is where the desktop, tablet, and mobile online shopping and content focus experience is headed. But the good news is they can play catch-up in very short order.

If you aren’t already familiar with the difference between traditional apps and web apps (or mobile websites), the quick definition is the latter run in your Smartphone or Tablet web browser instead of requiring you to download and regularly update an app from the Apple App Store or Google Play (along with their Windows and Blackberry equivalents).

The timing of this was interesting in that it brought to mind a passage from a recent article at by fellow Chicagoan Derek Nelson that examines good and bad design within the mobile checkout process.

By a landslide, users prefer mobile websites to apps for shopping. For every shopping activity, including researching products and prices, reviewing products, participating in promotions, and purchasing, most respondents (61 to 81%) preferred using a browser to a native app.

In the days and months to come, it will become increasingly important for retailers to fuel this growth by creating seamless, user-friendly checkout processes that inspire trust and that make full use of all of the advantages the medium has to offer.

Given the platform specific app craze over the past few years within the orchestra field, this should come as a wakeup call that web apps are a routinely better option for performing arts groups whether the purpose is providing content and interaction or the actual shopping cart and checkout process. Nelson goes on to drive the point home in a piercing conclusion (emphasis added).

At long last, the promise of m-commerce is starting to be fulfilled. Never before has the gap between a good and bad mobile checkout experience affected revenue so much.

I can’t recommend enough how important it is for anyone in the marketing, box office, or executive department to read Nelson’s entire piece; it provides a wealth of easy to understand side by side examples of good and bad mobile checkout designs. And when you do, have your own organization’s shopping cart open in your Smartphone and be prepared to ask yourself the big question: “Would our shopping cart be a thumbs up or thumbs down example in Nelson’s article?”

In the end, if your group currently has an app, you might find yourself questioning the need for it; if not, then you’re inadvertently one step ahead of the game by placing yourself in a good position to explore responsive design strategies for your next redesign (more on that topic here).

On a related note, Marc van Bree has some excellent insight on all of this from a hyper focused performing arts org perspective in an article title Why performing arts organizations are not app-ropriate.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “Do You Really Need That App?”

  1. We had an app here at Palm Beach Opera. Actually, we were one of the first arts organizations in the country and only the second opera company in the country to have one. But those were the days before responsive design when creating a mobile site was super involved and expensive; not only for development, but also for upkeep. Now that we have a responsive site, we have discontinued our app because we simply don’t need it anymore.

    • Thanks for sharing that Ceci, I hope groups find it useful. One of the real challenges in that process is rethinking the homepage layout. The traditional approach of using static mockups based on graphic design are mostly useless; instead, working in a live site development environment so you can interact with everything is crucial.

      I’ve discovered that the biggest challenge is to have clients wrap their head around the approach of determining layout and content by starting with the Smartphone environment then working out to tablet, then desktop.

      Fortunately, the process is pretty easy and clients end up having a lot of fun with it but there’s that initial unknown element to get past (which only takes a few days) in order to begin thinking in all three environments instead of simply the desktop (or desktop and mobile as mutually exclusive environments).

  2. No one has ever pitched me an app idea that I thought was worth investing our limited marketing resources into, and I’ve always felt that reinventing our website into a mobile application would end up being just one more thing to manage that very few people would use. An app really needs to add value for it to be something a user keeps on their phone or tablet (and actually uses). We recently updated one of our websites to include responsive design, and while it isn’t perfect (yet!), I am really digging the direction and plan to implement it for the rest of the websites. Hopefully we can convince our ticket consortium to do the same on their site.

    My favorite thing about responsive design is that it doesn’t require a special mobile site, which solves one of my biggest pet peeves – mobile sites that redirect the user to the site’s homepage. Few things are more annoying on my phone than searching for content in a search engine, finding it, and then get redirected to the site’s mobile site homepage when you click through the link because you’re on a mobile device.

    • I wholeheartedly agree and I have come across a few instances where an platform specific app solution is the option but those are few and far between and they share a common thread of a purpose built need; of example, the Berlin Phil’s HD video subscription. But the reality there is so few groups will ever encounter those sorts of needs.

      You touched on one of the best qualities of a responsive platform in that it only requires a single content management interface for the organization. So in addition to the benefits you mentioned, it also reduces work load by removing the need to manage the same data in two separate interfaces (which makes updates a double pain in the neck to keep straight).

  3. Thanks for the link to the Smashing Magazine piece. In fact, the nonprofit world in general, if not nonprofit arts and cultural in particular, is beginning to catch on to the benefits of responsive and small screen/mobile browser design. The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a piece the other week about this very topic, though the link appears to be dead.

    Interestingly, one of the organizations the article mentions that has already adopted responsive design is the Atlanta Ballet:

    As an aside, these sort of rapid-fire developments stink for resource-rich organizations that have only recently made expensive website upgrades.

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