Welcome to Industry Interviews, the newest feature on Social Gadget where we delve into the world behind the apps. Starting things off we turn our attention to Conjure, racking the brains of it’s founder and managing director, Sam Clark.
Hi Sam, tell us a little bit about Conjure.
We’re a digital agency specialising in mobile and facebook applications. We create branded and product based applications for a diverse range of clients including Cadbury, Beko and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We’re three years young and have eight staff spread between offices in London and Reading.
How did you find yourself in the business?
My background was in web design and I’d always wanted to build an agency that focused on design and technical innovation over run-of-the-mill “me too” websites. Luckily right before the launch of the first iPhone I was designing prototype apps for the then cutting edge Nokia N95 (How times change!) The iPhone launched and blew everything else out of the water, I saw my chance to create a new type of agency and so back in 2009, I took the plunge and founded Conjure.
How did you go about building up a client list?
I get asked this lot, and in truth there’s no one answer. A combination of industry press coverage, speaking at events, networking and social media activity all play their part, but word of mouth referral is probably still the number one way of winning new business.
How do you ensure a solid user experience when building an app?
You’ve got to build the application from the user needs up, not the clients wants down. It’s all too easy to add a plethora of features thinking you’re increasing the value of the application, when actually a handful of focused, well executed features is often all the user really wants.
From a process perspective we make sure we do extensive usability (UX ) planning before we begin actual development, which involves creating detailed wireframes of each screen, mapping the user journey and ensuring information and features are intuitive and easy to find. Once the application is built we move to usability testing where we trial the app with a cross section of users and include feedback in subsequent app builds.
Do you encounter any difficulties developing for cross platform? Do you ever find a build is perhaps better on one platform over the other due to limitations in software or hardware power?
Cross platform application projects can pose all kinds of challenges. The first step with any new project is to decide which platforms the content is best targeted at. As a lose rule if you have large volumes of image and word based content and don’t require advanced handset features such as accelerometers or cameras then a cross platform application is often the most cost effective way of reaching the largest number of users. If on the other hand the client is looking for an advanced application that requires the full power of a handset then a natively built app (an app written specifically for a targeted device) is often the better option. Hardware wise the experience is pretty universal these days, with Nokia and Android offering devices that compete in quality terms with Apple. Its only Blackberry that are still lagging behind and the jury’s still out as to whether they’ll challenge the other smart phone heavy weights.
How far after the release of an app do you continue to support it? How important is user feedback to this process?
We always allow at least 30 days post launch to ensure the users are having a positive experience and there is no unforeseen issues or problems with the app. A classic is surprise software or hardware changes from the manufactures. Back when Apple released the iPhone 4 we knew it was coming but didn’t anticipate the doubling in screen resolution. That meant after the launch we had to quickly update all our current apps with higher res graphics to take advantage of the new retina displays.
Feedback from the users themselves is always really important as they give you real world insight into how your application functions in the wild. They can often surprise you with great feature suggestions or criticism of functions we predicted would be useful or entertaining.
How do you feel the market is developing and what would you like to see?
The mobile space is progressing at tremendous speed which makes it an incredibly exciting place to work. Smart phone penetration is only going up so there is plenty of growth still to be had in the apps market place. I’m really looking forward to eventual rollout of NFC (Near Field Communication: think London Oyster card) enabled handsets, that’s going to open up a world of new opportunities for brand and product owners over the next few years. Internet and application enabled TVs will also be huge over the next five years and Conjure will be poised to take advantage of these emerging technologies as they break into the mainstream.
What apps (in any genre) have stood out to you most?
Word Lens by the guys at Quest Visual is simply amazing: it’s an augmented reality app that translates foreign words on screen in real time. Technology like that has the power to break down language barriers globally. Also the Formula 1 iPad app is another favourite. It shows the power of 2 screen entertainment, watching the race live on TV while tracking race stats, car positions and performance metrics live on your lap. It’s a safe bet that dual screen viewing will become the norm over the coming years.
Proudest achievement to date?
We created an iPad children’s book called The Lost Journal which became a top 10 downloaded book app, up there with the likes of kindle, Toy Story and the Marvel comic app. That was a great feeling!
Anything you wish you had made?
What’s in conjure’s future, anything exciting?
2012 will see Conjure continue push the boundaries of what we can achieve with applications both on mobile and online. Image Recognition technology is maturing and looks set to replace QR codes as the new way to unlock content from printed graphics. We’re currently working with a big entertainment brand to bring IR to a huge audience. We’re also poised to launch our own location based social app called Mixer, which will connect you to the local communities around you, I’m really looking forward to getting that out there and building a great mobile based community.
Our thanks go to Sam and his team at Conjure, be sure to check out their work at Conjure.co.uk