Creating 33 apps for the world's largest museum

Here’s what Dženita told us about the process behind creating 33 interactive installations for the Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre in Kuwait, one of the world’s largest museums.

Let’s start with a fairly direct question. A large number of different companies and agencies worked on this project. Tell me how was the project initially set up…

Well, the Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Cultural Centre project was extremely large, so we, at first, weren’t even exactly sure how the entire thing had been set up or how many companies were involved. At that initial point, we only worked with and were in direct communication with the Kingdom X agency – and they were the ones communicating with other agencies on the project. They were our primary point of contact with the client, as well as the companies that provided the hardware components for the applications we had to design and develop.

As for our side of the project, we started with a pretty straightforward process – we get the client’s brief for an application, we analyze it and then it goes to our production teams. When they finish their parts, we send them to the client, go through a couple of rounds of feedback and iterations to perfect the solution and then we’re off to the next stage of the process. As it happened, on a project of this scope where everything needs to go through a couple of levels of approval, it’s extremely difficult to create any kind of strict plan. One of the most difficult aspects was receiving feedback as sometimes it arrived in an instant and sometimes we had to wait a couple of weeks. At that initial phase, we were constantly reacting to things that were happening – that is why we had to change our approach and fully focus on flexibility in order to maximize our output, as well as the quality of created solutions.

Got it. How was this feedback process organized?

There were a couple of levels. After a part of the application had been finished, we sent that to Kingdom X, who then sent us a first round of feedback – this part usually passed in no time. After that initial feedback, the iterated version was sent to the Cultural Innovations, who were one of the few top-level companies on the project that made sure everything was aligned across the entire project and across all agencies – from single elements to the styleguide and everything in between. Then you receive feedback from them – you iterate the solution and when everything is OK, then it goes to the client. When the part you created reaches the client, then you get the last round of feedback. As you can see, this was a fairly complex process that took quite a bit of time and can’t be strictly planned. Multiply that 33 times, because we needed to create 33 applications for the museum, and you get why we needed to be flexible with our process and plans.

Bornfight had to create 33 applications for the museum. I suppose you haven’t worked on all of them simultaneously. Did you split them into smaller groups?

To make the entire process more fluid, we actually split the applications into four batches with a maximum of 10 apps in each. The apps in each of the batches were placed according to their complexity – we wanted to level the difficulty across the board, so we had, for example, 5 easy apps, 3 medium apps and 1 difficult in a single batch. This way, we could focus on quality while still making sure we’re doing everything on time.

Could you choose which application would go into a certain batch, or was that something the client did?

Yeah, we grouped the applications into batches ourselves – we used the briefs we got from the client to define their complexity and then placed them into one of the four batches I mentioned. Of course, we had to do some swapping during the course of the project, but nothing really major.

Actually, the entire process got more streamlined when we were put into direct contact with Cultural Innovation – that top-level company I mentioned earlier. This is when we started getting more involved in the project at large, when we started meeting the decision-makers on the project and when we had more opportunity to defend our ideas face-to-face.

So there were 33 applications in four batches. Can you take one of the apps and explain the entire process – from the first brief to it actually being installed in the museum?

OK, every application started with a brief. In it, we got a detailed description of what the app itself should do. The really specific part about this project was that every application needed to be educational – that’s why every brief had a bunch of educational, expert-level content. We mostly worked on applications about prehistoric life, nature and our impact on the environment, so all the briefs came with a basic overview of how the app should function and that overview was supported by large quantities of additional material that provided the scientific background.

As the applications also needed to be fun and interactive, as well as educational, we had to find a way to actually merge these to opposites and find a solution that would be appealing to users, while at the same time providing them with enough knowledge about the topic that a specific app needed to cover. This initial analysis of the app briefs took us a while as we needed to define client expectations, but also provide them with argumentation on how we should actually structure specific apps, so users would actually want to use them again and again.

When this part was done, we moved onto defining the flow path for the application – we needed to show what content will be presented on each screen of the application and how it all tied in together. That was also the aspect of production where we started defining specific gamification elements for each of the applications.

Let me stop you for a second. You had very detailed briefs, but when it came to specific elements and style of the application – were they strictly defined or did you have some creative freedom?

Well, that was kind of a mixed bag. We had quite a bit of freedom to propose different elements that would upgrade the overall appearance and functionalities of the apps we were creating, but at the same time, the client had a very clear picture of what they wanted to get, so it was mostly the process of finding the solution that maximizes both sides. This flow path and gamification aspects I mentioned were one of those elements where we had creative freedom.

But let’s get back to what I was saying – after the flow was done and approved, it was time to start with the design aspect of the application where we actually put some life into those bare wireframes. When it comes to design, we had quite a bit of challenges – you see, a large number of applications we worked on were about the prehistoric era, and the amount of assets that present that period are quite limited or even non-existent. Getting those assets used to take quite a bit of time, so we were in a constant state of shifting from work mode to stand-by mode while we waited for other agencies and companies involved in the project to acquire or produce the materials we needed to continue. But as the project continued, those issues happened less and less as all of the involved companies started getting the hang of the entire project.

Now that you mentioned issues. What would you say was the most challenging aspect of this project?

One of the biggest challenges we all faced was the overall communication between different agencies, companies and decision-makers that were involved in this project. It seems like a basic prerequisite, but communication was very limited. I believe that the entire project would have been much more streamlined if we all found a way to directly communicate with each other right from the start – I’m aware that kind of thing is difficult to organize on a project of this scale, but we all saw the massive boost this project received when we opened communication lines in the later stages of the project.

When the time came to actually install all those applications inside the museum… tell me what was that like?

This was a very interesting aspect of the project. We spent 4 weeks in Kuwait – we went there 2 times and stayed for 2 weeks. The first time we got there, the museum was still under construction – we had to wear hard hats and construction equipment. We kind of expected for the installation to be plug-and-play, so this took a bit by surprise, but we quickly figured out a way to navigate through all of this and install our apps. The great thing was that we met the guys from the Atlas hardware company when we got there, and then we worked together to set up as much installations as possible during the time we were there. In those first two weeks, we actually managed to fully set up 12 installations. And when we got there the second time, we managed to install everything else. I have to say it was all very interesting – challenging and sometimes unexpected, but very interesting.

When you were in Kuwait, what was the communication like with the team back here in our Zagreb HQ? I suppose you needed their support…

Our entire team was extremely dedicated to the project. I mean, this was one of the most amazing projects we ever worked on, so everyone was extremely motivated to deliver the best solutions that we can. When we were in Kuwait installing the apps, I would contact the crew back home once a day with plans for the following day – either some changes we needed to implement or new builds that needed to be pushed out. And everyone, from the design team to QA – everyone was ready to assist us with whatever they could. You see, there were 5 of us who went to Kuwait, and I’m certain that we wouldn’t have been able to install all of the apps without the support from the team back home. I’m really proud of the entire team.

Let’s talk about all our teams that worked on the project. Who was involved, how many people…

For the most part, we had 17 people who were fully committed to the project – that’s that middle of the project part where every batch of applications were in one production phase or the other. That’s when we really needed all hands on deck as we worked on multiple applications simultaneously – some were in the planning phase, some in design phase, some in development phase, and some in finalization phase.

As for people, we had 6 designers, 6 front-end developers and 4 back-end developers. And I handled it all from the project management side. The entire project was front-heavy, that’s why we had a large number of designers and front-end developers. Back-end part focused mostly on handling the setup for apps that needed to connect with custom hardware.

This was one of the first projects where we actually formed strict project teams. What would you say were some of the pros and cons of that type of setup?

Well, I really believe the results are much better when a team is fully committed to one project because you can really dig deep into the project and everything moves much faster. I mean, if we’re talking about some simpler, smaller, shorter projects, the benefits are not as evident, but when we’re talking about a complex, year-long project, it’s most certainly a good thing to have a dedicated team.

One of the downsides of having dedicated teams is that people can lose motivation if they have to work on one single thing for a very long time, and that’s something we had to find a solution to during this project, but the synergy between the members of the team that gets created because of the project is truly unmatched. When you see just how motivated and inspired other members are, you too get that much needed boost that pushes you to give your max.

And what about the project management side of it? I mean, you handled this large project all by yourself…

From the project management side, the best part about working on a large project such as this one is the ability to create your own process, your own flow just for this one project. Every member of the team gets into this sort of a zone, you know exactly what others are thinking, what they’re feeling, how they’ll handle their tasks and this makes the entire project management aspect much simpler and more streamlined. Like I said, you get into that flow and this extremely complex project becomes simpler.

You see, when we started, we actually planned to have 3 dedicated project managers for this one project, but we quickly found out there’s too much different info going on around that everyone involved needed to know. The problem was, that info wasn’t reaching everyone because we were split into three parts. That’s when we decided to switch it up and focus everything around one project manager – one point of contact and communication that would have the full overview over the entire project.

I have to say that it was really challenging – it was a lot of apps, a lot of people, a lot of information and very clear deadlines I needed to handle. So yeah, I felt the pressure, but that’s why I focused on the people in the team, and making sure they’re always fully motivated and inspired. I knew that if they’re fully committed to make all of this work, my part would be simpler. Yeah, this was one of the most exciting projects we ever worked on, and that drives you to push further even when it gets tough, but you always need that extra pat on the back.

Last question. When you finally saw all the apps installed and set up at the museum – can you describe the feeling?

Amazing, it’s just an amazing feeling. I mean, when we installed our first application and saw it work just as we planned, we just started celebrating. But when you see all the interactive installations inside that gigantic museum, all the additional elements, that majestic environment that was created – it’s just out of this world.

When you see the apps themselves on a screen when you’re developing them, you can see they’ll be fun and entertaining, but when you see it all connected in that space, that’a completely different story. Much more amazing that anything else!