How To Design An App

“I’ve been pretty busy, but in a good way,” reports Baltimore-based illustrator/designer/MICA instructor Joyce Hesselberth. “I usually have some editorial projects in the works. I just finished a few pieces for “The New York Times” and the “Chronicle Review.” I have design projects too—a campaign for an eco-village and a campaign for an art festival.” Hesselberth’s current self-directed project is a picture book that is a companion to her app, Presto Bingo Shapes.

I love the Presto Bingo app, and so do my youngest nieces and nephews (okay, the old ones thought it was pretty swell, too, but they’re way too cool to admit it). What’s cool about it? Presto Bingo is designer eye candy, so that’s easy, but it’s also smart and kind of addictive. The premise is simple: Find the right quantity of a particular shape in one one of Hesselberth’s playful graphic illustrations and the artwork will come to life. Where is that last oval? Five more minutes … one more round.

What was particularly interesting to me was that Joyce isn’t an app developer. She’s a partner in the husband-and wife-owned studio, Spur, and a busy mom of three. While the progression from print to digital seemed like a natural in some regards, actually pulling it off pretty much blows me away. I had a few questions:

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Why an app? Why basic geometry?

I wasn’t really interested in app development until I saw an iPad with an Alice in Wonderland app on it. The app used the original John Tenniel illustrations, and while I am not about to make the argument that the app is more engaging than holding the actual book, it was a really interesting combination of old and new. The reinterpretation of the old book in the new format showed me that this new format would be a game changer. And that good content is good content. It can translate to many forms. The large format of the iPad with back lit images was also a turning point. It showcased the artwork really beautifully. I didn’t see the appeal of designing for the iPhone. That came later.

As for geometry, my illustration work is very shape-oriented. I like to simplify my images down to their most basic form, and I definitely like some shapes better than others. Semicircles and trapezoids make me swoon. Rectangles are my nemesis. So as a test, I thought it would make sense to see how many shapes, squares in this case, I could hide in an image. “Square Boy” became a mascot of sorts, or test subject depending on how you look at it. Initially, I used Square Boy to see if I could figure out the basics. Can I make something happen when you touch the image? I was coming at this with design and illustration experience, and a little programming know-how, but like many people, I had not developed an app before. Because of this, the development process was sort of organic. It just kept growing.

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How was the app created?

I explored a few options for development: hiring a developer (either U.S. or abroad), coding it myself in Objective-C or using a development tool. I thought that I would not have enough control with an outside developer. I discovered pretty quickly that coding in Objective-C was beyond my skill set. The development tools available were highly variable, but I found Corona SDK and never looked back. It required learning to code in Lua, but it allowed me to build something that wasn’t just canned effects. There was still a big learning curve, but I figured out pretty quickly that our in-house team could handle it.

I came up with the concept, created the illustrations and figured out the code. Our design assistant, Andrea Kalfas worked on the animations with me and was my main go-to person. Dave Plunkert, my husband (below), provided some of the sound effects, like for the cowboy that says “Yee Haw” and for the French artist that says “Voila.” Our older daughter, Madison is the main voice-over talent. Our younger daughter, Emma is the bird that goes “cheep, cheep, cheep.” She and our son, Jacob are the hands in the promo video and the buzzing bees. I was amazed to find out that we had so many of the skills that we needed right here. I’m pretty proud of that.

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What were the steps to get the app to the App Store?

While we were building and testing the app, I started to get the paperwork done to become an official Apple Developer. It’s kind of like filing taxes—not fun—but it has to be done. I would recommend starting the process before you are ready to submit your app for review. Apple does have some guidelines, and you have to pay attention to the dos and don’ts. When it came time to submit the app for review, it felt like a long wait, and I probably checked my email every two minutes for maybe two weeks, but it sailed through the approval process and that was it.

Can we look forward to more Presto Bingo apps?

Absolutely. The next app is in the design stages (yes, it’s a secret), but I hope I will be able to start building it soon.

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