How did you get on the front page of the App Store?

This is a question you may have asked yourself if you caught our week of honour on the iTunes store this January. Developers & publishers certainly have as digital publishing remains an incredibly exciting yet somewhat uncharted market so far in 2011. When HarperCollins rang Bold one cold Winter’s Monday morning and told us we had achieved the coveted ‘App of The Week’ status, it got us leaping around the studio in pure exultation … We even had to have a cup of coffee to celebrate!

The Heart & The Bottle reached the top of the iPad book category within one week of release and made iPad ‘App of the Week’ within one month on the Apple Store.  We thought this was a pretty special achievement until we heard the news that a fourteen year old boy had also made ‘App of the Week’ from the confines of his own bedroom using nothing more than a library book for reference! So what does it take?

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An author and his sketchbook

Oliver Jeffers, Author & Illustrator, on the creation of the story

Each book begins with a pencil and a sketchbook and I start drawing on the ideas & writing the manuscript. The next stage is, when I know where the story is going to go, I drop the pencil and pick up the dipping pen and pot of ink and I make more detailed line art that then goes to the publisher. These more detailed drawings then get dropped into layouts so I know where the words are going to go. For the final art my materials change depending on the book.

The Heart and the Bottle used many different materials – it’s mixed media. Colour pencil, water colour, normal pencil, ink, collage, gouache paints, acrylic paints and then the final touches on photoshop.

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A Vision of a Magic Book

Tom Conway, Digital Publishing Manager at HarperCollins, on the vision for the app:

In adapting Heart and the Bottle for iPad, we asked ourselves the question: “What would this book be like if it was MAGIC?” Here are a few of the things we came up with:

The images would move with your touch… flowers would grow wherever you touched the screen… it would snow when you shook the device, like an enchanted snow-globe…if you drew picture it would become part of the story…and you could turn day into night by swishing your finger across the screen…it would float in front of you, so you could read it in the bath without getting it wet…

OK, we stopped short of the last one.

We discussed who we’d like to read the book with the wonderful HarperCollinsAudio team, and they suggested Oscar-winning actress Helena Bonham-Carter. So, we took a deep breath and asked her. It turns out she’s a huge fan of Oliver Jeffers, and she said YES.

On the day of the recording, we took down a demo of the app to show Helena, which she loved. Cheekily, we asked her for a quote there and then, and she kindly let us film her reading the book. This footage then formed the basis of our promotional video, which has now garnered 60k + views on Youtube.

We learned a few things from this process:

The power and share-ability of video compelling video content. The Helena Bonham Carter video went viral thanks to Twitter and bloggers, because it was a piece of genuinely interesting content – it wasn’t just promotional. People were fascinated to see a) a shiny new storytelling concept, and b) a behind the scenes look at a high profile actress at work.

The importance of documenting the creative process, and carrying a camera with you to do this. It’s vitally important to be able to tell the story of your product to potential consumers of your app to get them interested. Getting exposure on the web is all about having something to show and share, and a tale to tell. To give yourself the best chance of being able to do this, record as much as you can. Things that may seem mundane at the time can have new resonance in the context of the final project.

The challenge with Heart and the Bottle for iPad was to temper the ‘bells-and-whistles’ to keep the story at the core. We wanted to deepen and enhance the story rather than distract from it. We think we’ve succeeded for the most part, but on reflection there are still tweaks we’d like to make. We learned a few important lessons:

An idea can seem like genius at the storyboard stage, but then not quite work when you see it in action in the context of the app. It’s vitally important to leave yourself the time and resources to test the app as a whole and make changes as necessary.

It’s easy to get distracted by the myriad possibilities offered by interactive platforms. Just because it’s possible to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Decide what your trying to achieve (tell a story? Play games? Entertain?), and stick to it. In the case of The Heart and the Bottle, the story needed to remain at the core of the experience.

An obvious one this, but so important: be acutely aware of your audience. Who is actually going to be using your app, and how? Something a 29 year old male finds cool isn’t necessarily going to appeal to a 5 year old, a fact that’s very easy to lose sight of.

The publishing team at HarperCollins are excited by the potential for storytelling through apps. We don’t think apps will replace books. We believe they will co-exist as a new way to experience a story.

We feel like we’re on the cusp of a storytelling change, and we can’t wait to see what the best storytelling minds concoct when the boundaries are no longer defined by the edge of the page, but by what they can imagine through vision, audio and touch.

A final note: Heart and the Bottle is not Oliver Jeffers’  bestselling or best-known book, it has quite a dark subject matter, and the app of lots of idiosyncratic interactive elements—but Apple, and consumers, really responded to it.  There are counter-intuitive elements about the app, but it’s really worked.

A sign that app publishing is unique in that it can defy formulas and set criteria — a bit like literary publishing?

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Book to App – How hard can it be?

Greg Villalobos, Creative Director at Bold Creative, on the creative process:

Our first time… OK we’ll come clean with you – it was our first App! We have always been very engaged with digital media but we’d never even considered making an App until we were approached by Harper Collins. In an ‘Is there an App for that?’ culture we were all aware of the growth in the market and were excited to embrace a new challenge as innovatively as possible. Did it matter that we’d never made an App before? Of course it didn’t.

What’s involved We can actually learn a great deal from Robert Nay, an inspiring young boy who created his own hit app from the comfort of his own bedroom. He’d never created an App before either and he only a had a library book for reference! When his App released in December 2010 it started to exceed the number of daily downloads of popular App angry birds developed by 17 professionals in Finland. This just shows us it’s not all about the grasp on all the know-hows of the technology, it’s about the process and the approach to creating a product that will stand the test of time.

Understanding the story Robert’s Bubble Ball App worked because he understood the physics behind it that he’d learnt at school. We loved the story of The Heart and the Bottle but did we understand it enough to retell it to others?  In early development everyone on the team shared what the story meant to them. Like any great story we each interpreted it in different ways as it resonated with our own unique experiences. We made a concious effort not to force our own interpretation onto the App so we realised how important it was going to be to work closely with Oliver Jeffers. From storyboarding to testing Jeffers helped us remain loyal to the original intentions of the story.

Understanding the users: When a teenage boy develops an App for other teenagers you’re going to get a great outcome. He is constantly designing for the end user even without knowing it! So what happens when a studio of 20 and 30 somethings are designing for a teenage audience?

We approached the App no differently to how we’d approach any other project – have young people involved in the decisions we make. See something say something and Dillon’s story featured young people’s experiences directly in the final product. This wasn’t an option for this particular App so we looked for new ways for young people’s experiences to feed into the App. The outcome was taking the iPad into the classroom to study how different age groups interact with the iPad.

How do young people interact with the medium? What are the most engaging elements? What aspects of interaction were instinctive? Were all questions we were keen to explore.

How can it be used?After this study we started to look at technology for young people the same way many educationalists are doing – there are proven positive effects on individual achievement. When you introduce a piece of technology to a young person you get unexplainable levels of inquisitiveness. Children want to be kept busy interacting. Luckily for parents ‘learning through doing’ is one of the most effective ways to learn.

As much as we saw Apps being used to improve literacy and reading skills using the iPad, we found if used correctly by parents and teachers it can be a powerful exploratory tool. Themes of bereavement, love, loss and youthfulness can be explored with children stimulating their imagination whilst also equipping them with a new vocabulary. This way we take a step towards approaching topics with children that sometimes adults are hesitant to.

Always looking to improve – Countless times the iPad circulated around the studio after even small changes that effected the way the story unfolds. Keeping the channel of communication open between publisher, author, illustrator, developers & users was pivotal to constantly push the boundaries of what’s possible.

Since release in December 2010 the Facebook page is just one forum we use to get crucial feedback on the App to improve The Heart & The Bottle and to make each future releases one step ahead of the rest.

New Releases

If you are a fan of The Heart & The Bottle don’t miss out on Paddington Bear.

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“My 3 year old daughter loves my

iPad, and she’s going to love

this. It’s delicious!” -

Helena Bonham-Carter


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