With the vision of using context to transform apps into dynamic, interactive and essential experiences users can’t live without, Skyhook’s Director of Product, Chris Steger, has also been working on a side app project of his own. He has developed a new app, Piano Carnival, which is a collaboration between Chris, his wife Elizabeth Schumann, and her sister Sonya Schumann.
The Piano Carnival app is an interactive experience with music, literature, art and multimedia. I sat down with Chris to talk to him about his new app and the vision behind it - and he starts off by explaining, “My wife, Elizabeth, was the visionary for this app, and I led the development side. My wife and I are the intersection of art and technology, which we think is the path to a sustainable future for the arts.”
Q: So what’s the pitch for your app?
A: Piano Carnival is an app that is meant to be an accessible way for children and families to be introduced to classical music.
Q: What does Piano Carnival do and how does it work?
A: It’s a multi-media app that includes music, illustrations and story. The music is a piano piece by Camille Saint-Saens. He was a french composer turn of the 20th century who wrote a piece called “Carnival of the Animals”. It’s 14 movements, each one representing a different animal.
My wife and I used an arrangement of the piece for two pianos. We took that piece and wrote a story for it that totals 14 pages, 1 page for each movement. The story is accompanied by 14 illustrations. Elizabeth and Sonya performed the piece together and recorded it on a CD. We then used kickstarter to fund the production of the CD.
Q: What was your approach to UX when building the app?
A: The idea was that it should be something for children to truly enjoy exploring. Therefore, the app has a lot of hidden features for children to find. Designing for children is a very different approach than designing for adults. Children like exploring, they are comfortable with iPads so they will just try things. Adults would get more frustrated and would want specific instructions, so there are instructions to help adults through the app as well.
Within each movement there are different panels that allow users to view time lapses of the artist at work, showing the creative process the artist took to get to the final illustration. Within each screen you can read a poem or see the piano performance, including a video view from above to illustrate how the piano works.
To enrich the user experience further, my wife’s sister Sonya put together lesson plans for teachers using the app in their classrooms, including discussion topics for each movement. Each lesson plan is based around one animal and musical movement to provide an immersive arts experience.
Q: Where did you get the idea to build Piano Carnival?
A: We built piano carnival because we think there is a real deficiency in ways for kids to receive enjoyable music experiences - children often reject classical music and find concerts boring. We wanted to build a way for children to enjoy and interact with music through fun stories and inspiring art, while maintaining the integrity of the music.
Q: What was your process in building it?
A: The app was funded by a grant from Canada Council of the Arts. We had to put together a very comprehensive specification for the contract developers we worked with and iterate exhaustively with the developers to get it write. It’s tough to do this with something that is a work of art. For us, it was all about being as exhaustive as possible and being relentless about the details.
Q: How did you get the word out about the app?
A: We got the word out through music teachers in schools. We put the app out there for free as educational material. So far it has been a grassroots and word of mouth effort.
Q: What is the next step for Piano Carnival?
A: We are looking forward to making it available to more platforms, as right now it is iPad only. I would like to develop a browser based version so people can view it on their computers.
Q: Are there any plans to build another app in the future?
A: We have a number of proposals in the works but they are still in the concept phase. I am hoping to use location in the future to provide contextual musical experiences.
Q: Do you have any other advice for those looking to build apps of their own?
A: Your specifications can never be too specific. Do everything you can to find developers who will take a personal interest in the project and provide their own creativity.
Are you a problem solver, a questioner, a seer of new ways to do things? If yes, we want to get to know to you. Skyhook is growing rapidly and always seeking new talent to build out our engineering and development teams - maybe you’ll be next on our team of product, engineering and data scientists! Check out our careers page for more info.