Platforms: iOS, Android • Technology: React Native, Redux • Results: 5-star average review on both app stores
James Gurney is an award-winning artist living in the Hudson Valley and the author of Gurney Journey, one of the most popular art blogs in the world. He is constantly filling sketchbooks with beautiful hand-drawn renderings and wanted to offer his fans a completely new way to experience his work. He hired Hudson Valley Apps to bring the "Living Sketchbook" app from idea to reality.
Product strategy + UI and Visual design + Development
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The core idea is pretty simple — an easy and fun way to look through high-res sketches with accompanying audio narration and video.
We knew the app would need a custom user interface, optimized for phones and tablets, and based around swipes and pinch-to-zoom. In addition to having a custom user interface, we wanted to make sure that the app would run smoothly for all users regardless of screen size or device processor speed.
In order to target both iOS and Android with a single codebase, we decided to use React Native, an open source app development library which results in completely native-feeling apps. We decided to design the app UI responsively, which would enable compatibility across phone and tablet screen sizes.
After some on-paper wireframes, we did the visual design in Sketch. We strove for a simple UI, with buttons for table of contents, voiceover, video (where applicable), and info. We used Google’s Material Design icons which look great and are familiar to users.
Final Tablet UI
The most significant part of the project involved optimizing the images and swiping mechanics for older devices. Some of these sketches are massively detailed, and we wanted to enable users to pinch-to-zoom all the way down to individual brush strokes. Some older processors simply couldn't handle that many pixels. So, through a combination of image scaling, smart auto-loading, and custom swipe mechanics, we were able to optimize the app for a wide range of iOS and Android devices.
With the app built, tested, and optimized, we created custom app store screenshots for each platform.
App Store Screenshots
Finally, it was time to upload and release the apps. Thanks to our extensive experience with the iTunes Store and the Play Store, we were able to speed the apps through the approval process and even provide for future over-the-air updates using Code Push.
In the end, our React Native technology decision enabled roughly 90% code reuse between platforms – a massive win for both cost efficiency and future maintainability.
James Gurney is thrilled with the final product and made this launch video:
His fans love it too:
“It’s as nice as having James’s sketchbook in my hands! Only with the added bonus of actually being able to see him manipulate the image. Having followed many of these pieces and seeing the originals in some cases, I find that this is a really helpful tool to see how he paints in real life and being able to examine the images at my leisure to see the way that the final brushstrokes are put down. I hope that James adds more sketchbooks and/or pages so that I can get even more inspiration from his work.”
—Michael Mrak, Design Director, Scientific American
"When I found out about his app, I thought to myself: “Why didn’t I think of that?” It embraces technology and allows users an opportunity to get closer to an artist’s sketchbook...The app was really intuitive and easy to navigate.To go to next page, you swipe the image. To zoom in, you pinch outwards. Last but not least, there are buttons that brings out the voice narrations with occasional videos of how he has painted on-site. Imagine a talking sketchbook with videos.”
—Erwin Lian, The Perfect Sketchbook
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