Last week our new iPad app, the SXSW-themed Holler Gram, hit the app store. Today we’re introducing the Holler Gram to the world with a post on the design story and an in-person show and tell over a beer at MxM HQ this evening.

The Holler Gram is a cheeky, disruptive little number we’re calling “a physical messaging platform”. It turns your iPad into a glowing sign you can use during the sessions and parties of SXSWi 2011 this coming week. It’s fully wired up to Twitter and stacked with pre-set messages and a big numbers score-slider so you can unleash your inner armchair critic pretty much whenever and wherever you please. Intrigued? Read on...

A bit of background

Last year we attended SXSW en masse, and we created a homepage takeover to tell that story. It was a fun project that turned out to be a nice little conversation starter in Austin and beyond. 
 
This year we wanted to keep the tradition going, but whereas last year’s SXSW project was mostly about entertainment, we wanted this year’s project to be useful. Given that Julian James (specialties include i-OS app development) and Conor Delahunty (specialties include i-OS app design) are now part of the many, it seemed logical to create a SXSW-themed iPad app.
 
The big question was kind of app would have the most utility, yet still be doable in time for the conference. We started our brainstorming process around communication services.... and then Conor thought of the Holler Gram.
 

Meet the Holler Gram

The Holler Gram offers a simple way of communicating across both channels – real-life meatspace and the conference’s official backchannel, Twitter. It’s a genuine service, and that’s important to us: sure, the world is full of fun stuff, but we aspire to build useful stuff. And what we like about this utility is that it is entertaining as well as practical.
 
Here’s how we describe the Holler Gram in the App Store:
 
Holler Gram turns your iPad into a physical messaging platform – a glowing sign – that you can load with a message and hold up to show the people around you… at the same time as you tweet it, with a hashtag, right from within the app.
 

The design story

I spoke with Conor about how the Holler Gram came to be. Here’s what he had to say about this project, his first iPad app:
 
The app is really simple, and that’s its strength. We toyed with the idea of making a more complex utility, but we decided instead to focus on keeping the interaction as simple as possible. One of the interesting things about the SXSW experience is the backchannel. We thought it would be fun to play with the idea of the backchannel and somehow amplify it. 
 
We wanted to think of an innovative interaction with the device, but we were limited by the fact that only certain touch gestures were allowed on the iPad. So we thought about it a bit differently and turned to what you could do with the iPad. We toyed with the idea of voting and judging the talks, and what that could mean. 
 
When sketching, as a goofy idea, I was playing off the idea of a diving scorecard, just a really visual, kind of cheeky way of being an armchair critic. From there, we did a very, very simple prototype – we spent just an hour on this – and showed it to some people around the office just to gauge a response. The response that came from everyone was sort of that initial giggle and “I’ve never seen that before”, followed by a bit of curiosity. At this point, we started thinking that this was the right approach.
 
 
The design process was very collaborative. We had lots of quick brainstorming sessions around naming the app and filling it with content and from there we went and designed some high-contrast, highly visible, chunky messages. They’re the kind of thing that could be seen across the room or across the bar.
 
 
We talked about how interesting it is to share these messages in the room, but also how people might still want to share them across web. We decided to attach hashtags to the images, integrate Twitter and give the user the ability to attach the hashtag of the talk they are at. 
 
What we can see from the first three days of people using it is that people seem to like the fact that you can write your own messages:
 
From @eversadam
 
 
 
What, indeed! Here’s the Holler Gram hashtag on Twitter so you can see what people are doing with (and saying about) the Holler Gram.
 

Trend mashup: Holler Gram and Instagram

As a final step, we wanted to be able to curate Holler Grams and share our favourites. So we put together a process whereby we could scour the Holler Grams being tweeted and turn the best of them into Instagrams. We’re going to host that stream of messages on the Made by Many Instagram account, so if you want to check that out, follow us (madebymany) to see what's happening. 
 

Where to next for the Holler Gram?

Like most of the work we do, the Holler Gram has been developed in an iterative way. It isn’t totally finished, and we’re excited to see where it might go. If it proves useful and popular at SXSW, we’re hopeful that it could be a step along the way to a new communication model for big, in-person events with lively backchannels. Why not?

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