The California Academy of Sciences is one of the treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area and recognized worldwide as a leading natural history and science museum with an aquarium, rainforest and planetarium under one glorious (living) roof.
But most people are not aware that the Academy is also a vibrant research institution. How could this larger mission be shared globally? 15 years ago, the only option might have been through partnership with a TV network. Today, the Academy can tell its own stories.
We worked closely with the Academy team to design and build iPhone and Android phone apps to showcase their original news and video content. These apps plug into a homegrown content management system. After a successful launch and a featured app spotlight from Apple, we evolved that initial product to migrate to YouTube for video management and playback, to add tablet support and finally to add a hidden “museum mode” for using a tablet on the facility floor.
The Academy team was a delight to work with, and we are truly honored to have our work showcased at the California Academy of Sciences.
The first release of Science Today for iOS and Android relied heavily on a third-party SaaS-based video platform for content management, delivery, video player and analytics.
We worked with the Academy team to understand the possible tradeoffs in moving to YouTube as the video platform for later versions of the app. In the end, the cost savings became a primary driver and we migrated the entire app to YouTube for playback, with WordPress acting as the primary content management system. The entire migration took just a few weeks.
- Exposure via YouTube search
- Doesn’t require internal maintenance
- Advertising revenue share if desired
- Can cross-publish to YouTube and internal systems, but give up some view counts
- Control over advertising
- Custom analytics
- Custom third-party integrations
- Portability to other platforms such as Roku and Apple TV
- Private labeled, custom branded player
- Control content promotion
- No third-party YouTube videos showing up at the end of your videos. This is big.
We followed a classic mediacentric approach for the primary content organization, with feeds of news and video stories blended on the front screen of the app
Clicking into the menu allows you to navigate through Video or News stories and to explore rich content categories such as Earth, Space and Sustainability. Navigation flows in two dimensions without going back to the menu up and down through time, left and right across categories. This is a product that benefits greatly from design prototyping to illustrate the interaction model within the experience.
The apps were designed with a universal approach for a consistent experience across iOS and Android. Months after the initial phone launch, we were tasked with migrating the experience to tablet. The increased size allowed for several additional articles to be featured on the home screen.
The visual design throughout is restrained, allowing the gorgeous Science Today content to pop, with subtle color references back to the Academy visual identity.
We are particularly proud of the icon detail across the content areas. Few designers get to consult with a planetarium director to make sure Saturn’s rings are astronomically correct.
The home screen’s parallax animation overlaps content items on top of each other enabling more density without scrolling. Swiping up or down simultaneously scrolls through the items and reveals more on screen for each item in focus.
Cainkade developers worked closely with the internal digital team at the Academy for the evolution of the Science Today product.
All dev work was done natively on iOS and Android, with a variety of interesting integrations. We hooked into Academy-provided APIs for metadata and links to videos. This simplified the migration from the Academy’s initial video provider to YouTube. The YouTube migration did have its limits. There’s a full YouTube SDK for Android. Interestingly, there’s no equivalent on iOS. Instead the web player had to be used, with Safari loaded through a WebView instance.
One of our favorite features is the iPad app’s museum mode, which turns the tablet into a quasi-kiosk, suitable to be mounted on a museum floor. In this mode, all out of app and third party links are removed. The device is installed in a case that limits access to physical buttons on the iPad.