The Inside Story of the News-2-You App

Picture of paper version of News-2-You

Hi! My name is Hilde and I am a User Interface (UI) Designer for AssistiveWare. AssistiveWare together with N2Y announced our brand new News-2-You app, the first symbol-based newspaper app for iPad. I served as a project manager for the joint development effort and designed the user interface. In this blogpost I will share with you the exciting, behind the scenes story and challenges we faced transforming the traditional News-2-You newspaper into an interactive iPad app.

Since its inception, AssistiveWare has used the N2Y SymbolStix symbols in Proloquo2Go. The SymbolStix symbols are very popular and widely recognized in the assistive technology industry, in part due to N2Y’s News-2-You symbol-based newspaper. News-2-You is a newspaper that connects students with the world through symbol-supported articles and games and activities.

Many people who currently read News-2-You on paper requested AssistiveWare and N2Y collaborate to bring News-2-You to iPad as an app. As we value the input of our users and recognized the opportunity to help students connect with the world, we decided to explore the possibility of adapting the paper edition to iPad together with N2Y. Since N2Y has great up-to-date content and AssistiveWare has extensive experience designing iPad apps for people with special needs, we figured we would be the perfect team to complete this exciting project.

N2Y and AssistiveWare met several times reviewing the challenges involved in converting a PDF based publication to an interactive iPad app as well as the potential benefits an iPad version could offer in enabling students to read the news independently. In the end a joint project was created, resources put in place and we started to work.

My first task as a UI designer, was to define the features, functions and capabilities of the new app. This was not an easy task because AssistiveWare is based in the Netherlands while N2Y and most of the News-2-You users are based in the United States. I started by analyzing the different components of the News-2-You product. I made sure to understand all the ins and outs of the PDF edition, which is typically offered to students in printed form. I also needed to obtain insights into the people who read the paper. I talked to N2Y management at the BETT conference in London, emailed a questionnaire to users and interviewed several teachers by phone.

Based on the feedback I received, I was able to get a true sense for the newspaper, its contents, components and for how it is used in schools by teachers and students. I gained some interesting insights. For example, most people read a few pages of the newspaper every day to enjoy the paper the whole week. There are students who read the editions individually while others read it together with their teacher. Some teachers discuss the news with their pupils afterwards.

Once we had all the information on how the PDF edition was being used we set out to design the app. I started out by making a list of all features that were going to be necessary in the app and began to sketch out the user interface. First on paper (see picture of the first sketch) and then when found something we liked, I designed it in detail with a mockup program (see screenshot of the mockup).

Picture of one of the first News-2-You sketches on paper Screen shot of first mockup of News-2-You
Picture of one of the first sketches on paper
Screenshot of the first sketch of the app using a mockup editor. As you can see we change the position of some of the buttons

Once we were satisfied with the overall design and look-and-feel, I worked together with Martijn, AssistiveWare’s CTO, to create a document that described all the features in detail. AssistiveWare and N2Y reviewed the document, jointly agreed on the plan, and then started the actual development of the app. After a few months of coding I was thrilled to have my first look at the app on an iPad. My colleagues and I were really pleased with the result, even though it was still a demo version and the graphical design wasn’t finished yet (see screenshot of the first build).

This version was shared with some beta testers who provided even more feedback about the features. A few months later, at Closing The Gap 2012 we showcased a much further refined version and received great comments and suggestions from N2Y and from conference attendees. Based on the feedback received we decided together with N2Y to simplify the user interface and to make the game, review, puzzle, sudoku and think pages interactive. So back to work we went!

With the next stable build of the app, we took the opportunity to seek out additional expertise, by consulting with experienced User Interface (UI) designers. They provided us superior insights and suggestions for further streamlining the UI of the app. After those suggestions were implemented, it was time to test the almost final build of the app with a few more beta testers. It was great to see the different ways people use the app. Some testers read the news alone and used the play button to the read the whole page at once. Others read the paper together, sentence by sentence and repeating difficult words and phrases. It was great to see how all the different functions were being used. We optimized a few of the details based on their feedback and prepared for a new build of the app. 

Screenshot of first build of News-2-You
Screenshot of final build of News-2-You
Screenshot of the first build of the app on an iPad. Most of the buttons still look like the sketch
Screenshot of the final version of the app on an iPad. Can you see the differences with the sketch, mockup and first build of the app?
Even after implementing all the changes needed to refine the User Interface, more technical challenges were just around the corner. Even though we have a very experienced app development team there was one thing we had never done before: provide in-app purchases. As a consequence, the in-app purchase system took more time to develop and test than we had expected.
Now after months of researching, designing, testing and developing we are thrilled to make the app available to you, to the real users! I would like to thank our design and development team for their hard work, the staff at N2Y for the great collaboration and of course all our beta testers for sharing their stories and great feedback. This is the first version and we will keep on improving the app based on the feedback we receive from users. So please don’t hesitate to contact us with your thoughts because I’m really curious what you think.
If you want to know more about the News-2-You app, please check out the introduction video we made. 


Share this page