After 9 years building project management software, Newforma contracted Tap Tapas, the studio I co-founded, to build their first iOS app. The project was a success and as a result, Newforma went on to acquire our Portland, Maine team and UK-based co-founder as their new mobile department.
Transforming from an agency to an in-house team gave us the opportunity to imagine Newforma's mobile strategy more holistically and on a longer time scale than would previously have been possible on a contract basis.
The goal of our mobile offering was to enable quick reference and capture of project data, while in the field and offline. Our first step was determining whether to approach that goal with a single unified app (like the desktop software) or a suite of lightweight purpose-built apps.
Because Newforma serves so many different construction roles and processes, most users only need a small subset of features at any given time. While a unified app would be simpler to setup and sync, it would be more complex to use and couldn't be optimized for all the varied use cases.
Validating Punch List items, for example, benefits from a sync before leaving the office so that users can make use of the extensive data sets that are part of the Newforma system. While that sync can take some time, Punch List is typically a scheduled activity, so a bit of planning is acceptable. Capturing new items, on the other hand, needs to be possible at a moments notice and without any preparation.
Designing separate apps for activities with different use cases also allowed us to be more flexible with our hardware support. View and markup of plans, for example, needs a tablet-size screen for a worthwhile experience, while capturing notes and photos should be possible from any device.
The first release in our suite was Plans, an iPad app which allows users to download sheets for offline view, markup and sharing. We included search and filtering features to enable users to download only the sheets they need (saving time and disk space) and a simple method for users to replace those sheets when new revisions are available.
In subsequent updates we added additional features like allowing users to capture Field Notes, Punch List and other types of items as visual markers on their sheets.
Tasks and Capture
While a plan-centric workflow is great for item creation, it's less ideal for viewing items captured by other users on the project team, across various different sheets. To improve that experience we added a second app to our suite.
We designed the Tasks app to allow all of the items to be viewed, regardless of which sheets they're located on, in a list that can be sorted and filtered to everything needed, but nothing more. Unlike the Plans app, the list-based design worked great on small screens in addition to large ones, allowing us to release Tasks for the iPhone as well as the iPad.
Finally, to support the spontaneous capture of photos and notes, we designed our third app, Capture. Unlike Plans and Tasks, which require an up-front sync to provide offline access to data, Capture would have nothing to download and always be ready to use, without preparation.