Infragistics Services built the official 9/11 Memorial Guide on Windows Phone 7

Tobias Komischke / Thursday, December 29, 2011
On September 11, 2011 – 10 years after the attacks of 9/11 – the National September 11 Memorial opened at Ground Zero in New York City. Infragistics Services developed the official Windows Phone app that assists users in exploring the Memorial. One of the main features of the app is to help users find the name of a loved one on the bronze panels surrounding the reflecting pools that sit in the footprints where the Twin Towers stood.
One of the best definitions I know of User Experience is that it’s the envisioned or actual experience of a user interacting with a technical product. This project made me understand this definition on a much deeper level than before. While we were working on the app, we tried to foresee its use against the background of the emotions that families and friends have regarding their losses. Everybody on our team that built the app remembers 9/11 vividly of course, and Infragistics headquarters is less than one hour away from Ground Zero. You can read a lot about what emotional journeys the families and friends of victims had gone through for 10 years, but only they know what their losses truly mean.
AP Photo / Carolyn Cole, Pool.
Our app extends the physical Memorial at Ground Zero into the digital space. Users can take the memorial – and with it some of the special memories of loved ones – with them wherever they go. Consequently, the app is very different from most of the other apps that users have installed on their phones. It shares a lot of experience attributes with typical smartphone apps, e.g. “engaging”, “immersive”, “informative”, “useful”. However, in the same way that the actual Memorial at Ground Zero is not “funny”, “playful” or “flashy”, we designed the app to be down-to-earth, adequate and worthy for its context of use.
The Metro design guidelines for Windows Phone lent themselves very well to what we wanted to achieve. Not to say that you couldn’t use this design language for funny apps (check out the thousands of apps on Microsoft’s marketplace for proof), but the Metro appeal is rather straightforward and without frills. The translation of the physical Memorial experience into our digital world obviously went beyond the level of visual design. To share just one example: What do you do with long names of victims or affiliations they worked at? On a smart phone, there’s very limited real estate. Because the integrity of names was paramount, we could not truncate them. So we allowed for line-wrapping, even though that means that individual pages become longer and users may need to scroll more vertically. In these kinds of situations we tried to make the best decisions, always envisioning the actual use of the app.
Photo by Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla.
When the app was placed into Microsoft’s marketplace for free download on 9/11/2011, we were very curious as to the reactions from the users. This was the switch from envisioned to actual user experience. On this first day, 50 user reviews were written, giving the app a 5-star average (5 stars is the best possible rating). A lot of photos were taken and published about the first encounters between visitors and the Memorial on that day. And again, the app is just a digital extension of the physical Memorial. The architects could not know for sure either how families and friends of the victims would experience the physical Memorial. But if you look at the photos above, it is evident that envisioned and actual experience were congruent. From the feedback we receive (it’s still the highest rated app in its marketplace category), I believe that we achieved this congruence with the app as well.
For more details, check out our case study!