As a city saturated with arts, culture, events and activities it can be a challenge to navigate the noise of York's offering. Two York consultants are working to help us find more of what we love with their app: Connected York.
Introduce yourselves, your background and why you set up Connected York.
We’re both freelancers based in the city and have worked together on several projects over the years as our skill-set is complimentary.
While we were working together one day we chatted about things we had done over the weekend with our families - and soon realised (to our frustration) that there were events going on in the city that we knew nothing about. We thought wouldn’t it be great to have a central point of information where residents could find out what’s going on in our home city - be that a new shop opening or a local festival?
As residents, we are still ‘tourists’ in our own city.
Connected York evolved from there. After months of research, meetings with local retailers and questioning the general public, we realised there was a desire for an app that would connect locals and visitors to the city with retailers, businesses and events and that in turn would increase footfall to the high street.
Why York and what does York have that appeals to you?
As residents of the city - I’ve lived here for 20 years and Andrew is York born and bred - we both have a real passion for York.
Not only is it a great historical place of interest, but it’s full of hidden gems and we find there are always new places to discover even when you think you know the city. It always surprises us whenever we wander around - we find something new. Also being self-employed.
We realised that York is full to the brim of talented and creative people.
Everything we need to run our business is available on our doorstep and we like to make sure we ‘shop local’ for every aspect of our business needs.
What's your top tip for working effectively in York?
Talk to people! People in York are very friendly and happy to help, we get a real buzz out of visiting the city’s retailers and chatting to them about what they need and what we can help them with - they’re always very passionate about York and see the app as a real benefit to their business success - they are really keen to connect with residents as they know they are loyal and are the key to their midweek trade.
What have been your key learnings since setting up the business and how would other creative business owners benefit from your experience?
Creating an app is a totally new experience for us both, although I design websites I soon discovered designing an app was a completely different prospect. But we have learnt so much and are still learning now and will continue to do so.
It is important to listen to those that are experts in their field and learn from them. Don’t try and do things by yourself, talk to people, friends, contacts, businesses - we have found most people are willing to help they can or put you in touch with people they know could help.
There is a really supportive business network in York you just have to ask. It boils down to the old adage ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’.
To what degree does digital media play a role in your business?
Digital media plays a huge role in our business, for Connected York to be successful we realised we needed expert help from UX designers, app developers and digital marketers. The app graphics and functionality have to work together to look and feel new and exciting, whilst also being familiar to the end-user. Although as a designer, I would look to create something unique, there are benefits, as always, to using familiar methods and designs. Users immediately pick up the app and know instinctively how it works whilst the app has it’s own distinctive ‘Connected York’ look and feel. This look and feel has carried through to the animation - again using an expert in this field who worked with our brand to produce a short animated film which explains the concept of the app.
Have you faced anything unexpected when working with digital media?
From a technical view, we’ve really had to lean on the advice of people who really know
what they’re doing. There’s always ‘challenges’ and therefore necessary work-rounds.
Just because something works smoothly for an Android device doesn’t mean it will be the
same for Apple. But that’s the beauty of digital solutions – there’s a huge amount of flexibility.
We knew this wouldn’t be plain sailing, so were expecting to have to make changes and compromises along the way.
What's your approach to collaboration and how has it helped?
We have collaborated with lots of local businesses. It was really important to us to use small businesses in the city as much as we were able to. This was also reflected in some of the feedback we got from York businesses too – many are impressed that this is a real representation of what York can produce.
For starters, we used a local software developers - Merisis Technology Ltd, based at the York Science Park to develop the app for us - working very closely with them using their vast experience as app developers. They really guided us in all aspects of the app to ensure it was well built, slick and easy to use and would accommodate all our future expansion plans - there’s so much to the app that is just waiting for us to ‘flick the switch’!
It’s a fabulous piece of technology conceived, designed and developed right here in York! For promoting the app, we collaborated with a local illustrator - Lucy Monkman. Lucy helped to envisage and create our brand character, Clifford the duck. (She even named him!) After a brief conversation over a cuppa with Lucy, she worked her magic and not only produced Clifford, but really created a character - he’s fabulous and represents the city so well.
Clifford then needed bringing to life, in a digital sense, so we went to another talented local freelancer - Phil Nixon from Spelk Creative. We worked with Phil to produce a short animation which explains what Connected York is and the outcome (we think) is brilliant.
You can see the animation for yourself on the Connected York YouTube channel.
We think it is so important to use the local talent available in York - we find it very disappointing when we hear of local businesses using agencies and large businesses based further afield when there are plenty of York-based agencies, creatives and freelancers that can do just as good a job - if not better!
As a UNESCO City of Media Arts, what should York be exporting to the world and what don't we hear enough about?
York has such a wide range of creative talent to export to the world! We really don’t hear enough about the small businesses and freelancers we have based here - it would be great to see a focus on the wide range of projects these smaller businesses have been involved in - we have been surprised on numerous occasions how small creative businesses have worked on global projects but these are not represented or heard about locally. It would be good to hear more about how local creative freelancers collaborate on projects.
We have found when a group of freelancers get together to work on a project, it can produce something quite special for the client
Rather than an agency that perhaps is set in its ways or used to working with a client, there is a lot to be said for a non-agency approach, bringing together a unique team for each client can spark something quite magical.
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