Thanks to Facebook, I came to know that Edwin Koo, an alumnus from the Class of 2003, had in January 2014 launched a book titled Paradise.
And on top of that, more recently, he was featured in The Art Of Conversation – a brand-new Channel NewsAsia series hosted by Janice Koh (watch below).
With the good fortune of being Edwin’s junior by a year, I managed to contact and secure an email interview with him.
I remember Edwin was the valedictorian for his batch – and I believe he has many worthy stories to share about his unique life and career since graduation. But I shall let other magazines and platforms consider taking this up (*hint hint*), and focus on something else instead.
From watching the video above, I came to know that he had also created a mobile app.
Now, this is something really cool and interesting, as recently there has been a lot of emphasis on mobile app creation and how such apps could potentially transform the landscape of publishing.
So I thought I’d ask him to share his experience with creating a mobile app.
Q. Why did you choose to create this mobile app?
Edwin: Halfway into editing for the book, I actually asked myself – how many people do I want to reach with Paradise? With a print run of 1,000, there would at most be 1,000 individuals or institutions in possession of the book. At $60 a set, it is not cheap, especially for students, so even if there is a desire to own a copy, they may not afford it.
The whole point about personal projects is this – the author wants as many people to see the work, and hopefully, the work connects to them in a certain way. But first the work must get into the hands of the viewer/reader/consumer. I figured that almost everyone has a smartphone these days. And everyone seems to be consuming content on-the-go. So I thought, why not sacrifice some part of the book budget and plonk it into an app? I had wanted a fabric wrap for the book, but in the end, I used a paper wrap so that this money can be used to create an app which has the potential to reach more people.
Q. How did you create the app? Did you use a vendor, if so, how did this come about?
Edwin: I used a vendor called Codigo. Basically I researched the web and found a few developers. We met with two vendors and eventually picked Codigo because they had shown creativity in various phone apps that they demonstrated to us. And what clinched the deal is that they actually value-added to the discussion whenever we met. As a first-time developer I didn’t want someone who would say “yes” to every idea I threw at them – I needed a collaborator who could say “maybe this could work better if we did it this way or that way”.
Q. Could you tell me about the process and the experiences you went through? Was it very challenging? How long did it take? Did it require you to have a lot of technical skill, e.g. programming knowledge, etc?
Edwin: I had a very limited budget and so the agreement was that I would provide all artwork and Codigo will do the coding and distribution. It was a very labour-intensive process. I had to create the contact sheets from scratch using Lightroom. I had to hand-draw the red china-pencil marks individually because I didn’t want a copy-and-paste look. I had to come up with the explanations behind my thought processes and that meant a lot of mental recall. And I had to copy-taste my own text to make sure they are concise enough and that there were no mistakes. Lastly, I also had to design the buttons, covers, and even the logo for the app. It was a struggle at times because I have zero design experience, but with a little bit of online research and a good dose of determination and discipline, we managed to get through it.
Q. What are the business considerations like in terms of creating an app? Is this app owned by you or the vendor? Do you get paid when users download and use the app?
Edwin: The app is free to download. I have thought about monetizing it but even if I did, it was to gauge market response to having to pay for the app, more than making any real revenue from it. I examined my objectives and decided it was against the grain of the project to actually charge for it.
Why? Firstly, it was meant to be an educational tool for aspiring photographers. It’s amazing what you can learn from looking at contact sheets, but it’s a pity that no one does them anymore in the digital age. So I hope this app revives a good practice which should be preserved for the sake of future generations.
Secondly, this app to meant to be a companion for the book. As much as the book form is beautiful, it has limitations. The app comes in to fulfil this function of going “behind the scenes”. At the same time, it doesn’t give you the content of the book – so hopefully some app users would be so inspired by the app that they take the further step to buy the physical book. Within the app, it is possible to purchase the book because there is a direct link to the online store.
So the whole idea is to create a symbiotic relationship between a physical book and an app. The book buyers can download the companion app and gain a more holistic experience, while the app buyers can have a sampler of the images available in the book and buy the book directly if they want to. It is very experimental at this stage. There are a lot more things I would have done given more budget, but I think we made the best out of very limited funds. Of course, I would have loved to do an Android version of the app, but that would required double the funding – I was told the coding is entirely different.
Q. On hindsight, would you have any advice or lessons learnt to share for people who are interested in creating/publishing mobile apps?
Edwin: I would say pick up some simple design skills, because that way you are not hampered when you want to translate ideas to design. I wished I had picked up some training in vector design software such as Adobe Illustrator, which can come in very useful. At the very least, as a photographer, I would say learn Photoshop for its design potential too, e.g. working with layers, PSDs, etc. It doesn’t save you from the hard work you need to put in, but at least you can see your vision translated faithfully into design without going through a third party!
Thanks to Edwin, we have a great example of how a mobile app can complement traditional publishing.
Along the way, you may have been inspired by Edwin’s career choices and achievements. For those of you interested to find out more about Edwin and his works: