Over the last few years, we’ve had the privilege of working with English Heritage and collaborating with various artists to produce some really exciting work such as the award-winning Interactive Myths and Legends map and the hugely popular Names of England flag. This year, English Heritage have been working with artist Luke Edward Hall on their campaign materials, and they approached us with some ideas for a new interactive map.
2022 marks 1900 years since the building of Hadrian's Wall and so we had a few ideas around how we could use digital media to celebrate this — and it didn’t take long before we decided not to create a map, instead, we settled on the idea of building a Roman-inspired Face Pot Creator.
Pots with faces or heads are among the most attractive but least understood type of pottery in Roman Britain. They are found all across Britain in low numbers, with the highest concentration being in the northern military zone, and in particular around Hadrian’s Wall.
But who were these people? Were they meant to be deities, like the stone sculptures that adorned temples? If so, did the pots have some religious meaning? Were the people depicted local residents, perhaps the customers? Or were the faces purely drawn from the imagination of the potter, and dependent on their mood on that day?
The idea, then, was to create a digital playground for people to experiment, play and create a unique face pot of their very own, using the fun, bold and colourful assets.
This wasn’t going to be as straightforward as building a website or a standard app, so the development team quickly set about building a prototype canvas on which we could play around with placeholder facial features (eyes, noses, mouths etc.) to get an idea of the capabilities and a feel for the user experience. We used this to inform wireframes and the UI approach for the face pot creator itself.
The majority of the design thinking went into the User Interface (UI) design on the canvas of the face pot creator. Taking cues from familiar design software, we had to create an application that was intuitive and worked well on mobile devices. The illustrated assets provided by Luke Edward-Hall were bold and lively hand-drawn facial features, so we made a conscious effort to keep UI elements clean and simple allowing a user’s creation to be the centre of attention.
Along the way, a lot of thinking also went into functionality. Questions arose around, how much freedom do we give the user? How will colour be applied? How big or small should facial features be? Can we apply textures? How can the user share their creation? How do we inform the user what to do? How can we educate about the history of Roman face pots? And how do any of these features translate between a desktop computer and a handheld device?
With some iteration between design and development it soon became apparent that letting the user have as much creative freedom as reasonably possible, the more engaging the experience was.
It’s safe to say that we had never created an interactive Roman face pot creator before, so to understand what was technically achievable, we produced a working prototype of the tool before working on the final product. It allowed us to rapidly uncover how we wanted the tool to work, which third-party libraries would be suitable to use, and realise which aspects would demand more of our attention. All of this was fed back to the design team to refine the user experience and produce the final designs.
To maximise creativity we wanted users to be able to add eyes, mouths, noses, hair, textures and more to their pots - as well as be able to re-colour, move, resize, rotate and flip those features as much as they liked. All of this needed to work perfectly with touch or pointer gestures, both on desktop and mobile. To manage all of these potential interactions we used React to create the interface and manage state efficiently, ensuring we are only rendering the parts of the UI that actually need to change with every interaction. This keeps the app performant and working smoothly.
The response across social media has been overwhelmingly positive, with eager pot designers sharing their creations using the hashtag #EHfacepot. Furthermore, while our previous Flags of England project was a huge hit with the public, we wanted to create something even more engaging and creative for users to enjoy. With users spending an incredible 5'35" average time on site, the piece has clearly proved to be a lot of fun!
Are you looking to engage and amaze your audience? To learn more about how Gravitywell can assist with the creation of your software platform, please get in touch.