For this week’s #Throwback Thursday, Brianne Baker, revisits one of the first apps that she helmed: Big Nate: Comix By U!
I started working on Big Nate Comix By U! in the summer of 2011. I think it was my 9th or 10th app, and Nat had already pitched the idea of a comic strip maker to Harper Collins, which they liked. I was given the concept and told to run with it and make it my own. It was the first time Night & Day Studios handed me a project and said I could do whatever I wanted as long as I executed the concept (and it was technically feasible of course).
This project also came on the heels of what was (and still is I think) our craziest launch schedule ever. We submitted something like eight apps in September of 2011. Because we had such a productive summer, I was able to take my time with Big Nate that fall. I was lucky to have time to prototype and test design ideas, then actually respond to the results. It was all very exciting.
As I recall there was one popular comic maker app in the store at the time, but nothing specifically for kids. We discussed what made our app different and good for children. Ultimately, the concept for Big Nate Comix was really one of a guided play experience, and that set us apart. We were teaching kids how to write, how to create stories, and how to tell stories with graphic elements.
Eventually, Nat and I came up with the idea to create three levels of what we called "Story Starters” to make the app accessible to a range of ages and abilities. Advanced users could start with a blank canvas ("From Scratch") while beginners and intermediates could select from a variety of strips pre-populated with visual assets and designed by the creator of Big Nate himself, Lincoln Peirce.
This was also the first time that I designed custom User Interface (UI) for the iPhone and iPad for the same app – at least it was the first time that the UI was significantly different on the two devices. It was a rewarding design challenge to execute two experiences with the same end goal.
I learned a lot about sequential art and comic strip creation working on Big Nate: Comix by U!. I was never a huge comic fan growing up, so much of it was new to me, but I immersed myself in the world of Big Nate and read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. I had to think about the composition of a comic strip on a really fundamental level in order to break down the visual elements into categories that made sense, essentially modularizing comic strip creation.
As a designer there are always things you want to improve upon* and new features you want to add, but I was pretty happy with the way Big Nate: Comix By U! turned out. A lot of care and thought went into the design and production of this app. And, although the goal of the app was to provide a rich, entertaining and educational experience for Big Nate fans and kids in general, the app has proven to be a useful sales tool and portfolio piece both for me personally and for the company.
It's something we are all proud of at Night & Day and I hope we can build upon it someday in the near future.
* I would love to add basic animation and the ability to print from the app and I know many users would love these features as well.