Apps for a Cause
By Aubrey Fineout
When I get out of class, I immediately unlock my phone, checking what I’ve missed in the last fifty minutes of my life. Catching up doesn’t take long because I generally toggle between my three favorite apps: Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
I recently completed a course with Dr. Joddy Murray that covered basic eBook development through InDesign, and app creation with the help of an online app machine called AppMakr. At the beginning of class, we were asked to explore what apps meant to us and how we used apps on a day-to-day basis.
In my mind, apps are something I download when I want to discover a new mode of social media, or when I need certain functions performed, like predicting the weather or finding a new music source through an app like Spotify. However, the more I explore the capabilities of apps, the better I understand the role apps play in our lives.
We expect apps to inform, entertain, and perform tasks for us, but do we realize how much we rely on apps? Or how those apps shape our worldview?
Since I’m a college student, I rarely have time to watch the news or read my Yahoo homepage. I use Instagram like a news outlet, following informational accounts, such as National Geographic, The New York Times, and TIME Magazine. I can easily scroll through images on my home feed and read the descriptions to learn more about the picture.
With limited input from select sources, I find that my worldview is often skewed by my information source (usually Instagram). Instead of viewing each complex topic I come across as a three-dimensional discussion, I’m exposed to only one side of the argument.
After a few conversational blunders, I realized that I wasn’t completely informed about topics that deserve our attention, such as civil rights, social health, and environmental protection. I recognized that the Instagram accounts I follow had the ability to almost singlehandedly shape my view of the world outside my personal reality.
This realization led me to wonder: If I created my own app, could I influence someone else’s viewpoint?
First, I had to find a cause to build an app for. It couldn’t be just any organization––I wanted to create an app for a purpose I believed in and was passionate about.
When I was in high school, I worked with a small non-profit organization called Musical Angels to bring free concerts to hospitalized children and their families. My sister and I volunteered to play in many Musical Angels concerts and saw firsthand how music calms and rejuvenates an otherwise frantic atmosphere, like an atrium in a children’s hospital or a waiting room in a cancer ward.
Four years later, I still remember the impact the organization made on my view of music. Making music is not about the notes or the performer, but about the people it reaches and how it makes them feel and think. I always believed that if individuals could see Musical Angels in action, even if it was only through photos or videos, they’d be far more likely to volunteer their time or resources.
I googled Musical Angels last semester, curious to see if the organization was still active in the medical and music community. I was disappointed to find that Musical Angels’ Facebook page hadn’t been updated in a couple of years, and the organization’s website had been hacked, rendering it
I’m friends with several volunteers who work regularly for Musical Angels, so I know MA is still impacting patients and their families, but the organization’s social media footprint has shrunk considerably over the past four years. The founder, Dr. Gustavo Tolosa, is involved with music programs around the country and cannot afford to spend time updating the organization’s website and Facebook page—even though a higher profile in social media could generate more revenue. If a small, non-profit like Musical Angels could find a way to connect with people, the organization might grow again and impact even more patients’ lives.
Dr. Murray’s multimedia authoring class gave me the chance to create an app for Musical Angels using the free online app building tool, AppMakr. My goal was to combine the functions of a website and a social media outlet, like Facebook, in one app.
Not only could an integrated platform improve user accessibility, but it could also reveal a more personal side of Musical Angels through photos and videos of hospital performances, bringing app users directly into the heart of the organization.
I began developing my app by making a list of attributes I wanted the interface to have, such as performance videos, a volunteer form, an event calendar, an information page, a donation page, and an interactive map. From there, I created a home screen and then made several different “pages” with corresponding icons that allowed users to easily navigate within the app.
I’m primarily a visual and auditory learner, so I wanted to incorporate media other than plain text into the app. I included colorful infographics I built on Piktochart (a free, web-based design tool), as well as several photos of current Musical Angel workers. If my app user could see Musical Angels volunteers at work and hear their music, they might be more willing to volunteer or donate.
I also found a way to insert videos into the app through AppMakr’s custom HTML page; however, the app was only able to handle about three videos at a time. There was also an Instagram template on AppMakr that should’ve been able to handle more videos and pictures, but for some reason, the feature refused to work in my app.
The old Musical Angels website (before it was hacked) had a way for users to donate directly to the organization––it was one of the most successful aspects of the site—so I wanted to replicate the ease of donation in the app, but the prebuilt “donate” template on AppMakr didn’t work for me. I created my own Donate page that explained what Musical Angels needed in terms of revenue and how they were going to spend it.
When users clicked the Donate Now button, the app took users to Musical Angels’ donation page I made on Crowdrise––a free, fundraising website
that’s a perfect platform for non-profits. The donations would go directly to Musical Angels’ registered non-profit account, so I didn’t have to worry about money slipping through the cracks.
AppMakr isn’t a perfect tool, by any means, and even though this software offers dozens of predesigned pages for small businesses, teachers, bands, churches, etc., it’s sometimes difficult to find a way to incorporate specific elements you want. Even so, AppMakr is an easy, free way to create a functioning app. My finished app was a bit clumsy and not as sleek or intricate as the other apps on my phone, but I’d made a way for Musical Angels to communicate to the app-using world. Though I’m new to app creation and don’t have much experience when it comes to graphic design, seeing the app I created reach other volunteers through one of technology’s most personal interfaces––our phones––was truly rewarding.
If you would like to learn how to use AppMakr, consider scheduling an individual consultation with one of the New Media Writing Studio staff members by filling out this form.