Over the past several years event apps have been soaring in popularity, and it’s easy to understand why.

The event details you need are accessible on the go and not reliant on a WiFi connection. Plus, these apps make event organizers’ lives easier by making it easy to manage event logistics and monitor and report on actual activity in real time.

They also save time and money by eliminating the need for an expensive box office or point of sale equipment, and they save trees because you don’t have to print out so many event packets.

There's a lot to love, but why are event apps so boring? Conferences are usually enjoyable get-togethers (most of the time, anyway), while event apps are often dull and unmemorable collections of bland grids and lists.

So how do you design a meaningful and fun event app that people will remember long after the event is over? The web design agency I work for, Saforian, used DrupalCon Portland, an event we were attending and interested in, as a test bed for developing an event app.

We wanted to understand how people respond to event apps and how to make them better in the future. When we were planning our AtDrupalCon app, we looked at apps for past DrupalCons and other technology conferences and couldn’t stop yawning. Our goal was to develop an app with playfulness and great UX that provided real, useful information in a timely fashion. We created an all-in-one immersive app to make it easy for conference goers to see the schedule, find fun things to do in Portland using location-based services, and connect with others via Twitter.

Our app was experimental because it was only used by a small group of people (DrupalCon attendees), in a certain place (Portland), and at a certain time (May 20-24, 2013). Here are some insights we learned along the way.

Standing Out From The Crowd

Event apps naturally have a limited lifespan. So how do you make an app memorable so people are still talking about it after the event is over?

Portland has a vibrant culture built around a renowned culinary scene, hordes of breweries, and oodles of outdoorsy activities. Inspired by the quirky Portland brand (after all, one of their slogans is “keep Portland weird”) we created an app that catered to the Portland culture by telling a creative story about a rivalry between a grizzly bear, Remington, and a lumberjack, Clyde. To bring the app’s characters to life, we paired vivacious illustrations with an original backstory to give them personality and flair.

By now you may be wondering—why is a lumberjack punching a bear?

With the influx of mobile apps, app markets, and online stores, users are inundated with an ever-growing number of choices, with almost infinite purposes and capabilities. There are hundreds of thousands of apps available, and it can be almost impossible to stand out in the crowd. So how do you distinguish your app? Don’t be afraid of coloring outside the lines. For our app, we created a quirky, eye-catching logo of a lumberjack punching a bear.

By now you may be wondering—why is a lumberjack punching a bear? Here's the scoop. Clyde is a socially awkward lumberjack who has been living alone in the Oregon mountains ever since he was abandoned on a school field trip at age 10. His ex BFF Remington, also known as Remy, is a womanizing grizzly bear who loves gourmet cooking. One day, while canoeing down Little Crater Lake they spotted Emma, a beautiful Drupal wiz who invited them to join her at DrupalCon. Now, the fight for Emma is on as Clyde and Remy venture out of the woods for the first time to compete for her affections.

On the app's support site you can make Remy and Clyde fight using keystrokes SDC and KJN.

Creating Great UX For The Target Audience

In the early stages of developing this app, we brainstormed the top reasons why someone at DrupalCon would want to use an app. For example, we determined they would need a schedule of the sessions with room numbers, conference speakers, and the level of difficulty associated with individual courses. They would also want to maximize their time in Portland and find fun things to do without going through the hassle of researching. Finally, they would want an easy way to connect with other attendees, so we incorporated a Twitter feed.

One of the advantages to developing an event app for DrupalCon was that the target audience for the app was Drupal developers who are tech-savvy and likely to report with feedback and bug alerts. We got some great feedback to incorporate for our next Drupalcon app, like providing the ability for users to personalize their schedules, improving accessibility for deaf and blind users, and developing an Android version in addition to an iPhone version.

Pushing The Envelope With UX

We thought that our target audience would appreciate a fun user interface that motivated users to move through the app. Apps that perform poorly or don’t offer real value to users won’t create any buzz. Our engineers focused on functionality, user input, content, and layout when designing and developing the app to ensure performance reliability. One of our goals was to give users an easy-to-navigate schedule. To simplify the lengthy schedule to conference goers, we color-coded the nine session tracks.

Another concern was users getting stuck on intuitive actions, so we carefully considered touch and native interactions like tapping, sliding, and turning.

Incorporating interactive elements, like gesture controls, is a great way to give liven up an unexciting app. We chose to use a native environment to make this possible instead of doing it as a web app, which would have resulted in a slow and clunky UX.

More than anything, we wanted our app to be memorable. We didn’t want to create another boring app listing the DrupalCon schedule. We wanted our app to be interactive and engaging. Gesture-based animations are seeded throughout the AtDrupalCon app, including that fistfight between a man and a grizzly bear, and a spinning session track wheel.

Another concern was ensuring that all of the conference information was up to date so people didn’t have to download any annoying updates. We were able to accomplish this by configuring the app to pull data from the DrupalCon Portland site to access conference info like speakers, room numbers, and levels of course difficulty. The app also pulled data from Twitter to give users up-to-the-minute DrupalCon updates.


More than half of a person’s mobile phone usage is spent on apps, and organizations are increasingly recognizing the power of event apps to streamline the event experience. According to Omnipress’ 2012 Mobile Event App Survey, 80% of organizations plan to provide a mobile event app within the next two years. In addition to making it easier for organizers to manage their events and provide better experiences for attendees, event apps are excellent marketing and social networking tools.

There’s no question about it: event apps are here to stay. So why be a bore?


Great article! Just wanted to add a couple of things here. First, is app promotion. What's the point of an app if people don't know about it. Apps need to be promoted prior to and during the event. So, one can use direct marketing tools like mailers and newsletters to inform attendees who have registered for the event about the app, its enhanced networking functionalities and social media integration. In-event promotion through QR codes or a standard set of slides displayed before each session which talk about the app and how, for example, participants can download that particular session through the app are also useful. Second comes measurement. How do you know if you have justified your sponsors' money? Apps need to provide data and analytics regarding how many views a topic got or how many people took notes during a presentation. Such numbers will help event managers calculate the effective ROI and work on areas of improvement.


I love this article! So true - there are so many apps out there (events and otherwise) that are boring! As we also make event apps at my company, one thing I'll share is that at times it's not the app developers, but the clients, who don't always see the value in making things fun / interesting. We do our best to push that way and have definitely had some success, but it sometimes comes down to the client nixing the more creative aspects our developers come up with! For that reason, we're always seeking to work with just the right partners, so our output can be just as fun as our ideas are, and the end product will be memorable, as you say, beyond simply the one-time event!

Good stuff - glad there are other developers out there pushing for fun and creativity in the app space!

Carl Adams

After reading this article we, at Attendify, shared our thoughts in our blog post. You can read it here http://attendify.com/blog/how-to-make-your-event-app-come-to-life/#.UinIhhtkMYk If you have any other thoughts, let's discuss it here.

Beth, very nice write up. Gives me a lot to think about, since I'm currently only thinking of non-app Drupal development. The reference to Portland reminded me, from the perspective of my main hobby - mandolin- that the annual convention for 2014 will be in Portland. Then Megan's comment below reminded me of this year's convention in Regina Saskatchewan, Canada, home of the Mounties, where this year's motto is "We always get our Man-dolin."

I really enjoyed reading this article and you make a lot of really great points. I remember my own struggles when I attended a Con in Amsterdam a couple of years ago and how I wish there had been an app available!

Alas, I admit to being disappointed with the fun, narrative element of the app. I get to play as a male lumberjack fighting for the affection of a female dev? Grrreat. Like I don't get to do that enough in my console games. :(

I hope Saforian plans on making more event apps and will include some catered towards females in the future. :)

GREAT article Beth! I work for Omnipress, who conducted the survey you mentioned at the end. It's amazing how Event Apps really have burst onto the scene and already people expect them at conferences. they went from being a luxury to a necessity in no time.

Interesting article and great to hear the story behind the app. Gives me some inspiration for some events I'll be a part of!