Generally speaking, nature adheres to an unfortunate axiom: The cooler the animal, the less likely you are to see it in the wild. The best you can hope for at the park down the street is probably a snake. For polar bears and sea turtles and rhinos and all the real exciting ones, you’ve got your local zoo, which is interesting and immediate but always a little depressing, and Planet Earth on Blu-ray, which is reliably stunning but still just pixels on a screen, no matter how big your TV. The new iPad app from the World Wildlife Fund, however, offers a new way to interact with those most awesome creatures. In fact, it offers a bunch of new ways, and that’s what makes it so great.
When the WWF first started thinking about doing an app, in 2011, the initial idea was to make something that would inform users about the group’s conservation efforts. Noble, but not exactly enrapturing. So the team wisely abandoned that approach and instead began thinking about an app that focused on the stuff "at the heart of WWF’s mission," in the words of Diane Querey, the organization’s digital experience director. That is, the animal kingdom’s many majestic, endangered species.
It’s compelling content to begin with, but the developers at the digital design outfit AKQA did it justice and then some. Inside WWF Together, which is available as a free download, each animal gets its own section—the initial set of eight includes giant pandas, snow leopards, marine turtles, and more. From the starting screen for a given animal, you can either swipe down or to the right to move through a grid of discrete mini-experiences relating to the species—a clever navigational foundation that helps "make the experience more about discovery—letting the user explore pockets of information at a time," according to Elizabeth Bieber, an associate creative director at AKQA.
Some of those pockets are fairly standard data-dispensing affairs, but even here the designers’ care is evident. One of the first screens you encounter in the tiger section, for example, displays basic information about the animal’s current population, habitat, weight, et cetera, but it presents everything in nice, big type, and it uses your device’s GPS to calculate your current distance from the beasts themselves. With clean presentation and a thoughtful bit of personalization, stuff you’d blow by on the Wikipedia page instantly becomes more engaging.
Further swiping takes you to more tiger-related learnings, many of which are revealed by their own unique interactions. On one screen, expanding a small circle with a pinch gesture shows the average predation range for an adult tiger. It’s a single, straightforward fact, but the crisp shapes and bold type turn the data point into something like an interactive infographic, albeit a simple one.
Even more impressive is the panel dedicated to tigers’ low-light vision. Big blue text informs us that "tigers see six times better in the dark than humans," but instead of merely telling us, the app shows the difference. We see the same scene through two circles, one for tiger vision and one for human vision, letting us get a sense of what "six times better" actually looks like in rodent-hiding-in-the-tall-grass reality. You can even turn on your iPad’s camera and see what your immediate surroundings would look like through a tiger’s eyes. It’s a smart, visceral way to present the information—and one that’s uniquely made possible by our camera-equipped mobile devices.
Personalized Tiger Vision might be the single-most creative component—the mini-game that forces you to balance your iPad to show just how long a polar bear can stay still during a hunt is pretty cool, too—but the app is packed with similarly unique features and thoughtful touches throughout. From the outset, the WWF team had hoped to make something that would be illuminating for users both young and old, but according to Terry Macko, the WWF’s senior vice president of communications and marketing, dumbing down the content, or its presentation, was something they tried to avoid. "So many apps underestimate the sophistication of today’s youth," he says. "We didn’t want to do that."
Indeed, the app demands a good deal more of the user than the succession of mindless sideways swipes we’ve come to expect. You’ll have to pinch, flick, drag, and slide to unlock all the information here—but that’s precisely what makes the app so much more compelling than an encyclopedia entry, or even, in some cases, than a super-high-def nature doc. "All of the interactions are about the reveal," Bieber says. "We want the user to feel engaged and entertained but also [tried to] make the information memorable through the discovery."
WWF plans to add new species in coming months to keep the app fresh; February’s update brought us a profile of the ever-fascinating rhino, and gorillas, sharks, and jaguars are on their way. Learn more about the app here, or grab it for free from the App Store.