No App Experience? No Problem

No one at the Lake Bluff History Museum saw the global COVID-19 pandemic coming — but we were prepared, anyway!

This spring and summer the Museum and Lake Bluff 125 Committee together launched two programs that celebrate our village’s rich history AND give people something joyful and interesting to do outdoors.

Last month the Lake Bluff History Museum E-newsletter shared the story of the Humans Behind Dogs on the Bluff, the public art installation. This month, you get the story of the three men behind the Lake Bluff Walking Tours app, which launched in May and in August released three more fascinating tours (see below for more on the Estates Tours).

Lake Bluff History Museum Board member Steve Kraus headed the app development team, which included Dan Huston and Mark Dewart. Dan and Mark are shown in the awesome photo by photographer Marcus Norman: Dan in the white shirt, and Mark in green. They are working the app at the bank of trees that once served as an entrance to Ferry Field in Lake Bluff. Here are two more images of these “masked men”, illustrating that the Lake Bluff Walking Tours app is a fun outdoor activity to do when we are all trying to stay safe and keep COVID-19 at bay:

Dan Huston. Photo by Marcus Norman
Mark Dewart. Photo by Marcus Norman

Steve couldn’t make the photo shoot on August 14, but here he is in a photo by Phillip Ross from last year’s Lake Bluff History Museum Christmas Home Tour:

There are seven tours on the app so far, with more coming in 2021. Steve answered questions about how he, Mark and Dan got the app up and running, with research help from Kathy O’Hara and Lyndy Jensen.

What is the LB Walking Tours app?

It’s a user-friendly application specifically designed for museums to showcase their collections and tour their local surroundings. The software driving the app was developed by the largest developer of museum tour software, and it is available on both the Apple and Google platforms – just search Lake Bluff Walking Tours app and get started on your journey!

Why did you decide to create the app?

The History Museum annually sponsors three docent-led walking tours covering parts of Lake Bluff, and we had discussed creating more. The opportunity to partner with the Lake Bluff 125 Committee to both develop new historical tours and to make them available in a digital format was enthusiastically approved. The generous sponsorship of Abbott made it feasible this year, in celebration of Lake Bluff’s 125th anniversary as an incorporated village.

The flexibility inherent in the digital format will allow us to develop multiple walking tours and to introduce other content to Village residents: the Dogs on the Bluff “tour” is an example, and we’re already building new walking tours for release in 2021.

How has the response been so far with the first four walking tours?

People have enthusiastically embraced the walking tours. Almost 1,500 users have downloaded the app since it was first released this Spring. Many are people who are looking for a great activity to do outdoors in Lake Bluff after so many months of sheltering in place at home because of COVID-19. We also have heard that people who no longer live here have downloaded the app to take a virtual tour of their home town.

How did you create an app, when none of you had experience creating an app?

It’s true that no one on the team had app development experience; that’s why choosing the right app software company was critical. Dan Huston is our primary liaison with the developer and now qualifies as a super user. Building the content for each walk took time – envisioning the scope of each walk, doing research, writing the narrative, adding photographs from the Museum’s collection – with professional narration tying it all together.

How much time was spent on the tech side of things?

As much time as Dan had to volunteer!! The team began discussing vendor attributes last October and settled on a software firm in December. It took two or three months to become fully conversant with the software tools.

How much time was spent on researching the tours, writing the script, recording the narrative?

Each tour took about a month to develop.

The narration is professional and polished. Who is doing the narrating?

Lise Dominique and Walt Sloan are professional voice artists who live in Lake Bluff. They graciously volunteered their time and talents to the project; audio was recorded in their home studios.

The stories also are polished—where did you get the information and anecdotes?

The first three walks were digital versions of the three docent-led walking tours that had been developed by the Museum almost 10 years ago. The Museum’s archives provided rich fodder for the other tours as well. And the stories for Dogs on the Bluff Tour were collected by the sponsors and artists and written by the Museum team.

How did the Museum fund the app development?

Abbott sponsored the Walking Tours and also sponsored nearly 20 permanent historical markers that the Museum will soon install in front of historically significant properties in the village.

Thank you Abbott! And thank you to the hard-working volunteers at Lake Bluff History Museum and Lake Bluff 125 Committee!