The American Battle Monuments Commission wanted a series of mobile apps to guide visitors through cemeteries dedicated to the soldiers of World Wars I and II. We jumped on the chance to help them tell this great story.
Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC manages 24 overseas military cemeteries, and 26 memorials, monuments, and markers honoring those who served in World War I or World War II.
ABMC has been flying under the radar for some time. Their primary mission was keeping the memorials in pristine condition and welcoming visitors, particularly the friends and family of the fallen. While “Keep the grass green and the headstones white” has been an operating principle for a long time, Sarah Herrmann and the leadership of ABMC decided it was time to take on a more powerful storytelling role.
For the ABMC project, documentary filmmaker Max Lewkowicz and his company Dog Green Productions needed to partner with a firm that could develop a series of mobile apps that would complement their storytelling abilities. They contacted Nomad Mobile Guides, NewCity’s subsidiary focused on mobile application development, because of Nomad’s previous work on U.S. national park apps. Nomad had experience facing the challenges associated with maps and guided tours that work without a cell phone signal.
ABMC wanted the apps to connect the big historical themes and battles of World War I and II with the stories of the men and women who fought and died for their country. With the apps, you can either work your way through a battle or historical theme and then to an individual story, or begin with a personal story and weave your way into a bigger theme. Whether you actually visit a cemetery, or simply read the stories in a classroom, users can learn much more than just the names of the fallen.
To scout and plan the experiences for the first set of apps, ABMC sent David, Colin, and Brian (pictured) on two awe-inspiring trips in August and December to visit the Normandy, Meuse-Argonne, Cambridge, Flanders and Sicily Rome memorial sites. It wasn’t all sightseeing, as we had several goals to accomplish during the course of the trip. We:
- Met with cemetery staff to identify the main historic themes that should be included for each cemetery.
- Went on tours with several different tour guides to get a sense of how each guide told the story of the place.
- Gathered materials for personal stories.
- Identified the important points of interest to include in the app within each cemetery.
- Took a lot of scouting photos, including test 360 images.
- Toured the surrounding region to visit other sites we could recommend to visitors to help them get a sense of the broader context.
We returned inspired. Nomad got right to work with the planning process, creating a wireframe prototype of the app. Dog Green Productions meanwhile focused on the content scripts, building on their expertise with World Wars I and II. Our collaboration with Dog Green on this project was critical to nailing the feel and depth of the apps. As the design came together we knew that the end product was going to be more powerful than we imagined.
From a design perspective, we could easily have gone for a weathered, war-torn look, capturing the feel of the trenches dug into the landscapes we traversed, bunkers still intact from the war, and the shards of metal that jutted from the earth. Our team purposely decided to go in a different direction once we visited the ABMC memorials.
In this sense, the design approach needed to honor the fallen, and reflect the timeless architecture and deep care the ABMC staff give to these memorials every day. The design is clean, allowing the faces and stories of the fallen to shine through. Giving the design a minimalist feel also gives way to iconic greenery, hedges and imagery around the cemeteries .