Tourbook is a project by the Touring Network to develop an online platform for discovering and showcasing touring theatre, music, dance and more. In mid-2015 we established a new in-house Tourbook development team to build a brand new version of the product building on our experiences. Project lead, Adrian Lear and designer, Jane Wilde answer a few questions about what they’ve been up to….
How is the current team set up at Tourbook?

Adrian: We are building the new Tourbook on a really tight budget so we’ve got a pretty tiny group of people making it happen. We currently have just one person working full-time, our developer, Mark, who’s been working on the build since the end of 2015. Mark focuses on back-end development making sure database, programming and data are all working in sync. Jane works closely with Mark overseeing the product development and is also our front-end designer. She is responsible for the overall design of the new version and has designed and coded the user interface – or what a user sees on the screen.

Over the summer of 2015 we also worked intensively with Craig, our data architect. Craig worked with us to design the core structure of the data and user relationships that power the site – essentially the backbone of the whole application. We’ve also been working with Mick, a stage manager with many years of experience in technical and touring production to develop content to go into our venues database. Mick has been gathering venues content from the days of the Scottish Arts Council Touring Resource and we’re very pleased that this data is about to find a new home on Tourbook.

I oversee all the work of the whole team, feeding into the design process as well as working on the business, finance and stakeholder elements that keep everything moving along together. We’ve not had the luxury of having as many seats at the table this past year, but we hope to have an expanded team in place post launch to allow ongoing development to continue.

How does the Tourbook team collaborate with others?

Adrian: Tourbook is now it’s own company but is owned by The Touring Network so we have an ongoing relationship with The Touring Network office. We work closely with Jo and Rhiannon, and the rest of the team have been instrumental in the developments of the past year, as have Christine and Simon on the board. Going forward, we also hope to develop user groups from different sectors – art forms, regions etc. that can feed into further product development.

How do you work together remotely?

Jane:  We use Skype – a lot! Mark is based in Pembrokeshire and I am on the Isle of Mull so despite working together every day we’ve never actually met in person. We have daily meetings every morning and then tend to be in contact via Skype at various points during the day if there are any issues to discuss or if a particular feature is ready for testing. Mark and I also work collaboratively on the code for Tourbook so we use cloud services such as GitHub to keep everything in sync and to make sure we are working on the most up-to-date versions of things at anytime.

Why did you decide to rebuild from scratch?

Adrian: At the start of this project we revisited the original concept for Tourbook, as well as assessing the pros and cons of the current version in use by The Touring Network – for which feedback, good and bad, has been well documented! We also assessed the needs of the wider sector – and how these two things connected. Finally, we brought in external advice from the digital sector to appraise what we currently had and how we could change this to what we wanted going forward. The conclusion – on all three counts – was to take what we’d learnt and start again with a clean build.

How does a tool like Tourbook actually get made?

Jane: We have a fairly robust design and development process that we’ve used throughout the whole project. At it’s most basic this looks something like: defining the problems we were trying to solve; understanding user needs; collating data and assets, from videos to tech specs; building a database architecture; designing the user interface and writing the code.

During the code and build phase – which we are in now – we have a constant cycle of defining, implementing, testing and tweaking to get each individual feature working just right. Essentially the overall development process in miniature for every single feature or section of the application.

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What’s the most enjoyable part of building Tourbook?

Jane: The amount I’ve learnt. I’ve been designing and writing code in some form or another for many years but this is by far the most ambitious project I’ve worked on and everyday I’m learning more about how things work – not just on the tech side of things but also understanding users in the real world and trying to create the most logical and simple relationships in what is, in real life, a fairly complex and messy sector!
Adrian: Given that Tourbook has been part of my life for rather longer than I ever anticipated, at the moment I think I’m still too close to answer this. However, it’s been a privilege over the past year to really get ‘under the bonnet’ of how digital tools go from idea to reality – and there are some smart people on this team, and I’m pleased that we have their energies going in to making this happen.

What values are most important to the Tourbook team?

Adrian: At a fundamental level, I see Tourbook as a continuation of the motives and concerns – and the energy, that has created the cultural activity happening across the Highlands and Islands. The new Tourbook is at heart an independent marketplace – and as such it does not distinguish between scale, location, art form, genre etc. – it’s just about encouraging users to get good live events happening wherever and whenever they can.
Jane: Beyond the ever important aim of getting more live events happening everywhere, I think that we have been driven by a belief that we don’t want to add complexity to people’s lives – or add yet another thing to learn. Instead we want to focus on providing the simplest possible way to help people achieve what they need, to do what they do best – making and promoting great events – and hopefully we can even make it an enjoyable experience along the way!

What has been the biggest challenge about building Tourbook?

Adrian: Only 24 hours in each day… We knew from the outset that resources were going to be tight – we were embarking on the work with less funds than our budgeting showed we needed. What’s become even more evident through the process is the scale and complexity of what we’re building. It’s hard to quantify exactly – but the size of our data structure, the number of pages and of course the tens of thousands of lines of code – all indicate that this is a beast! But it’s also a beast that we are determined to tame – and to present to our users a clean, simple and easy to use product that makes a real, meaningful difference to how we all work together.

So what can we expect next?

Adrian: We want to ensure we are launching something that is fully ready – and ready for anything that our users might throw at it. So we are being cautious with our release dates – but we’re getting there soon!

We are working really hard to get everything coded up in order to get a group of users on to Tourbook before the end of May. Once we’ve got people using the site we will be able to work with them to ensure that everything is in place and to make any changes and updates for a further roll out.

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The Touring Network (Highlands & Islands)

Supporting live performance across the Highlands & Islands as part of a central, celebrated and indispensable part of the cultural life of Scotland.

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