Designing Magic Tate Ball

Here’s an admission: we probably spent the entire five-figure budget (that’ll be somewhere between £10,000 and £99,000 then) solely on visual design and export for build. This is the complex backstory to a very simple concept: shake your phone and get some art.

Visualising for the pitch

Having been invited to tender on a very exciting brief for Tate (our gratitude to them for writing such a good, and brave, brief), we thought it best to arrive with something nice to look at. In the first meeting with Tate we touched on the concept of ‘Art DNA’, or the way art could connect with our day-to-day routines. For the pitch-proper we came armed with four concepts. I’m a big believer in the value of a good title. The clear winner has a great name but honourable mention must go to TamigARTchi. If only Tracey Emin was game…

Creating the Ball

With the gig in the bag, it was time to deliver. Our first big decision was a conceptual UI one. Does the ball live within the phone, or is the phone the ball itself? Ie when looking at the screen do you see the whole ball or are you actually looking into the ball? After some wrangling we decided the whole ball should be visible.

For a start, your phone is not a magic ball and it lies flat on your hand – it would require a greater suspension of disbelief to get on board with that concept. Situating the ball inside the phone also allowed for more flexibility in UI design.

M. C. EscherThe breakthrough came when our senior designer Ben Webb thought it would be funny to parody the famous Escher sketch. Nearly all good things come from the question: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Getting the interp right

This app was about more than just putting artwork in people’s pockets. We wanted to deliver a snippet of art interpretation in a playful, lighthearted and gently educational way. The challenge was to find the right balance between signifying how the artwork was chosen (the clever technical bit) and why it is relevant (the snippet of interpretation).

Call to action

The trickiest step in the user journey was encouraging them to look at the interpretation tag. It was again about finding the right balance; giving the artwork space to breath, but making sure it was clear the journey wasn’t over. An additional subtlety was incorporated for regular uses, making it easy to quickly see how that artwork was generated.

Nailing the other pages


You’d be forgiven for thinking that once we’d cracked this bit, the rest would slot into place. It wasn’t quite that easy; we had to make sure the tone was set from the very beginning of the user journey. The short poem, part call to action and part explanation, was an important revelation and also referenced the gypsy fortune teller roots of the initial mood boards.

Exporting for build

There are a few different schools of thought in how best to export for build. Dealing with retina and 3G screen sizes was, of course, a real pain. We wanted the app to come in under 20Mb for non-WiFi download, but the main time-drain was in getting the small details right. Each screen has a complex layer of lighting effects to give it as much depth as possible. In the end we set up sprite sheets and some sexy export scrips. But that makes it sound a million miles from the world of pain it became.

Legal wrangles

It was a huge relief to wrap the build. Even better to finally submit the thing. And then Apple threw the worst possible curve ball. No go, do not collect 200 downloads; copyright infringement. Our initial riposte was rebuffed. Despite various other weak Magic 8 Ball impersonations available in the App Store, ours was deemed to be too close for comfort. All that PNG layering had come back to bite us.

There followed a lengthy period of bureaucracy and Mattel-chasing. We eventually found the people we needed to talk to, at the top of the corporate tree in America, and sent them a demo. Following a few months of gentle prodding we finally got the green light, with generous compliments on our efforts. After a few more weeks and gentle prompts we got the signed contract of approval.

Along come Nokia

The story wouldn’t be complete without a twist in the tail. Nokia wanted a version for their Symbian system, which represented a complete rebuild, ground up, and the re-exporting of every single PNG slice.

Mobile Pie were absolutely fantastic in this respect, hammering through the build in record time. As it turned out, the Nokia version was green-lighted in the OVI store before the iOS release, and to this day Nokia downloads far outstrip iOS NEWSFLASH: The hegemony of Apple has been restored, but it’s a tight race: 34,000 (iOS) vs. 33,000 (Nokia’s Symbian).


As part of our project wrap-up and launch we created a nice bunch of promo assets, along with portfolio shots, a site take-over and banner ads. You can download yours from our press page.

In its first two weeks of launch there were over 25,000 downloads on Nokia and over 10,000 on iOS. We hit #1 in New and Noteworthy on the App Store after seven days, and have been featured by these kind people (among many others):

Creative Review |  The Guardian |  The Next Web


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