A Better Guide to Photography is a mobile application to help novice photographers learn photography “on the move” with their cameras.



Project at-a-glance

Master’s Capstone

5 Months

User research, UI Design, Prototyping, Testing

Sam Xia



My Contributions




The Concept

As a keen photographer myself, I know and share the frustration and pain in the learning process. Thus I wanted to create a tool to help new comers to photography learn the fundamentals more quickly and easily.

One of the problems we experience in learning photography is the disconnection between “the learning” and “the practice,” both in terms of the content and the activity. From the content perspective, any beginner level photography book can teach the basics, but it’s up to the reader—who often knows very little about the subject matter—to adapt what’s written in the book to what’s written on the camera in their hands. From the activity perspective, reading a book in a room is a completely different activity to taking pictures on the street—which turns out to be the vital part in learning photography.


Through research and ideation I came up with the concept of a mobile application that is virtually your photography teacher on the move. The app contains short videos explaining the basic terminology of photography, as well as camera-specific functions and options. No adaptation on the users’ end is required since they will be learning all the stuff with the very tool they own.

Being a mobile app also means it’s easily portable; users can choose to learn when they want, where they want. This is critical as some of the best learning of photography happens when you’re shooting.


The Design

The app’s design focuses heavily on single-hand usability—after all, your other hand will be holding your camera. As a result, the controls of the app are primarily located in the lower half of the screen; buttons and menu options are intentionally large so they’re easy to operate. The information architecture is pretty straightforward: after the initial setup where you select the model of your camera, there’re only two main functions—Guide and Troubleshooting—and the rest can all be accessed via on-screen navigation.


Poster for Master’s Capstone Show. Click to enlarge.

 Capstone document. Click to view PDF.

Capstone document. Click to view PDF.


Lessons Learned

As my master’s capstone project, the app is by no means perfect. In retrospect, I should have given more thought in a few areas.

First is the use of video. Video is a great tool for learning, especially when you’re watching it on a larger screen in a room—the primary use case of this app, however, is quite the opposite. Sound of the video is very hard to hear on the street even if you wear headphones; tiny phone screens (at least at the time of this design) makes it difficult to read the fine details.

Then there’s the scalability. Making instruction videos for one camera model is easy, for ten not too bad, but for hundreds of models available on the market is plainly impossible. Not to mention that there’s a new model coming out perhaps every month, so the app can never keep up. There could be an opportunity to populate these videos by crowdsourcing, but then the quality inconsistency and funding issues would be overwhelming.

Finally there’s the cost. Making video, as I have experienced, is an extremely exhausting activity. Even if I do that all by myself (which is very impractical), the cost for equipment rentals, software, storage, etc. still puts the business model in question. Maybe even legal fees, if the camera manufacturer somehow decides there’s intellectual property right infringement involved…

In short, it might be a good concept, but definitely needs more careful thought from design, strategy, business, and marketing perspectives.