With millions of visitors each year, it’s no secret that Portugal’s got lots to offer — including sunny beaches, Port wine, and plenty of breathtaking historical landmarks. But without an insider by your side, it’s easy to find yourself in exactly the same place as every other tourist. That’s what Bernardo Henriques and his team are here to change with Walkbox: an app that offers self-guided walking tours across the country, so you can experience the magic of Portugal to the fullest — whether you’re new in town or you’ve been living there for ages.
We spoke to Bernardo to learn more about Walkbox, how the idea for it came about, and why he’s a big fan of using Sketch to bring his vision to life. And if the travel bug bites you while reading this story, don’t worry — he also shared his recommendations for must-see sights in Portugal. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
How would you describe Walkbox?
Walkbox is a mobile app that changes the way we discover incredible places in cities and the outdoors. The app offers self-guided walking tours that help local, national, and foreign visitors connect with the essence of places and experience Portugal’s culture and beauty in an engaging and sustainable way.
With national coverage and a local focus, Walkbox offers an immersive and unique visit experience through an intuitive user interface, dedicated easy-to-use maps, carefully prepared itineraries with an unprecedented level of detail, original texts and photos, and distance-triggered audio guides.
You can choose from more than 100 walking tours covering over 1,200 km of routes and 2,500 points of interest, including cultural tours, thematic tours, photographic guides, nature walks, mountain hikes, and multi-stage grand routes. And it’s available on both iOS and Android, and operates 100% offline!
How did the idea for Walkbox come about?
I’ve been an adventure-travel and culture enthusiast all my life. Recently, I started noticing that tourism information was increasingly spread out, becoming more superficial, and focused only on the most popular touristic sites. We created Walkbox to change this paradigm.
Before you’ve picked your tour, it works as a single portal in the palm of your hand for inspiration and planning. Once you pick your tour, Walkbox navigates you seamlessly to the beginning of the route by car, public transport, or on foot, and then guides you interactively during your discovery.
Tourism information was increasingly spread out, becoming more superficial, and focused only on the most popular touristic sites. We created Walkbox to change this paradigm.
Tell us a little about why you chose Sketch as the tool for your app’s design.
From day one, we focused on creating a great user interface. And graphic design is key to that. We wanted to merge the design with app programming processes to obtain the most creative and streamlined design approach.
It turned out that our app programmers are simultaneously our graphic designers! And this was only made possible with Sketch. We researched various design tools in detail, including those most designers use, and we found Sketch to be the most adequate tool for the job for its user-friendliness, ultra-short learning curve, and price.
We researched various design tools in detail, including those most designers use, and we found Sketch to be the most adequate tool for the job for its user-friendliness, ultra-short learning curve, and price.
Does your team have any favorite features or tips for designing in Sketch?
Sketch has many great features. Some of our favorites include:
- The intuitive way to organize your document using Pages
- The intuitive user interface, with a drag-and-drop approach that we’re all used to from MS PowerPoint
- A simple way to add different types of shapes
- The vector editing tool
- The Magic Wand icon for editing bitmap images
- A quick way to export to multiple file formats, including JPG, PNG, SVG, and PDF
- A powerful way to quickly select layers and replace them.
It’s especially easy to design app mockups — in fact, all five app screen mockups highlighted in this article were produced in just six minutes — as well as beautiful app cards and flyers to distribute through tourism offices and to our hotel partners.
Can you point out any specific parts of Walkbox’s design that you’re particularly proud of?
The UI of Walkbox has gotten a lot of praise. We design the UX in Sketch first, using some templates we created before we proceed with the coding on Android and iOS.
Sketch is great for UX design. It’s very visual and efficient to compose each Walkbox screen in Sketch and select each font type, weight, size, and color — making sure all details are in place to best guide the user.
Keep in mind that people use Walkbox on the go, while walking, so the UI needs to be easy to grasp. We design our own map icons on the fly, whenever we have a new type of point of interest. We’re also proud of the marketing materials we produced in Sketch, such as Walkbox cards to distribute to our hotel partners and Walkbox flyers for tourism offices.
Sketch is great for UX design. It’s very visual and efficient to compose each Walkbox screen in Sketch.
What considerations do you have to make when you design an app that helps tourists?
We created Walkbox with locals in mind. We really wanted to make a difference compared to other apps for people living in the cities and regions we cover. And if a place is interesting for locals, it will be appreciated by tourists who are looking for more authentic experiences.
For example, you can see the level of granularity in the Porto Essentials walking tour. It contains 78 points of interest, and we go into researching and covering stories and legends of neighborhoods and streets, relevant statues and historical buildings, and historic cafes and shops — to name a few.
When you go past a street art mural, for example, you’ll get a text popup on the map and the audio guide will automatically play and describe the story behind the mural. Depending on the sight, it’ll also mention a quote from the author, the author’s name, their home city, and navigate to his or her Instagram account. All this helps locals discover new places in their cities and regions, and learn more about their own culture.
What are the design challenges that come with creating a walking tours app that works 100% offline?
We have worked hard in various areas to make Walkbox an ultra-fast app that works 100% offline. Firstly, you need to have a database that’s fast and scalable, and that doesn’t need network resources.
Secondly, we custom-design all maps you see on Walkbox to provide a unique and easy mapping experience, and, on the other hand, to optimize map data as much as possible. And that’s key for offering efficient offline maps that you can download quickly and without overloading your phone.
Finally, we use special photo compression algorithms and have implemented an efficient mechanism to download photos from our cloud photo database on the go as they are displayed and store them on the phone memory for offline viewing, with ongoing data management system.
Could you see Walkbox expanding to more countries?
We are focused on Portugal right now with an offer 108 walking tours and we will continue expanding our coverage during 2023, possibly to over 150 walking tours. In the future, we have ideas to expand in Europe, and possibly South and North America through local partnerships.
How has Walkbox impacted your own relationship with tourism in Portugal? Have you discovered more about the country yourself?
My team and I go out every week walking in cities and outdoors looking at everything we find interesting with a curious eye and then sharing it via Walkbox with our user community. So, I’m definitely learning more every day about my country and, as one user said, about myself too!
And we do a lot of research. We have written well over 500,000 words about more than 2,500 points of interest around the country — and it’s growing every day. So, this greatly deepens our (and the user’s) knowledge about our culture and history as well as our natural diversity, including geology.
To wrap up, what are some must-see sights for first-time visitors? And are there any spots you think locals should know more about?
One thing amazing about Portugal is the cultural, landscape, and climate diversity you experience for such as small country. For locals, we recommend visiting Cascais with a curious eye. This small and beautiful town has so much to offer under the radar — our Cascais Essentials walking tour covers 97 points of interest.
For first-time visitors spending about one week in Portugal, I would recommend visiting Lisbon for two to three days — that includes a day trip to Sintra (a 30-minute drive from Lisbon) and Cascais (20 minutes from Sintra), and another day trip to Évora (about an hour and half from Lisbon). I’d also recommend a two-day trip to Porto, which is about three hours from Lisbon, and I’d stop in Coimbra on the way up North. And you’d have various choices of self-guided walking tours on Walkbox for each of these places!