Mobile Philadelphia for MW2011

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If you are traveling to Philadelphia for the MW2011 conference here are a few items you may consider adding to your mobile and portable devices for the trip.

Museums and the Web 2011: “NOUS celebrates the 15th annual Museums and the Web conference on April 6-9, 2011 with its MW11 application. This application keeps you on track with the happenings at the conference.”  Available on the Apple App store for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Scapes: sound artist and musician Halsey Burgund has set up a demonstration of his sound installation.  See page 44 in the MW2011 program: http://conference.archimuse.com/mw2011/about

Available on the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPod touch.

The Mural Mile: Philadelphia has more than 3000 murals and many of them are located in the downtown area around the Loews hotel.  The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has created podcasts for 17 of these which can be downloaded here.

Rodin Museum: Philadelphia is home to the largest public collection of Rodin outside of Paris and the Rodin Museum is located within easy walking distance of the Loews hotel.  37 podcasts related to the museums collection can be found here.

Museums Without Walls Audio: Nearly 100 “voices” at 35 stops explore 51 sculptures along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Kelly Drive.

PhillyHistory.org: The Philadelphia City Archive is one of the country’s largest municipal archives, with about 2 million photographs, dating from the late 1800′s. Discover gorgeous images of Philadelphia, its industry, architecture, culture.  Deborah Boyer and Josh Marcus, from Azavea, have a MW2011 paper related to this project, “Implementing Mobile Augmented Reality Applications for Cultural Institutions” Here is the link for the web app.

The National Constitution Center has a wonderful app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The Mutter Museum also has an app not only for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad but also for Andorid.

Philly folks who have additional suggestions by all means please feel free to add these in the comments.

Best wishes for safe travels and I look forward to meeting everyone at the conference!

Android’s Museum App Gap

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Lately there have been headlines such as the one today by Mashable touting “Android Wins in the U.S.  Smartphone Wars“. According to Neilson the Android OS was installed on 29% of the post-paid smartphones in the US between November 2010 and February 2011, with iOS and RIM devices at 27% each.  Given these type of headlines, last week in a post entitled, “Museums vs Android“, Vincent Roman asked, why the dearth of museum apps for Android? Vincent and I have been corresponding over this for a bit now as I have been looking to add more information about Android apps to Museums2Go.  Vincent will soon be contributing reviews of Android apps here.  But first Vincent and I wanted to get as accurate a picture as we could on the state of museum apps with respect to these two mobile OS’s. 

As of March 2, I’ve identified 181 iPhone apps associated with museums and cultural institutions and only 34 such Android apps (in English and available in the U.S.). I double checked each of the 181 iPhone apps to see if there was an equivalent Android app in the Android Market and found only 31 such apps. There are three Android muesum apps not available on the iPhone (Racing Museum, Search the Collections, and Zeum USSF).  Additionally Vincent aided in scouring the Android Market for museum apps, double checking every nook and cranny of the Android Market. In short this means there are more than five times as many iPhone apps as Android apps for museums and cultural institutions. That’s the easy part to uncover. A little trickier would be the why.

Let me state that I have no interest in pushing one mobile OS over another. Or pushing native apps over web apps. (Full disclosure-I worked for Apple for almost ten years). What  I’m interested in is providing the best mobile experience for museum and cultural institutions and to the most owners of mobile devices.  Whichever means can achieve this goal while maintaining a quality experience then so be it. Having said that though it is an interesting question to ask, why the Android museum app gap?

Rather than this being a reflection of how cultural institutions are exhibiting a bias I think this app gap is more reflective
of the state of the Android Market versus Apple’s App Store. First, Google has already indicated their unhappiness with the state of Android app sales. Second, when you compare the number of developers for each OS you see that between August 2010 and February 2011 the Apple App Store attracted 24K versus the Android Market attracting just over 4K developers. One frequently reads of Android developers being frustrated with the increasing fragmentation of the Android market.  With one stating that frankly, “Being an Android developer is generally not a lucrative undertaking” .  Whereas yesterday Apple announced that developers have earned $2 billion from Apple’s App Store. As such there is a wide discrepancy overall in the number of apps available on the App Store (350,000) versus the Android Market (100,000).  While the gap in museum apps between the OS’s is a bit larger (5X vs 3.5X) it isn’t out of line with the overall mobile marketplace for smartphone apps.  A gap which is underscored most dramatically in the 82% market share (at $1.8 billion) the Apple App store has for paid apps versus the 4.7% market share (at $102 million) which the Android Market has. Even Angry Birds has a substantial gap between the 12 million iPhone users and the 5 million Android users. And if they can’t close that gap with headlines about Android’s leading market share then who can?

Furthermore, developers have been complaining about how “the Android Market app is buggy” and that processing payments is not a simple affair (in contrast to the App Store). One blogger continues the list of Android developer frustrations noting that “While iPhone apps are backward compatible with all previous devices, the Android scenery is very fragmented. An Android developer that wants to make a universally compatible app would have to test it on more than 200 devices. Add to this the fact that Android devices are available in only 32 countries, while the iPhone can be bought in 90, the winner of the money race appears clear for now”.

In light of the above the real question may be is the Android Market ready for museums to devote scarce resources to developing native apps for at present. Or this all may be as Vincent later notes an argument for developing web apps rather than native apps.  As I stated earlier I’m not trying to push one mobile OS over another in this post only to note that I don’t think that Android’s museum app gap is reflective of any greater bias on the part of museums than that of the broader mobile app marketplace.

UNESCO World Heritage iPhone/iPad App: Challenges Publishers Face in the Age of Digital Convergence

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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has partnered with Harper Collins and the folks at Aimer Media to develop an app which is a comprehensive pocket reference guide to the 911 World Heritage sites. Based upon a book between Collins and UNESCO, the UNESCO World Heritage app allows you to search through these sites by alphabetical index, year inscribed, country,  or the classification of the site (Cultural, Natural, Mixed). The user can also add sites to a list of favorites, review a list of the last 20 sites the user has viewed, or tap “Random” allowing the app to pick a site for the user to view. When the user selects a category to search by, say sites classified as Cultural, the user can then search within this subset either alphabetically or via a search field. The strength of this app is the ease of use by which one can navigate and explore the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Each site has an individual screen which provides a dashboard overview including criteria for selection, a brief text introduction, a map of the site’s location, usually a thumbnail picture, and a tab for “Extra Information”. Prominent “+” markers in each area clearly indicate that tapping one of these fields will yield more related information. Tap the map and the user gets a Google map view of the site. Tap the thumbnail picture and the image fills the screen allowing the user to zoom and pan. Tapping the brief text description and the screen flips revealing a fuller description. In a very user friendly manner the developers have even included a settings screen within the app (as opposed to having the user uncover this under the device’s settings–how many users even think to look there?) which allows the user to set the font size for the expanded text views.  You can choose from 8 point font to 49 point font.  User patience for text within a museum or culture app on a mobile device is limited (And this observation is limited to mobile phones. Tablets represent a different experience and set of expectations). Tools such as this contribute to a better user experience and demonstrate thoughtfulness on the part of the developer.

Tap the “Extra Information” tab and the user receives additional text and links to “read more about this site” and “view related site photos” which take the user to the World Heritage Convention website. Aimer Media did a good job here in designing the viewport so that the user can take a look at this extra information on the website without leaving the app or opt to view the information in Safari.  If the user chooses to stay in the app a navigation button in the top header allows the users to return to the “Extra Information” page.  This is the way apps should reference resources external to the app itself. Allowing the user to peek at the resources and then have the option to proceed, in this case to the web via Safari, or return to the content within the app. The claims the developers make in the description are true: the UNESCO World Heritage app couldn’t be easier to use. In this app UNESCO, Collins and Aimer Media have a solid foundation upon which to build future versions of the app.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of this app is its $7.99 (US) price (See 2/10/11 update on price below).  Intriguing because of the nearly 140 iPhone apps now listed on Museums2Go the UNESCO World Heritage app has the highest price point. From one perspective the analog book version retails for approximately $32, although Amazon has it for about $16.  So as a reference ebook relative to the analog version the app falls within the expected price range while providing an easy to use navigation format and a single tap away to additional online resources.  The question of price though centers around what are the users expectations for a cultural heritage app versus an ebook on the same topic.  This is an open question. The average price on Apple’s App Store for an ebook is twice that of a regular paid app. As apps go the $7.99 price point of the UNESCO app places it within realm of the highest average price for an app which is within medical apps. Still as apps and ebooks converge what will be the best way for publishers to navigate this uncharted terrain?

Also relevant to the UNESCO app are the other apps on the App store related to UNESCO sites.  World Heritage Sites is available for $4.99. World Heritage is available for free.  And World Heritage for iPhone is $1.99. These are unofficial apps which rely on Wikipedia, Flickr and other online resources. Although I’m not going to review the unofficial apps here, users will. Developers of official apps face a challenge to include content of such substance, quality and uniqueness that it is apparent to all the value the app provides relative to the unofficial alternatives.  Does the official UNESCO app provide a definitive edge in user experience over the unofficial alternative apps? How a user answers this question will be critical to the success of the UNESCO app.  In following up with Harper Collins and Aimer Media they note the reliance of the aforementioned unofficial apps on web-based information not checked or authorized by UNESCO.  Not to mention that with the official app the proceeds actually go to support UNESCO. Additionally the developers of the official UNESCO app note the advantages of the official app working offline such as when traveling to the World Heritage sites.

Or does it?

It doesn’t take long for the UNESCO World Heritage app user to begin to interface as much with the UNESCO World Heritage website as with the app.  And there’s the rub. The app undoubtedly offers an easier to navigate in-the-palm-of-your-hand experience than does navigating the website from the same device. The app also doesn’t rely on the speed of the network connection for navigating among the dashboards for individual heritage sites. But does the app offer $7.99 in value over the freely available resources on the UNESCO World Heritage site to which it frequently links? That, in essence, is the question the potential user must decide.  The easy to use navigation of the app sets up the possibilities for an exclusive user experience but presently the app doesn’t offer anything over the website in terms of content.  And with the iPad this absence is even more apparent. Whereas with the iPhone the app provides a much more user friendly interface than navigating the website in Safari on the iPhone, the iPad user doesn’t experience the same degree of compromise and therefore the value of the app as an interface is diminished.  Once the iPad user navigates to the UNESCO website there is little reason to return to the app except regarding network access and speed. The text content on the app and on the web is in most cases either verbatim or an extremely close proximity of each other.   Admittedly the experience of navigating the 911 World Heritage sites is facilitated by the easy to use design of the app but is this feature alone worth $7.99 to the user? This comparison assumes an internet connection but then so do the links on every heritage site dashboard within the app. The navigational design of the UNESCO World Heritage app is excellent but the content needs to be enriched a bit before being able to command what in the app world is currently a premium price. This is not meant to detract from the value of the content within the current version of the app only that the value would be more substantially underscored by richer, exclusive to the app multimedia content.

The UNESCO World Heritage app is available for $7.99 from the Apple App Store. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

UPDATE: February 10, 2011. The UNESCO app is now available for $4.99 from the Apple App Store.

LACMA iPhone App v1.0: A Study in User Frustration

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LACMA

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

App icon for LACMARated Two StarsThe current version (1.0) of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) app is as a study in creating a frustrating user experience. This app, in its current version, is not ready for prime time.  Twice in exploring this app I’ve had to uninstall and reinstall the app in order to proceed. This app doesn’t crash but it does lead the user down poorly designed paths from which there is no return. No hints. No suggestions. Just a dead end.  Although graphically the LACMA app is aesthetically appealing the accumulated frustration from frictions great and small in interacting with the app results in a poor user experience overall.Screenshot of LACMA start screen

The LACMA app excels at giving the user a quick look at current events at the museum but struggles with providing an engaging experience for the virtual visitor.  As such the frequent LACMA visitor may be more likely to forgive the shortcomings of the current version.  A quick tap on “Today” and the user has a handy, concise view of current and upcoming events.  Digging deeper into the app is where the friction occurs and the frustration mounts. On Apple’s App Store the LACMA app is described as “by Los Angles County Museum of Art“. It is that lack of attention to detail that is symptomatic of this app.

Let’s begin with the start screen where the text invites “Welcome, Welcome to LACMA. Swipe to see this week’s highlights”.  This is a promising prompt.  Just be careful which way you swipe. If you swipe left to right a blur of pictures whirls past.  If from this point the user then attempts to swipe right to left the pictures blur past again until you are back at the welcome screen.  It’s really a most frustrating welcome. With patience the user manages to read the designer’s mind on which way to swipe when. This experience aside what is appreciated here is the front and center highlights for this week at the LACMA.

Swiping to a current exhibition “India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow”  there is an information icon “i” in the title and tapping that reveals a text based description of the exhibition. There are no pictures from the exhibition here but at the bottom of the exhibition description is the text “See 19th century photographs of the city of Lucknow” and a link indicating “VIEW SLIDESHOW (you will be redirected to Flickr)”.  Sounds like a promising use of Flickr. The problem is once the user is finished exploring the Slideshow there’s no obvious way out of Flickr to return to the app. Initially I thought the app had redirected me to Flickr via Safari but when I pressed the iPhone’s home button and then tapped the LACMA app icon I still ended up stuck in Flickr.

Another interesting design choice in this app is that all of the descriptions are white text on a black background.  Yes, it looks stylish but it’s not very user friendly in a mobile app. As Webdesigner Depot noted about websites, “Most people don’t like viewing light text against a dark background on websites because it strains their eyes, making for a much less enjoyable experience“. Combine this stylistic choice of white text on a black background with an inability to increase the size of the font and the developer is inviting user frustration on a mobile device. My suggestion would be to use the stylistic choice of white text on a dark background sparingly on screens within the app where there is minimal text.

Screenshot of Description for "Michael Jackson and Bubbles"On a high note, four of the current exhibitions contain brief videos which are a welcome introduction to the respective exhibitions. For the exhibition “Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915″ the user is treated to Vogue magazine editor Lisa Love’s perspective.  The exhibition “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico” there is an interview with the muralist who created two murals based on ancient iconography for the exhibition.  And for “Steve Wolfe on Paper” and “Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964-1977″ an introduction to each is exhibit is provided by curator Franklin Sirmans. These videos plus the prominent placement of the current exhibitions within the app provide the user with a quick way to see what’s up at the LACMA and decide if they want to visit.

In a nice innovation the LACMA app start page provides the user with a convenient way to purchase tickets in advance.  Unfortunately, the first step is to create an account.  Once the user creates an account by entering their email address and creating a password they are then presented with a screen in which the the only mention of tickets is a button for “My Tickets”. Tapping “My Tickets” the user receives a blank screen because the user hasn’t purchased any tickets. The user has to, without any prompts, navigate back to the start screen and re-tap “Tickets” to start the purchasing process a second time. Is that really a good user experience? Why not follow convention and allow the user to first purchase the tickets and in the checkout create the account? And is creating an account really necessary for a single visit? There’s also an element of redundancy here. The “Login” button on the start screen seems to exist only for the purpose of accessing “My Tickets” after they’ve been purchased. While the ability to purchase tickets via the app is much appreciated it seems there could be a smoother overall experienced designed for doing so.

The menu options across the top of the LACMA app’s start screen are “LACMA”, “Today”, “Art”, “Map” and “Tour”. Tapping “LACMA” takes the user back to the start screen highlighting the exhibition the user last viewed. “Today” provides a convenient list view of what is on view at the museum and also provides a brief look ahead at upcoming events. In addition to yet a third view of the current exhibitions tapping “Art” allows the users to view information on thirty “Great Works from LACMA’s Collections”.  Remember to follow the earlier developer’s rules about which way to swipe because they also apply here. The user is presented with a single image of the work of art with no ability to zoom or pan. Tapping “Info” the user receives a screen a description in white text on a black background.  That’s it.  No podcasts. No videos. No additional images. However, if you locate a work which you want to share with a friend along the lines of “Hey, let’s check this out at the LACMA” there are buttons for Facebook and Twitter.  User beware! Remember what happened with tapping Flickr earlier. Finding yourself stuck in Flickr. The only exit was to uninstall and reinstall the app.  It happens here again with the Twitter icon. Suddenly LACMA became my Twitter app.  If you want to return to the app you’ll have to uninstall and reinstall the app. And of course you are right by your computer when Screenshot of Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson and Bubblesyou discover this aren’t you? One plus though was that the text the LACMA app pre-populated my tweet with is specific to the work of art I tapped the Twitter icon from.  In this case providing a link to Andy Warhol’s “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Boxes” on the LACMA website.  This was handy as the website indicates that this work of art is “Not currently on public view”.  That’s an odd message to receive for one of the 30 highlighted works on an app.

Pursuing another path in the app let’s take a look at another of the 30 highlighted works: “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” by Jeff Koons. On the LACMA website one can download a video for this artwork in English, Korean and Spanish.  But the app user doesn’t have this option as this video isn’t included in the app for some reason. Although the description provided on the app follows the same script as the video narrator some users might find the video to be a better user experience than reading the small white text on the black background.  In any case having the option, given the content already exist, would broaden the accessibility of this information.  One nice option provided with each description is a button to “Map it”. Tap “Map it” and the app shows you a very nice graphic representation of which building the art work is located within.  This is handy given that the LACMA complex consists of seven buildings on twenty acres. “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” is located on the third floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.  Got it.  At this point it would be nice to be able to tag the work as a favorite or some way to allow the user to bookmark art works they are interested in seeing in advance of a visit.  In any case we know where “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” is located now how do we get back to the highlights. Oddly there’s no obvious way to return to the last place in the highlights the user was at prior to tapping “Map it”. The user has to intuit that tapping “Art” on the top menu bar again and “Great Works from the LACMA’s Collections” again will cause “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” to return to the screen.  Make it easier on the user by always providing an obvious navigation path to return back down the path from which they navigated to get to the present screen.

Screenshot of Map Indicating Location for "Michael Jackson and Bubbles"Tap “Map” on the top menu bar and the user views a very nice 3-D graphical representation of the LACMA complex.  There are little red pin dots at various points on the map.  Tap on a red pin dot and the name of the building, park, piazza etc pops up. The user must make a second, and unnecessary, tap on this title bar  before receiving any additional information. In some cases the additional information provided shows which of the 30 highlighted works are in that location.  In other cases the user sees the message “Update Coming Soon”.  Interestingly “Update Coming Soon” is the message one receives for the “Urban Light Palm Garden” which is featured on the app’s start screen and which also, as one of the highlighted 30 works of art, has a description elsewhere on the app.

The final option on the top menu bar is “Tour”.  Unfortunately, the user has to be on site and looking at the work of art to see the code to enter first in order to access the tour.  Oddly when the user taps the area “Enter Code Here” a qwerty keyboard pops up when it is a numeric code that is to be entered.  The user’s required to make that additional tap to access the small numbers on the standard keyboard. Wouldn’t it have been considerate to have a numeric keypad with larger number buttons to tap pop up? Since the prompt to enter a code indicates that the format for the code is 7xx the adventurous user can type in random 7xx numbers to see what shows up. In any case what the user finds is more white text on a black background.  No audio or video clips on this tour apparently.

The LACMA app is available for free on Apple’s App Store.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.2 or later.

NYC Must Have iPhone Art App – cultureNOW: Guidebook for Museums Without Walls

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cultureNOW: Guidebook for Museums Without Walls

App icon for cultureNOW-Guidebook for Museums Without WallsRated Four StarsIf you live in New York City, have an iPhone and an appreciation for art or a curiosity about NYC history then the cultureNOW: Guidebook for the Museums Without Walls is a must have app. Even if you don’t live in NYC this is an enjoyable app to explore as a virtual visitor.  For your $1.99 you get mobile access to a database of literally thousands of public works of art and architecture (4000+ in Manhattan alone!!). One of the real strengths of this app is the numerous ways the user can explore this vast wealth of content. If you are in the city you can search by location using the iPhone’s GPS. Planning to visit NYC or curious about a specific area then you can choose to enter an address.  The user can also search the entire cultureNOW database by the name of a work of art, a building, by artist, by architect, and even projects such as Arts for Transit and Percent for Art. Screenshot of Search Results for "Arts for Transit"The cultureNOW folks have “mapped any artwork paid for a public agency or visible from a public space” and this app makes it all so conveniently accessible. In yet another way this app is user friendly the handy “Prefs” icon allows the user to set over 20 search categories as on or off.  If you want to focus on only the historic buildings near a specific location this app makes it easy to do that. And the handy “Prefs” icon makes it easy to change to explore in a whole different direction when you choose.

Another way to explore the content on this app is to select “Podcasts” from the main menu and then choose from a selection of “Art”, “Architecture”, “Civic”, “Harlem”, “History”, “Neighborhood”, and “Parks” podcasts.  The range of authentic voices narrating the over 200 podcasts is part of the richness of this app. You hear from artists such as Franco Gaskin, “the Picasso of Harlem”; muralist Richard HaasJean Parker Phifer, author of Public Art New YorkAdrian Benepe, NYC Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation;  Christine Haughney, Frontiers beat reporter for the New York Times, and actor and New York City native Matthew Broderick among a wealth of other voices. One design element of note with the podcasts which I like is a floating screen to play and pause the recording.  As the user listens to the podcast he or she can navigate around the related images, read text about the work of art or building on a different screen, biographical information about the podcast narrator, review the map and all while the audio continues.  Screenshot of Search CategoriesThe users can even continue exploring other works of art while listening to the continuing audio from the selected podcast (a very user-centric feature). Wherever your eyes take you as you listen to the podcast there is a handy “audio” icon in the lower right which allows  you to stop and start the audio without having to return to place in the app where you originally selected the podcast (although I do miss the presence of a slider control on the audio, particularly given that the length of some of the podcasts are over ten minutes).

With all this content to explore where do you start?  Well you might consider starting with one of the suggested tours.  cultureNOW has put together twelve tours including “Cultural and Historical 125th Street”, “Around Manhattan by Bike or Boat Tour”, “Great Crash of 1929: Tour of the Financial District” and one that I can’t wait to explore, though I might have to do so in stages, “Broadway Tip-to-Tail: A Walking Tour From the Bronx to Battery Park” with over forty stops. Or after selecting to search by “artist or architect” and typing in “Arts for Transit” one might spend an afternoon exploring the art in the metro stations. Once you download this app and start exploring you are certain to be inspired and may have trouble putting it down.

Featurewise this app is only missing a couple of things.  It would be nice to be able to save searches and to flag selected items as favorites or with other tags to facilitate the user being able to set up customized treks.  However, Abby Suckle, President of cultureNOW, indicates that we may see such things in future updates.  For the virtual visitor it would also be nice to be able to zoom in on images but given that the user is accessing on demand a database of over 10,000 photos its a fair trade-off in user experience for these images to be optimized for speed.  Screenshot of Podcast for Return of Spring, Onset of WinterAfter all the user may only have a New York minute to locate content related to a work of art before the bus arrives, the light changes or something else redirects the user’s attention.

cultureNOW is a non-profit which collaborates with Public Art Organizations throughout the country.  So with this app you can also access works located in several other city’s.  Their website has a map to give you an idea of how many works of art are currently in their database in which cities.  ”CultureNOW is powered by a network of professionals—scholars, artists, architects, urban planners, educators, curators, historians and New York City specialists—who generously volunteer their time and expertise”. So, if after using this app you too are inspired to contribute content please be sure to contact them. In this context that handy “Contact” item in the center of the tab bar makes perfect sense.

cultureNOW: Guidebook for the Museum Without Walls is $1.99 on Apple’s App Store and worth every penny and more (I like that the information menu includes a donate option with a link to the cultureNOW website). Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later and requires internet access in order to access the database. cultureNOW also has an app focused on Lower Manattan which has 6 walking tours, 70 podcasts, and covers about 1000 sites and is available for free on Apple’s App Store.  Additionally, cultureNOW has 240+ free podcasts available on the iTunes Store if one wanted to download these to an iPod classic or nano.

Here’s a humorous video on the cultureNOW app:

iPhone Art Apps for Cars, Quilts, Copyright Humain, Grünes Gewölbe, & Graphic Design

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This week we have an eclectic mix of apps.  Some you may like because you are interested in the subject and in such cases I’m sure the app developers would appreciate your support and feedback as the apps covered here are not as developed as they could be with some user feedback. Even if the particular subjects of these apps do not draw your attention if you are developing an app for your institution there are design pluses and minuses of each that are worth reviewing.

Mercedes-Benz Classic

App icon for Mercedes-Benze ClassicRated Three Stars“The Mercedes-Benz Museum is the only museum in the world that can document in a single continuous timeline over 120 years of auto industry history from its very beginnings to the present day. On nine levels and covering a floor space of 16,500 square metres, the museum presents 160 vehicles and over 1,500 exhibits.” – From the developer description.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic app is impressive for the sheer quantity of content covered in the app. Users gain access to all 160 vehicles within the Mercedes-Benz museum tours. If you want a pocket encyclopedia for Mercedes-Benz’s history then this app is a good start.  This app represents a good start on a number of fronts. I like the use of Cover Flow however,  Mercedes-Benz could learn a few things from the Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artist (HD) app (see my review here).  For example, in the Rubens app once the user selects an image to view the controls shift to a slideshow view.  In the Mercedes-Benz app after viewing each image the user has to resurface to the Cover Flow view before proceeding. Also odd is that the user is requested to shift from landscape view to portrait view in order to view “more info”? (There’s even a nice graphic icon to illustrate this odd request for the user).  Also odd is the inability to slide through the audio in this app. I thought slider controls were almost a standard feature by now. If the user wants to rehear something they briefly missed they have to start from the beginning. Additionally, any automobile magazine in publication includes multiple perspectives on a vehicle reviewed but here the viewer gets but one static image of each vehicle. Not even an interior shot of a dashboard.

This app has real potential as a foundation to bring alive the Mercedes-Benz history and in doing so provide a broader perspective on automotive history in general.  However, in the current version this app misses the chance to be more than a corporate feeling piece of marketing which is slightly disappointing.  What’s missing is a sense of authenticity in the storytelling. All the audio clips are in the single professional voice on one woman provided while the user views a single image.  While being completely professional in her delivery of scripted information about each vehicle there’s, for lack of a better description, a human element missing in the audio.  The information provided in the audio clips are informative but the cumulative effect of this one professional voice is as if listening to the public address voice in a science-fiction film.  Why isn’t the audio interspersed with voices from automobile historians, automobile journalists, and automobile enthusiasts?

Screenshot of Hector Prieto's Collectivo

Hector Prieto's Restored Collectivo

For example, in the screenshot  to the right is Hector Prieto’s collectivo which operated for thirty years on the streets of Buenos Aires. Wouldn’t it be great to hear Mr. Prieto tell the story of this bus if he’s available or even a relative or business associate? What about a video with shots of collectivo’s operating in Beunos Aires? Are there archival shots of the bus? You get the idea. The point here is the contrast between a corporate approach to the app’s content and a more thoughtful curated approach.  Providing less quantity of content but of a richer quality creates a better app experience for the user than an exhaustive but shallow touch-the-base approach. Although there are audio clips for each picture (to Mercedes-Benz’s credit) the overall feel of the app is as if we are in the black and white era of movies before the talkies were invented.  For example, the “Stories” section of the Mercedes-Benz app pales in comparison to the “Love Stories” in The Phillips Collection app (see my review here).

This app excels in including information users expect but are often disappointed to find lacking in other apps. In addition to the “Museum” there are options to explore the “Marketplace”, “News”, “Clubs & Community” and “Specials” (links to other Mercedes-Benz apps).  In the “Marketplace” there’s a museum shop which teasingly provides descriptions of Mercedes-Benz’s DVDs, model cars, books etc. which the user can view but you’ll have to search elsewhere to buy as there are no links or means to purchase in the app. “Clubs & Community”  provides information and links to the 80 plus Mercedes-Benz Trademark Clubs as well as upcoming events.

Now if we can only get Mr. Lauren to create an app for his fabulous collection.

The Mercedes-Benz Classic app is free and informative but falls short of the design standards one would expect from Mercedes-Benz. In short, it’s a bit rough around the design edges.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

The corporate museum is naturally a combination of education and brand sales and when done well can provide for a rich and rewarding experience. For interested readers here’s an excellent article on “The Corporate Museum“.

Quilt Index To Go

App icon for Quilt Index

Rated Two StarsQuilt Index To Go “brings you a unique quilt every day, and allows you to scroll endlessly through the more than 50,000 quilts in the Quilt Index contributed by more than 25 museums, libraries, and documentation projects. View historic and contemporary quilts straight from the Quilt Index with detailed information about pattern names, dates, quiltmakers, and the collections that contributed them.You can follow links to their detailed collections records on the online Quilt Index for even more information.” – from the developer description.

The Quilt Index is undeniably an ambitious collaborative project and it is amazing to think of all of the coordinated efforts to bring together “resources on quilts, quiltmakers and quiltmaking in a centralized online repository for education, research and public assess”  for the online Quilt Index, a joint project of The Alliance for American Quilts, MATRIX: Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University and the Michigan State University Museum.

Screenshot of "For All the World to See"

Screenshot of "For All the World to See"

Viewport View for Online Information

Viewport View for Online Information

Recently the online Quilt Index released an upgraded version of the repository which allows for users to see 60 quilts per page in a “grid” view, view a quilt without leaving the search results, sort search results by maker, pattern, date or ID number, and search by specific years and locations.  However, the current version of Quilt Index To Go does not yet contain these navigation and search conveniences.  When they say the user can “scroll endlessly” they mean it literally in this case. The user’s only option to browse the quilts is to swipe, swipe, swipe.   It’s probably best to think of this app as a public beta forming the beginnings of a bridge with the online repository. Once search and navigation features make their way from the website to the mobile app this will be a much more user friendly app.

The app includes a viewport view which facilitates viewing the online repository however, online the user is able to click and drag on the quilt image and see a close up of the area of the quilt highlighted.  The online experience doesn’t translate to the app and trying to use two fingers to zoom doesn’t result in the same quality of experience as online. The Quilt Index recently received a $100,000 planning grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to “to build a collaborative virtual museum across dozens of countries and cultures that share a passion for quilting”. As these ambitious plans mature I’m sure the Quilt Index To Go app experience will only get richer.

The Quilt Index To Go costs $0.99 on Apple’s App Store and this costs goes toward support the app’s ongoing development. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

Copyright Humain

App icon for Human Copyright

Rated Three StarsThe description for the app for the recent Human Copyright exhibition at Musee de la Civilisation in Quebec sounds promising enough. “The Human Copyright exhibition maps the journey of the most fundamental human faculty – thought – which paved the way for civilization. From the origins of thought to artificial intelligence. The ability to think, unique to our species, is OUR Human Copyright. This application tells that fascinating story. The Human Copyright exhibition on human thought was presented at the Musee de la civilisation from November 2009 to September 2010. However, the application can be viewed without a visit to the exhibition.”- from the developer’s description.

After the user selects from a choice of French or English, the app begins with a brief introduction to the exhibition and includes a short video demonstration of how to use the app. I think it is a thoughtful touch that the developers included this demonstration video. This is not a complicated app to navigate but it is very considerate of the developers to add this video to aid users.  Something which app developers might consider making a standard feature as not all apps are as straightforward to navigate as Copyright Humain.Screenshot of Audio Guide Stops

And with that start the user has reason to suspect that they will indeed be able to view the exhibition but they may be disappointed, at least initially.  What the user experiences instead is something akin a psychiatrist’s couch.  While the soft smooth voice of the male narrator gently describes a particular stop on the tour the screen plays a morphing blue blob that is I guess, the app equivalent of a lava lamp. For example, stop number eight is “The Trials and Tribulations of Descartes’ Skull” and we hear the voice of the narrator say, “René Descartes died while he was living in Sweden in 1650. A few years later, France asked for his body to be repatriated. But the grave diggers were bribed and the body wasn’t returned in its entirety. His head remained in Sweden, where it become the object of several transactions. In fact, the signatures that you see on the skull are signs of the pride of certain owners.” That there might be several collector’s signatures on Descartes’ skull seems a bit shocking. Instead of seeing a picture of Descartes’ skull the viewer sees this movie clip.

Essentially, the first half of the content of the Human Copyright app turns out to be a straightforward audio guide with 20 stops, accompanied by the aforementioned lava lamp video, followed by a bonus video interview with the artist Louis-Philippe Demers. Following the audio guide section though is a section of the exhibition entitled “Artificial Dialogue”. 16 audio and video clips with scientists, philosophers, writers and a Buddhist monk among others. The effect of these multiple viewpoints coupled with the audio guide makes for a stimulating meditation on “thought”. After viewing a video clip the user is given an option to submit a comment about this video to the museum or to “send this interview by email”. The link emailed will take the recipient to a page with all 16 of the video and audio clips. One small glitch here though is that the link from the English version of the app takes one to the French video clips without the subtitles. The user can locate the link on the web page to the English page which has subtitles but if you received the link to the clip and didn’t know there were subtitles available you could easily miss this.

One final note on the name of the app.  On Apple’s App Store the app is listed as “MCQ” for Musee de la Civilisation, Quebec. The app description refers to the “Human Copyright” exhibition but if you search for “Human” on your iPhone after downloading you won’t find the app. The user has to search for “Copyright”, “Humain”, or “MCQ” because the title of the exhibition is Copyright Humain.  It would seem to be a bit more user friendly if the name on the App Store, the description, and the name of the app as on the iPhone synced up consistently and most preferably with that of the exhibition itself.

MCQ, Copyright Humain is a free app on Apple’s App Store.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later.

Grünes Gewölbe

App icon for Grünes Gewölbe

Rated Two StarsAs this app begins large metal doors swing open on the screen and the user is welcomed to the Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault) in the Residenzschloss (Royal Palace) in Dresden, Germany. The screen changes and immediately the user has a rotating 360 degree panoramic shot of the Large Vaulted Hall (1).  The user can stop the rotating view with the touch of a finger and then in a limited fashion control the view of the Hall on the screen. Limited because the user can’t zoom in on any of the display cases in the room or change viewing angles. However, this app could have benefited from a brief demonstration video because as it turns out you can move from one room to the next by holding your finger on the image of the door or opening to the next room. The 360 degree panoramic shots really establish the scene for the virtual visitor. Often, as is the case with the Grünes Gewölbe, the experience for the virtual visitor is vastly enhanced with this simple addition.  Without the 360 degree panoramic shots this app would be a much different experience.

Jewel Room ScreenshotAcross the bottom of the screen is four simple tabs: “Groundplan”, “Objects”, “Info” and Settings. The “Groundplan” gives the viewer a color coded map by which to orient the rooms.  The design of the map is such that one would think that you can tap on the map and be taken to the room. And indeed this is the case but at present the experience is a bit buggy.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

In a simple but very thoughtful design touch whenever you tap “Objects” the objects presented to the viewer match with the room the viewer is currently visiting. Developers most often seem to insert a list view here adding a tap by the user. In Grünes Gewölbe when you are viewing a room you automatically have access to the objects in that room. A simple design step that reduces the friction of the user experience.  However, in the next step this app adds friction unnecessarily.  All the objects in the room are presented in one long scrolling screen (which also acts in a rather buggy fashion).  A better user experience would have been to incorporate a Cover Flow approach or at least to have provided a separate viewing screen for each object.  The user also can’t zoom and pan on each object image as would be desirable.  The text accompanying each object image provides only the most basic information. There are no audio or video clips aiding in interpretation so the overall effect is as if flipping through an art auction catalogue. The “Info” tab provides a brief text history of the Green Vault, visitor information and an aerial shot of the Royal Palace.

Every since Vonnegut’s Slaughter-House Five I’ve been curious about Dresden and this app add’s to my curiosity.  In it’s current version, however, the Grünes Gewölbe leaves quite a bit out which is unfortunate. Pretty pictures alone do not an app make.

The Grünes Gewölbe app is available on Apple’s App Store for $0.99. The description on the store indicates German only for the language but the text on the app downloaded from the US store is in English. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later

Graphic Design Museum

App icon for Graphic Design Museum

Rated Three StarsDid you enjoy the excellent design documentary Objectified by Gary Hustwit? If so then I think you’ll enjoy this app which has been downloaded over 16,000 times since March and ranked by Appylizer.com in 71 countries. Didn’t see Objectified or Helvetica? Well you should still check out the Graphic Design Museum’s well designed app.  It’s not perfect. And some features are a little glitchy but the overall user experience is smooth.

The Graphic Design Museum is the first museum in the world for graphic design. The museum is in the centre of Breda, Netherlands and exhibits the broad and dynamic area of graphic design. The Graphic Design Museum places current graphic design in an historical and cultural context, open to the world and technology. It represents all forms of media, from print material to interactive web design.This App shows highlights from the collection with explanatory texts, images and video interviews about different exhibitions currently on display.”-from the developer’s description.

Screenshot with grid view of nine graphic images

Fingers and eyes dance in concert together as the user explores the content on this app. The start up screen shows two exhibitions, “100 Years of Graphic Design” and “Infodecodata” and the tab bar below has five options: “Explore”, “Map”, “Search”, “Agenda”, and “Info”.  This gives the user three ways to navigate to the content. “Search” provides not only a search field but also a standard list view of the images available. “Map” provides a floor plan with pin drops associated with images located in their respective spots. From “Explore” the user taps one of the two exhibitions and the screen changes to a creative variation on the Cover Flow design.  A grid of nine images fills the screen with the central one size prominently, and the user can swipe in any direction to explore. Up, down, left, right, and even diagonally. Tap any image in the grid and it moves to the central space. Tap again (an unnecessary tap really) and the image fills out the screen. The user can zoom and pan. Tap the image and it flips to reveal a text image. And here is one of my few complaints about this app. Sometimes the text for the image is brief and other times the user scrolls through several screens.  Screenshot of floor plan view with pin drop markers relating to image locationsAt the bottom of the text is a “links” section which always includes a link back to the image and sometimes includes video clips. Below that sometimes there are links to related works (an appreciated touch). My complaint is that we’re now at the opposite extreme from an app which is too structured around the stops on an audio tour. Here it’s impossible to know images have video clips associated and which do not without having to flip each image to the text and then scroll to the bottom of the text.  There’s no shortcuts or alternate routes available to the user.  So if the user has a few minutes and would like to watch a video clip they may get lucky and locate one or the few minutes might be spent searching with no luck.

At the top of each image screen is a button encouraging the user to “React!”. Tapping this button their is a field to input your name and add comments.  What is interesting is that these comments are then associated with that image for other users to read (after some moderation?). There are only a few works which have comments associated with them so it doesn’t seem this feature has been well promoted.  But the potential is there. Also below the comments field is a choice of rating the image with a thumbs up or thumbs down.  However, on every image I tried pressing one or the other the app crashed.  Still the potential is there.

One final note regarding the video clips.  These are available in English and Dutch. The English clips have English voiceovers over the Dutch speakers.  Comparing this with the way the Copyright Humain used subtitles for the French speakers I’d have to say I found the voiceover experience on the iPhone to be better than using subtitles.

The Graphic Design Museum is a free app on Apple’s App Store for English and Dutch languages. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

Play “A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR trek at The National Zoo with iPhone or Android app

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Mobility and Museums in Action: “A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR Trek- An Interview with Kellian Adams, of SCVNGR, and Rachel Meskin, Educations Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo.

A Conversation Carol PosterThe buzz has been building about SCVNGR (pronounced “Scavenger”) lately and so when Friends of the National Zoo in D.C. released a new holiday themed trek last Friday entitled “A Conversation Carol” I had to touch base with Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind (how about that for a job title), Kellian Adams of SCVNGR and Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist with Friends of the National Zoo, to find out more. Kellian and Rachel provided some great insights into their experiences in creating SCVNGR treks and shared with me their tips for building a trek at your institution. Kellian and Rachel’s  responses to my questions are below but first a bit of background on SCVNGR.

Screenshot of SCVNGR "Homepage"Google backed SCVNGR is a location-based gaming platform that allow visitors to explore institutions in a gamelike fashion. Most of us have participated in a scavenger hunt at one time or another.  Just imagine how fun and engaging this could play out at a museum, a zoo or other cultural institution.  This spring, participatory museum guru Nina Simon wrote a post in her blog of how a mobile scavenger hunt would address the desire people have for a social experience when visiting the museum.  As Nina wrote, most museum visitors visit in groups but most museum apps derive from the audio guide paradigm which focuses on the individual.  SCVNGR is different.  It’s social from the ground up. As one blog put it “there’s an app for family time“. And the response from visitors has been phenomenal (read Rachel’s comments below).

Since the release of it’s iPhone and Android apps seven months ago users are downloading the app at a rate of 5,000 per day and SCVNGR expects surpass a million users by the end of the year.  In addition to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the San Diego Zoo, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Muhammed Ali Center, The Chicago Institute of Art (take the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off challenge!), the Museum of London, and over 70 other museums, zoos and cultural institutions have joined the SCVNGR fun.
“A Conservation Carol” SCVNGR trek provides visitors of the Smithsonian National Zoo with a fun, interactive way to learn about conservation while traveling through the free ZooLights night exhibit this December. Players meet the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future as they complete challenges that remind them of the spirit of conservation.

SCVNGR is available free as an iPhone app or on Android (search for SCVNGR on the Android Market on your device). To locate a particular trek you must be located within 25 miles of the trek. Learn more about SCVNGR and museums here and here.

Have you participated in a SCVNGR Trek at a museum, zoo or other cultural institution?  If so, please share your experience in the comments section.

Here’s a quick video from SCVNGR on how the app works:

SCVNGR | How To Play from SCVNGR on Vimeo.

Play “A Conservation Carol” on your phone!

From Friends of the National Zoo’s website:

Don’t be a Scrooge! This holiday season, remember the spirit of conservation. Explore the light displays and be visited by the Goats of ZooLights past, present, and future. The more challenges you complete, the more points you will earn—both in the name of conservation and for a chance to win an exclusive VIP tour, including a visit with the keeper of your favorite animal. Ten runners-up will get ZooLights T-shirts.

To greet the first goat, text “ZooLights” to 728647 OR download the SCVNGR app on your iPhone or Android, click on “Treks,” and select the “Conservation Carol” Trek. The trek starts at the Zoo’s main entrance on Connecticut Avenue.

SCVNGR Trek Scores
0 to 14 points You’re an Ebenezer: Better change your evil ways!
15 to 29 points You’re a work in progress: Sort of green but kinda mean.
30 to 42 points You’re a Conserveaholic: Keep up the good work making the world a better place.

Here is my exchange with Rachel Meskin, Education Programs Specialist, Friends of the National Zoo

How did you get started with SCVNGR?

Rachel – SCVNGR was recommended to us by a colleague, Georgina Goodlander, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She put me in touch with Kellian and after one conversation I was sold. We had wanted to experiment with games at the Zoo for a while and SCVNGR seemed like a user-friendly and innovative platform.

How many SCVNGR treks have you created?

Rachel – “A Conservation Carol” is Friends of the National Zoo’s second SCVNGR trek and one of many ideas we have for the Zoo. The first trek was part of a massive alternate reality game called “Save the Pygmy Dragon Panda” we ran during the summer of  2010. SCVNGR Gen2 powered the text component. We are re-launching Save the PDP on another platform because it isn’t really location-based and it has a very distinct voice that would make less sense on SCVNGR Gen3. (More on voice later!)

How long did it take to create “A Conservation Carol” trek?

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

SCVNGR Zoolights Badge

Rachel – It took us two solid days to create the challenges and an additional few days for editing, tweaking, testing and more tweaking.*

*Disclaimer: It can be done in 2 days but I have to admit I’m pretty sure I have some of the most creative people in the world in my office to help me.

What tips would you give to institutions considering setting up their first SCVNGR trek?

Rachel -

·         It’s important to remember that SCVNGR is one big game. Although I love games that tell detailed stories with characters and conflict, SCVNGR is its own kind of game with its own set of rules. It has its own game language, a reward system and a structure that must be kept in mind when building. I think the best way to look at it is that each trek is like a level of the overall game. Your level should capture the tone of your institution but should be simple enough that it meshes with the challenges and treks at other locations.

·         Come up with strange ways people might interact with your collection. Challenge what people normally think of when they think of your institution (whether it be that it skews too young like the Zoo or that it’s too stuffy like a gallery). Encourage people to run around and do things they wouldn’t normally do.

·         Think of your trek as a game and not a scavenger hunt.

·         Go for a variety of challenges including text, photo, problem solving, codes, art, song, dance and even math.  Try to reach players of differing comfort levels and learning styles.

·         I think a trek should have a simple cohesive theme (like ours that drew on the concept of “A Christmas Carol”).

·         The simpler the better.

·         People respond to prizes and rewards.

·         Promotion has been our biggest challenge. Make sure you can devote a lot of time and effort to getting people to play.

What’s been the response from Zoo visitors to the SCVNGR trek(s)?

Rachel- Responses to Save the PDP over the summer were very positive. Students and campers with DC tour groups (our target audience) told us that the game was the best part of their visit to Washington. Our ZooLights trek just launched, and we’ve already started to see people dancing, singing, laughing and learning.

In one of the challenges, we ask people to pick up a piece of trash and contribute to our giant “recyculpture.” The sculpture has been out 24/7, and we’ve seen a few parents, unaware of the trek, telling their kids about keeping the earth green and clean after walking by it. We think this will be our most popular challenge during the run of the game.

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Screenshot of Challenge in "A Conservation Carol"

Here is my exchange with Kellian Adams, Museum Ninja and Institutional Mastermind at SCVNGR:

What’s been most inspiring for you to work with institutions like Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ)?

Kellian- Every museum that gets involved with a SCVNGR project  thinks of something TOTALLY new that I never would have dreamed of and that’s really inspiring to me. I’ve learned that my SCVNGR gamebuilding team and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what can be done with the platform in the cultural space. The FONZ created the “Goats of Zoolights Past”- hilarious! They even have people singing in the giftshop (you can see pictures of it on their SCVNGR feed). The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis used SCVNGR as a tool to help people share stories and keep entertained while  they’re waiting in the Santa line. The Boston Museum of Science is creating a “Star Search” all across the city of Boston. The Mohammed Ali Center used SCVNGR for teambuilding events. Each project is just so creative and unusual and really specific to the space of the museum, and that’s my absolute favorite part.

What’s surprised you most from the results of SCVNGR at an institution?

Kellian- There have been a LOT of surprises- it’s a new media so we’re all learning. I think the most surprising thing to me was how much the delivery of the media mattered in how people responded. When I started with SCVNGR in museums, I saw it as sort of an interactive audio tour but just the fact that it’s interactive makes it totally different from a tour. When you ask visitors to interact and respond, you have to be really deliberate in how you approach it- you almost can’t ask them “on the spot” or they’ll feel like they’ve been called on in a class.

Kellian- In fact, we’ve had some really surprisingly negative experiences approaching museum-goers inside the museum and asking them if they’d like to try a new mobile game- and we never expected that! We’ve learned that walking inside the museum should not be a visitor’s very first exposure to the fact that there’s an interactive mobile game that they can play – and it seems that it’s not just SCVNGR but almost any interactive mobile experience that I’ve seen inside a museum. On the other hand… once you give visitors that permission: you tell them ahead of time: come play, you’ll need to answer but it’s okay- the museum approves- then you get this really fantastic and positive response. You do have to prep visitors ahead of time because now they’re not just a spectator anymore, you have to prepare them so that they know they’ll be part of the experience! And once they know that, they’re just so excited to participate. I always work with my museums now to write about their SCVNGR initiative, blog, Facebook, tweet, email- it’s not just advertising for a program, it’s an important part of preparing people so that they come ready to play!

What’s surprised the institution most by SCVNGR?

Kellian- I think institutions are often surprised by the demographic that SCVNGR draws. Museum professionals often expect that maybe families or school kids will like to play so we’ll send a trek live and again and again our trek photos roll in with pictures of people between 18 and 35 playing and having a grand old time. Even when we set up a trek specifically to appeal to kids or families, still we get those 18 to 35 year olds that play and I don’t think museums ever expect to have their programs “wedding crashed” by that demographic!

I think institutions are also surprised by the quality of visitor’s involvement. I like to have our museums launch a trek with a “kick off event” to start the buzz rolling but also so that they can see visitors play in real time. They’re always so excited by the amazing responses- really thoughtful comments on pieces, once we asked for haikus and got this incredible poetry! At the San Diego Zoo, we’re just asking for “animal pose” photos but people are coming up with these creative poses using their clothes as props, working with each other to make sure they look like an elephant or a kangaroo. The Joslyn museum asked visitors to create a sculpture out of natural materials and we got these amazing pictures of impromptu art that visitors built. People really do want to participate in the museum experience once they know that they can.

My thanks to Rachel and Kellian for being so generous with their time and for sharing with Museums2Go readers their experiences and insights. Thank you!

10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions (Part 2)

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Amidst your holiday preparations and travels here are some iPhone apps for current art exhibitions in Paris, London, Zurich, and Lincoln, Massachusetts to perhaps give you a few moments of enriched time .This is the second of two post related to current art exhibition apps.  Click here for Part 1.

6. Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)

Through January 24, 2011 – Galeries nationales du Grand Palais – Paris

App icon for Monet the visitRated Three StarsBy my count there are 17 iPhone apps on Apple’s App Store directly related to Monet and probably that many and more devoted to French Impressionism in general. I may just have to devote a post or a whole week of posts to reviewing just Monet apps just to explore the various ways developers are approaching the work of this one artist.  The app for the current exhibition “Claude Monet (1840-1926)” at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais is :  Monet the visit : exhibition at the Grand Palais 2010 – Acoustiguide Smartour. Alastair Sooke writes in The Telegraph that, “Over-amiliarity with the work of Claude Monet has robbed it of much of its potency. Now a new Paris exhibition is looking to recall the dazzling storm the artist caused nearly 150 years ago”.  For one visitor’s reaction to attending the exhibition I recommend Rebecca Taylor‘s blog post, “Beyond the First Impression: Rediscovering Monet in Paris“.

“Monet the visit” is the audio guide downloaded. The exhibition contains over 160 works by Monet and with 43 audio clips this app has an impressive percentage of them covered.  I appreciate the improvement of being able to download the audio guide in advance of attending an exhibit, skipping a line to pick up the audio guide, and having it handy after the visit as well. However, to me the audio guide is a nice to have, handy and perfunctorily functional. I like them but I don’t love them.  However, for the purpose of this blog I’m viewing “Monet the visit” as an app, not to detract from its appeal as an audio guide but to consider what is translating in this app by a leader in audio and multimedia interpretation guides that works within the app experience.  How does the app stand alone as an app experience?

Screenshot of Rue MontorgueilScreenshot of First Floor Map

What I appreciate in “Monet the visit” is the “Map” view which provides a floor plan for each of the two floors of the exhibition (this is the same format as in Acoustiguide’s app for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco-read a good review by Sarah Dines of that app here).  Sure the map view provides the same information as the list view but for me the map view gives a better sense of how the exhibition unfolds. Which painting is located near which? For me the map view gives a better sense at times of which paintings to compare and contrast at times as I might if I were at the exhibition. A nice touch might have been to add an introductory video which included a visual overview of the gallery layout much like in the “Curator’s Introduction” on the app for Yoshitomo Nara.

This app, as its name indicates, is intended to accompany a visit to the exhibition therefore it’s to be forgiven if when listening to the audio for a particular work the user decides to tap on the image of the work to take a closer look the audio stops. The same thing happens when the user taps the icon for “learn more”.  Therefore the user has the choice of listening to the audio or learning more but cannot do both at the same time. For the user who is not in front of the paintings being discussed this is a little frustrating particularly when the narrator suggest taking a closer look at a particular portion of the painting.  Compare this with more seamless experience in the Infinity of Nations app or the cultY Picasso app reviewed below.

I’ve already noted that Acoustiguide’s Houdini app could benefit from a greater efficiency in the flow of user taps and the same applies here (Interestingly Sarah Dines noted this as an “emerging pet peeve” for her in her review of Acoustiguide’s Asian Art Museum-San Francisco) .  Jonathan Wegener has a nice post on the economy of taps for interested readers. Lonely Planet, for example, recently simplified its ‘City Guides for iPhone’ travel app to a ‘three taps or less’ promise. For a more in-depth read on well developed tap design I highly recommend Tapworthy by Josh Clark and his credo, “Every element of your app has to be tapworthy”.

Monet the visit” works fine as an audio guide, as intended, and at $3.99 is a bargain if you intend to visit the exhibition.  However, while the audio clips here are informative I didn’t find the overall experience of the app to be engaging for the virtual visitor. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

7. Muybridgizer

Through January 16, 2011 – Tate Britain – London

App icon for MuybridgizerRated Three Stars

Muybridgizer is a fun app of modest ambitions that is currently the 63rd most popular photography app in the UK App Store and is also ranked by Applyzer.com in 65 other countries. This might not seem like much compared to a hit game app at present but it really highlights the prospective reach of a creative museum app. Among the apps I have reviewed thus far on this blog this is the most countries in which I’ve seen a museum app ranked.  And it seems really hard for a museum app of any kind at present to break the top 100 in any category.  Though I’m confident that that blockbuster museum app is not too far off.

“The Muybridgizer allows iPhone photographers to take pictures inspired by the iconic works of early photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The release of the app celebrates the opening of a major exhibition of Muybridge’s work at Tate Britain. The Muybridgizer freeze-frames the moving world, just as Muybridge did with subjects ranging from running horses to leapfrogging boys. In homage to the analogue Victorian beauty of the originals, users can Muybridge-ize their frames with grids and sepia tones, transforming their moving images into striking vitage-style pictures.” -From the Tate Gallery’s description.

Screenshot of AboutScreenshot of Share Options - Flickr, Email, Save (to Photo Library)

Commissioned by Tate,  Nexus Interactive Arts directors Theo Watson & Emily Gobeille have created an app that playfully teaches a little about the man who showed that “horses can fly” by allowing users a chance to create their own Muybridgized photos. First the user selects a grid size of 3×3 or 4×4 and then rather you want a “fast” or “slow” selection.  Choose based upon the speed of the movement of the subject you are photographing.  After capturing your selected subject the user is presented with the finished grid. Tap on the grid and your Muybridgized sequence is ready for a spin. Swipe the image and your sequence swirls past like an old time Zoopraxiscope.

The Muybridgizer automatically saves your work to a “Gallery” unless you choose to delete it.  You can also save it to your iPhones Photo Library but the real fun of these photos is playing them in your Muybridgizer app so I’d group this with your other photo apps such as Instagram (It won’t be long until you see a few Muybridgized videos on your friends Facebook wall). Next the Muybridgizer gives you the option of sharing your work on the Muybridgizer Flickr Group, emailing to a friend, or, as mentioned, saving to your iPhones Photo Library. This would be particularly enjoyable if when you received a friend’s Muybridgized photos you could play them on your Muybridgizer but that doesn’t seem to be the case unfortunately.

What I appreciate in the Muybridgizer app (aside from introducing that Star Trek-ish word into my vocabulary) is how simply but effectively the experience of the app conveys the joy that viewers must have felt when Eadweard Muybridge first unveiled his Zoopraxiscope. Isn’t it that type of moment of delight that encourages you to want to explore more?  As such I think, modest as this app is, Muybridgizer’s effective in giving users a bit of fun rather they intend to visit the related exhibition or not. In either case this app gives the curious a jumping off point for exploring more and for seeing anew the creative leap of Mr. Muybridge. By such simple departure points are muses often inspired.

Muybridgizer is currently a free app (for a limited time) on Apple’s App Store. Compatible with iPhone and iPod touch (4th generation). Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

8. cultY Picasso (EN)

Through January 30, 2011 – Kunsthaus Zurich – Zurich

App icon for Picasso Kunsthaus ZurichRated Three StarsIf I may a couple of housekeeping notes to begin with, cultY Picasso continues the intriguing  tradition of naming apps for exhibitions by the vendor’s name rather than the exhibition name or the institution (see “Naming your app” for more of this).  Seems to me if I had funded the development of an app for an exhibition at my institution I would want the name of the exhibition as the app name if for no other reason than to aid visitors in locating the app when searching on the app store.  Second bit of housekeeping, when the app is for an exhibition it is helpful if one of the two links on the app store description links to the exhibition website or at least the institution website.  Why have both links pointing to the vendor? And finally, there are two “cultY Picasso (EN)” available on the US Apple App Store, this is the link for the one that is in English.

“To mark its centenary, the Kunsthaus Zurich is paying tribute to Pablo Picasso, the towering genius of the twentieth century, with a comprehensive homage to a sensational show. This was the artist’s first ever museum-based retrospective, held in 1932. The exhibition, which ran from September to November of that year at the Kunsthaus Zurich, had been put together by the Spanish painter in person – a revolution in the art world. It was new for the works in a museum-based exhibition to be selected by the artist himself, rather than the museum director. Now, around 100 of the best pieces from that show are on display at the Kunsthaus once again – a unique experience!”-From the App Store description.

Screenshot Picasso  Kunsthaus Zurich

Opening Screenshot for cultY Picasso

Screenshot of Alphabetical View of Audio Guide

Screenshot of Alphabetical View of the Audio Guide

The opening screen (to the left) of this app is welcoming and inviting for the viewer. Instantly it conveys multiple paths by which the user may explore and makes prominent that which curator and developer would encourage the user to begin their journey.

Tapping “Picasso” reveals the audio guide and the user has a choice between the numerical order of the audio stops or an alphabetical view (right screenshot). Navigational choice really makes an app more interesting to explore. The question is how to offer choice that is relevant to the exhibition without cluttering the limited screen.

Given that the audio clips here vary in focus between works of art, biographical information and overviews of different periods in the artist’s oeuvre it might make more sense to have these as the navigation options rather than “ABC” and “Keypad”.  ”Keypad” seems redundant to “123″. While “ABC” might be useful as an index and thus say for returning to a particular piece for further review, it doesn’t feel natural as a way to first explore the content of this app.  Tapping “Biography” on the home screen takes the user to a screen with a very long scroll of text providing biographical details from throughout Picasso’s long life.  However, there is only eight pictures which the user swipes in slideshow fashion across the top of this screen and no accompanying audio clips in this section.  This is odd given that some of the same pictures accompany audio clips in the audio guide section. Breaking up the long biographical scroll into bite size chunks with more pictures and tying in the related audio might make this content more interesting to explore.  As it is it’s a convenient but not too inviting reference. Compare this with the navigation options for the Gauguin app I reviewed last week in Part 1.

Screenshot for "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot for "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot of Zoom Detail from "The Italian Woman"

Screenshot of Zoom Detail from "The Italian Woman"

Tap a stop on the audio guide and the audio clip begins automatically (always an appreciated default-tap economy remember). As the audio clip plays the user is free to tap on the image, zoom around and explore the image of the art work in closer detail even as the audio continues uninterrupted. That’s really not much to ask for but the difference in experience between those apps that pay attention to this level of detail and those that don’t is the difference between static in your headset and music to your ears.

An example of when this app really shines is in  ”Three Still Lifes”. Here the narrator examines “Wine Bottle” (1926),  ”Mandolin and Guitar” (1924), and “Studio with Plaster Head”(1925).  While listening to the short video clip the user can swipe Cover Flow style the three works of art, select one and zoom in and around the selected image, select another and repeat, scroll down and receive basic information including noting in this case that one of the works is part of the Guggenhiem collection in New York and the other is in the MoMA’s collection. Something to keep in mind for a future visit to New York as  a follow up to this oasis of an art moment with this app. And isn’t that how museum apps are likely to be experienced by the virtual visitor?  Small moments of suddenly enriched time while standing in line at the grocery store, or the security line at the airport (and many other longer portions of airport/airplane).  And all the while, during the user’s tapping around, uncovering and exploring the audio continues uninterrupted. (My wish list item to those working on TourML would be that someway I could bookmark these two works on loan from New York museums such that next time I’m visiting New York and these works are back on display I can have an ah-ha moment and make a point of seeing the originals.) The only thing missing from this example is what Hollywood would call the establishing shot.  Give the viewer a picture or video of the three works of art in the same space.

cultY Picasso offers hints of an exhibition related app’s potential and as such I recommend downloading rather or not you plan to attend the exhibition. Picasso has served as a source of inspiration for many a muse and this app might inspire a few more. This is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

9. Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artists (HD)

Through January 24, 2011 – Jacquemart-Andre Museum – Paris

App icon for Rubens, Poussin, and 17th Century Artists (HD)

Rated Four StarsIf like me you’ve been curiously wondering “what if an app adopted Cover Flow as it’s primary means of navigation?” then you will definitely want to download Rubens, Poussin and 17th Century Artists (HD) produced by Culturespaces and developed by Smartapps. For those not familiar with Cover Flow imagine being able to flip through images of the works of art in an exhibition like a photo album (see the first screen shot below).  The aesthetic appeal of this method of navigation is immediate. The work of art itself is the most prominent image on the screen and not the stop number of the audio tour, or the title with a thumbnail of the work of art but the art work itself.  For the virtual visitor this greatly improves the experience of strolling through the exhibition freely by scrolling through the images. The user has the feeling one does when you walk into an exhibition and follow your eyes. Which painting captures your eyes’ attention and draws you in to explore?  For the virtual visitor on the go catching a few minutes of art during a subway ride or passing time while a spouse shops etc. the Cover Flow navigation is brilliant.  The user experience is such that you are drawn into the art because it puts the art front and center.  Your eyes lead your fingers. Like the app for Infinity of Nations the user doesn’t spend a lot of mental energy figuring out the technology (or tap, tap, tap, tapping) you are immediately immersed in the art.

Screenshot of Cover Flow View

Screenshot of Cover Flow View

The screenshot to the right shows how straightforward and intuitive this app is when in the Cover Flow view. In the lower left is the “i” icon for information, which in this view provides visitor information such as hours the museum is open, address, links to the website, as well as credits for exhibition and the app. In the lower right is an icon for the keypad for on-site visitors. And as you notice the title of the work of art, the artists, and date of the work of art are noted below the image of the art work.  Is this not an aesthetically pleasing balance of information that has its priorities in order?

"The Apotheosis of Germanicus" in Slide Show View

"The Apotheosis of Germanicus" in Slideshow View

Tap on the image of the work of art in the center and the selected work becomes the center of focus. Controls in the lower left of this view allow the user to stay in Slideshow view and tap forward or backwards or return to the Cover Flow view. Tap the “Play” icon to play the audio, or the “Key Pad” icon to select another number (handy for the on-site visitor) and in this case the “Information” icon displays information pertinent to the selected work of art. Tap the image again and the controls disappear (the default should be to have these fadeout after a few seconds).

Zoom Detail from "The Apotheosis of Germanicus"

Zoom Detail from "The Apotheosis of Germanicus"

However, once you’ve tapped the image and the controls have disappeared the user can use two fingers to zoom in with great detail on the work of art.  Have I mentioned that once the user has pressed the “Play” icon and the audio starts that you are able to continue your exploration of the selected work of art without the audio stopping. From the moment you open this app down to selecting an image, listening to the accompanying audio, zooming around the selected image, everything feels frictionless. The user rarely stops to figure out the technology. In this app it’s all about getting out of the users way so they can be engaged with the work of art.

In the spirit of bonus material on DVDs there are three videos available at the beginning of the Cover Flow view which include a “trailer”, an “introduction” and a “making of”.  Savvy institutions will release these online in advance of the exhibition and the app’s release to drum up interest in both. The “making of” video here isn’t that creative actually and is missing audio commentary from the curator which would be most appreciated in this context.

Rubens, Poussin and 17th century artists (HD) is $3.99 on the Apple’s App Store and includes twenty of the sixty works of art in this exhibition plus the aforementioned videos. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

10. Scapes

Extended through the end of the year – DeCordova, Lincoln, Massachusetts

App icon for Scapes

Rated Four Stars“The Scapes iPhone app is the front-end for a sound art installation by Halsey Burgund exhibited at the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. Scapes augments the physical landscape of the park with a location-sensitive layer of audio. This audio layer contains a mixture of instrumental music and spoken voices – contributed by participants – both of which are influenced by the participant’s location within the sculpture park. As such, the participant’s body becomes the primary mode of interaction with this project; as they move through the park, they control how their individual audioscape unfolds by shifting the instrumental music and “running into” audio left by other participants. It is designed to work fully only while at the museum, so using the app while anywhere else will result in an incomplete experience…sorry!” from the artist’s description.

Although we might not get to experience Scapes in situ here is an intro video to give you some sense of how this is experienced.

Scapes Intro from Halsey Burgund on Vimeo.

The Scapes iPhone app has a simple interface.  On the welcome screen the user has two choices: “Listen” or “Speak”.  Tap listen and you will hear the voices of other museum visitors who have contributed their comments.

Screenshot of "What voices do you want to listen to?"Screenshot of "What questions do you want to listen to?"Imagine that “As participants walk around the sculpture park, the individual path they follow creates their own personal version of the Scapes audio experience. The music is directly influenced by the landscape and is composed using custom algorithms which constantly generate new music; there are no repeated loops.” from the artist’s Vimeo site.

Users do have some filtering options. Tap “Who” (left screenshot) and uncheck voices you do not want to hear.  Tap “What” (right screenshot) and uncheck the questions you don’t want to hear answers from.

If on the other hand the user wishes to “Speak” after selecting “Who is going to speak? Boy, Girl, Man, Woman” the app asks “What do you want to talk about?” and gives you five choices:

Scapes is an excuse to talk to yourself about anything at all.  Go for it.

Ask a question of those who come after you.

Tell a story inspired by something you see or feel here.

Look straight up and describe what you see.

Tell us about someone you wish was here with you right now.  Talk to him/her.

Nancy Proctor recently wrote about her experience with Scapes:

“Over the past decade, I’ve taken innumerable audio tours and tried a lot of variations on that basic mobile theme at museums and cultural sites on five continents. Inspired by Janet Cardiff and by Antenna Theater, to whose creative vision and innovative spirit I owe my career, I have said for years that it would be the artists who would show us how to use mobile to its fullest: how to push the boundaries of the technology and create truly transformative experiences and content. More recently, I have argued that mobile should be deployed primarily as a social media platform, creating conversations that go beyond the uni-directional, broadcast mode of traditional audio tours. But never did I dare dream that the realization of these principles would result in a mobile experience as profound or as exciting as what I experienced earlier this week at Halsey Burgund’s installation, “Scapes,” at the deCordova Sculpture Park. I have never left an exhibition so reluctantly in my life.” I would encourage you to read her full review of this experience here.

I felt hesitant about including this app because I haven’t had the chance to personally experience it on-site as the artist intended.  However, it is such a creative and fascinating example of what is possible that I would be amiss if I didn’t include it here.

The iPhone app for Scapes is available for free on Apple’s App Store. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch (2nd generation), iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions (Part 1)

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I wish everyday involved an exhibition visit or at least two or three each week. While institutions are putting more and more information about their collections and exhibitions on their websites it is the apps which for me are really making this type of content accessible.  With a website I’m very often multi-tasking when viewing but with an app I’m focused on being engaged with that content.  Headphones on and iPhone or iPad in hand I’m asking the app to entertain, engage, and inspire me. To take me on a journey.

Here I take a look at 10 iPhone apps for current exhibitions (divided into two posts with 5 each) to see how they compare in their approach to engaging the virtual visitor. Do these apps invite one to attend the related exhibition after viewing? And how well do these stand on their own as an experience for the virtual visitor? I start from the perspective of the virtual visitor because this visitor’s travel budget is limited but his curiosity budget is not and with these apps I can attend an exhibition anytime, anwhere.

Although I start from the perspective of the virtual visitor I am very interested in how these apps enhance the on-site experience as well. In some cases these apps have inspired me to plan a visit to the exhibition soon and when I do I will write a post from that perspective. Have you attended any of these exhibits with the app in hand? If so, please share your experiences in the comments. I’d love to know what you thought worked well on-site. (For Part 2 of 10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions click here.)

1. Asia Society Museum: Yoshitomo Nara

Through January 2, 2011 - Asia Society Museum, New York

App icon for Nara

Rated Two StarsWhen the Asia Society Museum opened this exhibit for Yoshitomo Nara in September, Roberta Smith wrote a glowing review in the New York Times noting that, “Mr. Nara may be one of the most egalitarian visual artists since Keith Haring. He seems never to have met a culture or generation gap, a divide between art mediums or modes of consumption that he couldn’t bridge or simply ignore. His art is highly synthetic, representing fusions of high, low and kitsch; East and West; grown-up, adolescent and infantile; and so seamless as to render such distinctions almost moot.”

Not being familiar with Yoshitomo’s work, even if some of the images seem familiar, this app represents my first introduction to this artist. As such it’s an okay, if heavily text based introduction.  However, given that this is a paid app ($2.99) it’s a disappointing introduction to the artist. Compare this with the paid app (also $2.99) for the Tate’s Gaugin exhibition reviewed below. To begin with there’s very little multimedia in the Yoshitomo Nara app. The co-curators provide a video introduction giving the user a tour of the exhibition gallery (also available on the website) but that’s the only video. Additionally, there are only a couple of audio clips and one of those accompanies the screenshot here in which the image is missing months after the app’s last update.

Screenshot of Untitled with "Image Coming Soon" Message

I like the incorporation of social media but here the app falls short in my opinion.  For example, I thought a friend of mine would really enjoy the work “Hyper Enough (to the City)” (one of the few that contains an accompanying audio clip) and so I tapped on the quote bubbles above the image of this painting. A generic message about the exhibit populated the text box allowing the option to “enter a custom message” to post to Twitter or Facebook but no email option.  In attempting to customize the message I completely erased the generic message and so for any subsequent work I tried to post a message to Facebook or Twitter from this app even the generic exhibition information is missing.  What I really would like to see is a way to send a message that links to the specific picture I’m messaging from and which ideally would also include a link for the audio clip.

The Asia Society Museum: Yoshitomo Nara app is $2.99 on the website. I think you’ll find the website for the exhibition to be a better value and experience. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later. Rated 12+ for infrequently touching on themes which parents may give pause/or not to exposing younger children.

2. Gauguin: Maker of Myth

Through January, 16, 2011 – Tate Modern, London

February 27–June 5, 2011 – National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

App icon for GauguinRated 4 StarsThe Tate Modern‘s app for the Gauguin: Maker of Myth exhibition is a pleasure to explore. The navigation options are simple and straightforward. There are four icons across the bottom: “Menu”, “Travels”, Gallery” and “Info”. The “Menu” icon gives the user five options: “Introduction”, “Explore By Theme”, Explore by Date”, “Biography” and “Copyright Info”.  Alternatively choose to explore the material on this app by tapping the “Gallery” and the user can choose from two periods of time: “1876-1890″ or “1891-1903″.  By whichever route the user chooses to explore one finds quality video and audio clips rewarding the journey and encouraging the user’s continued exploration.

In reviewing the exhibition at the Tate Modern the Londonist wrote, “Abandoning the usual chronological formula, the show pivots thematically around Gauguin, with the work arranged in various rooms around a pair of central spaces which look into the artist’s life and influence; one room covering his first trip to the South Seas, the other his second. The meaning is clear: the movement of this peripatetic journeyman is the key to understanding how he felt about himself, and how he reflected this in the art he produced.”

Screenshot of map showing North and South America and Western Europe with text boxes indicating dates and places Gauguin visitedSeeing this curatorial intent translated to the app so well in the design by Antenna Audio and Tate really enhances the user experience.  This is an app which not only  works as a stand alone experience (no small feat) but also seems to have been designed in concert with the exhibitions development and not as an afterthought.  In addition to the flexible navigation which invites exploration tapping the “Travels” icon reveals a map (screenshot above) with little boxes indicating places and dates for Gauguin’s travels.  Simply and effectively the map conveys the extent of Gaugin’s travels allowing the user learn a little bit more about the relevance of each to Gauguin and his work.  Everything in this app is delivered in delicious bite size chunks.


As a testament to the exhibit and the apps popularity it is worth nothing that this app is currently the 37th most popular “Education” app in the Apple’s UK App Store and is ranked in the top 1000 “Education” apps in 24 other countries (though oddly not the United States yet).


The Gaugin: Maker of Myth app is $2.99 on the app store and worth purchasing even if you don’t intend to go to the exhibition.   Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

3. Houdini: Art and Magic

Through March 27, 2011 – Jewish Museum, New York

April 28, 2011 – September 4, 2011 – Skirball Center, Los Angeles

September 30, 2011 – January 16, 2012 – The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

February 11, 2012 – May 13, 2012 – Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin

App icon for Houdini: Art and MagicRated Four StarsThis app is called Houdini at The Jewish Museum, New York – Acoustiguide Smartour.  This mouthful of an app name gave me certain assumptions beginning with expecting  this exhibition to be strictly a straightforward presentation of Houdini (whatever I had in mind with that thought).  For me at least, I thought of Houdini as an interesting entertainer from the vaudeville era but I didn’t really feel excited enough about Mr. Houdini to attend an exhibit.  This app though changed my mind.  Houdini as an app stands by itself and is worth exploring even if you are not going to attend the exhibition. However, exploring it might also intrigue one enough to catch this exhibition at one of its stops in the next couple of years.  Howard Kissel has a good review of the exhibition in his column, The Cultural Tourist.

Acoustiguide and The Jewish Museum, New York do a good job here of storytelling, of interweaving different voices and different elements from the exhibition.  I had, I’ll admit, expected a bit more dry narrative, something like what I feel the experience is for Acoustiguide’s Masada app.  However, in the app for Houdini, Acoustiguide has

Screen shot of "Materialization" by Ikuo Nakamura

Screenshot of "Materialization" by Ikuo Nakamura

done a marvelous job beginning with an introduction by The Jewish Museum’s Director Joan Rosenbaum. The audio guide is narrated by actor, singer and magician Neil Patrick Harris and includes commentary by Ms. Rapaport; world famous magicians David Blaine and James “The Amazing” Randi and University of Chicago Professor Emeritus of History and Art History, Neil Harris. There’s even a “Bonus” audio clip of Harry Houdini himself.

What intrigues me about this exhibition and gives it a different twist is the integration of contemporary art with the historic objects. Artists Jane Hammond, Vik Muniz,  Petah Coyne, Deborah Oropallo, Matthew Barney, Ryamond Pettibon, and Ikuo Nakamura (screenshot of his work, “Materialization” to the right) each discuss how the magician has served as an inspiration for one of their works. Including not only their works but also the voices of these contemporary artists within this app really serves as an excellent invitation to the exhibition. How is Houdini relevant and contemporary today? The audio clips and images from these artists do give me pause to consider this and to consider finding out more by visiting the exhibition.

Under each stop there is an icon for “More Info”.  Sometimes this is worth exploring as there can be additional audio or video clips.  But this is kind of hit or miss as often one simply finds a still of the same image on the original screen although tapping this one does allow the user to zoom in and explore the image. Hidden four taps deep in the app is two video clips from archival footage and old movies.  (Hint: the two video clips are under “Introduction” and “Celebrity”). Isn’t there a design rule that the user should never be more than three taps from any content? The extra video and audio clips here might be made more accessible by locating them under the “More” icon on the bottom of the app.

On a final note the app is Houdini at The Jewish Museum, New York and as I currently understand it there are no plans to make changes to the app for the next three stops on the exhibition’s tour. However, it might be nice if the other stops did take a look at modifying the logistical information and gallery map for their respective institutions as I do think this app is a good invitation to see the exhibition where users have the chance.

The Houdini at The Jewish Museum, New York app is $2.99 on Apple’s App Store and worth downloading even if you are not planning on attending the exhibition. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.

FYI: Thirteen and The Jewish Museum, New York are giving away 50 pairs of admission tickets and more here. Contest ends 1/3/11.

4. Infinity of Nations

Ongoing – National Museum of the American Indian -  George Gustav Heye Center,  New York

App icon for "Infinity of Nations"Rated Four StarsThe Infinity of Nations app is an absolutely beautifully designed app.  Yes, there are beautiful high resolution photographs of 60 of the art objects from this exhibition included in the app but that’s not what I mean.  I mean one should stop to appreciate the aesthetics of this design because they are so seamless you might miss them.  If you haven’t already downloaded this free app by all means do so now. Why? Because you have to experience the intuitive, super easy, visual navigation that the innovative folks at Tristan Interactive in collaboration with Daniel Davis, Senior Media Producer at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and his team at the Smithsonian, with audio content produced by Earprint Productions and NMAI, have created.  The beauty of this app begins with the tight integration of the app design with curator Cecile Ganteaume’s design of the exhibition right down to the color coding for different sections in the visual navigation matching exactly the exhibition graphics.  Now that’s attention to detail.  But the real beauty is the usefulness of this attention to detail.

When you first open the Infinity of Nations app you are greeted with a menu of four choices “Infinity of Nations Guide”, “About This Exhibition”, “Museum Information” and “About This Application”.  This app eschews the traditional menu icons at the bottom as well as any keypad option for entering audio tour stop numbers and replaces these with a simple, elegant visual navigation.

Screenshot of Map for Infinit of Nations Exhibit

Map View

Screenshot of Southwest Display Case View

Case View

Tapping “Infinity of Nations Guide” takes the user to a list view of the twelve different sections in the exhibition and an introduction. At the bottom are two options for the user to toggle between.  Tap the map view and the user gets a map of the exhibition which you can scroll back and forth. Tapping the section labeled “Southwest” and the user is presented a graphic representation of the display case as it is in the exhibition.

The user can scroll along the virtual display case. Numbers and a white boarder around several of the objects invite the user to tap on the object revealing a brief audio clip and an image of the object. The audio starts automatically for the user. The user also has the choice of tapping “Description” for a text version of the information in the audio clip.  Tapping the description does not interrupt the audio.

Screenshot of Hopi Manta Detail

Zoom View of Hopi Manta

Screenshot of Hopi Manta

Hopi Manta

Tap on the image, in this case of a Hopi manta, and the user can zoom in for a closer view and pan around the image to really appreciate the details. Again, doing so does not interrupt the audio. This only makes sense but that isn’t always the experience in every app.  It’s this type of attention to the user experience that really makes this app a pleasure to explore.

Accompanying the text description is a thumbnail of the same image and if the user chooses to tap on the thumbnail then again you can zoom and pan the image. Makes sense but again not every developer pays attention to the user experience the way Daniel Davis and Tristan Interactive have in this app.

One of the beauties of this apps design is that it works well for both the virtual visitor and the on-site visitor and allows for a seamless experience moving from one to another. If after viewing the app there are items I specifically want to view when I visit the exhibition I’ll know exactly where they are located.  And vis-a-versa after leaving the exhibit if you wanted to explore a section further you would be able to intuitively navigate right to the section.

Another aspect to this design is it’s scalability. As the NMAI develops more content for the pieces in the exhibit it will be easy to integrate into the app. An approach that makes sense for permanent collections.  I could easily see this becoming the app equivalent of the exhibition catalog.

On a final note I appreciate the absence of loose strings.  There are no extraneous half-baked components placed in the app because well, someone on the designed-by-committee said there should be or the app would be incomplete.  Everything included in this app works to enhance the user experience of the art. The technology gets out of the way. Form and function fit together perfectly here.

The Infinity of Nations app is available for free from the App Store,  has been downloaded more than 1200 times in a little over a month since its release and ranks in the top 1000 “Education” apps in 13 countries (not an easy feat for an exhibition specific app). I recommend that you give it a try. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

For more information on the Infinity of Nations exhibition here is the Holland Cotter’s review in the New York Times  and here is a review by AP writer Ula Ilnytzky  in the Huffington Post.  Curator Cecile Ganteaume spoke with Chuck Scarborough on New York Nightly News about the new exhibition and you can watch a video of that here.

5.  Tuymans BC

Through January 23, 2011 – Bruges, Belgium

App icon for Tuymans BCRated Two StarsBruges Central City Festival: “Every five years Bruges provides the stunning setting for a large-scale cultural festival.  In this edition creative Belgians and artists from Central Europe take over the city.   Along with the art-historical exhibition ‘Van Eyck to Dürer’, the contemporary art trail ‘Luc Tuymans: A vision of Central Europe‘ will be one of the highlights of this major event.  The exhibition curated by Luc Tuymans and Tommy Simoens, gives a unique vision of the arts of an extraordinary region as their influences ripple out all over the world and back again.  The exhibition is full of para­doxes: light and dark, East and West, the experience of the past in the present and the pains of history.  Spread over 5 locations across the city, it includes the work of over 40 artists.” From the festival website.

This app is  designed to be experienced as a visitor at the Bruges Central City Festival.

Screenshot of menu for the 5 locations of the exhibition

5 Exhibition Locations

Screenshot for Grootseminarie Location

Artist Menu at Grootseminarie Location

As such it doesn’t stand up well as an app stand-alone experience. Essentially this is an audio guide with the content referencing spaces and works of art in a traditional audio guide format but which at times is difficult to follow as the audio and the image(s)are  not always aligning in an easy to follow format for the virtual visitor.

The navigation of the app is straightforward. As noted above this exhibition is an art trail at five locations across Bruges. Tapping the “Places” icon presents the viewer with a menu of the five locations to choose from (left screenshot). Selecting one of the places provides a menu of the artists at that location, in this case Grootseminarie (right screenshot). After selecting an artist the user sees a screen with the artist birthday and birthplace,  one or more images of the artist work and the option to play an audio clip. Sometimes, as in the case of Katharina Fritsch the app only presents the user with a single thumbnail image which doesn’t really allow the viewer to see the work of art being described.  In other cases there are multiple images of the artist’s work and it’s not always easy for the virtual visitor to tell which of these images are in the exhibition and which are provided as additional example of the artist work.

The best way for the virtual visitor  to enjoy this app is to abandon thoughts of the exhibition itself and take a moment to uncover the names of contemporary artists of which one might not otherwise have heard. In most cases I don’t think there is enough content on the app to give you a good understanding of the artist’s work but it is sufficient to discern which ones might of interest for exploring elsewhere.

The Tuymans BC app is a free app on Apple’s App Store. Although the app description indicates English as the only language there are French and Dutch options as well.  Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later. Rated for ages 12+.

(For Part 2 of 10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions click here.)

Why Visit? 3 iPhone Apps for Historic Places

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Let me confess up front that I have a weak spot for apps that focus on local historic areas.  These are like someone inviting you into their home. This is where they live and work. There’s an element of pride based upon a true appreciation for a place that shines through the best of these apps. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll be able to make the physical journey to everyone one of these, the best historic places apps create a soft spot in your heart that you don’t forget by taking you on a mental journey. Let’s begin with a warm invitation to the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The Strawbery Banke Museum

App icon for Strawbery BankeMuseumRated Four StarsHave you seen the travel book series “Why Stop?” such as this one for Texas. Each book covers the historical markers in a state so that as you drive across the state you can read about the markers on your route and choose to stop at the ones that interest you or in reading about them become more informed about the places you are traveling through.  Perusing through the App Store the first question an app developer for a historic place answers is “why stop?”. Why stop and spend time with this app and then why stop and visit the historic place with which it is associated.

For me the above video answers the first question for this wonderful app developed by John Forti, Curator of Historic Landscape, in partnership with Audissey Guides (too bad the App Store doesn’t allow the embedding of videos in the app description) and this very well developed app answers the second question. After spending time with this app I really do want to visit the Strawbery Banke Museum one day.

Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, “Strawbery Banke today is unique among outdoor history museums – tracing 375 years of history in one of America’s oldest continuously occupied neighborhoods. The 10-acre site, with its authentically restored houses and shops, period gardens, and costumed role players, presents the daily lives of ordinary people who lived here – from Colonial times to World War II, from the mundane to the elegant, from economic boom to war time austerity – in engaging and accessible ways. Strawbery Banke Museum is a capsule of New England seaport life across four centuries.” (from the museum’s website).

Screenshot of Strawbery Banke map with 29 stops identified

Touch screen map with 29 stops

Navigating the Strawbery Banke app is super easy and intuitive.  From the “Home” screen tap “Property Map” and you are taken to an interactive map of the museum’s ten acres.  I really appreciate this design because including this interactive map is not only useful for the onsite visitor but also draws in the app visitor to the place. If however, you prefer a list view simply tap “Sites”. Tap stop #1 and there is an brief introductory video that invites the viewer “to come discover your place in the unfolding story of America”. This welcome is a nice touch that some apps skip. Tapping on each of the 29 stops takes the user to a screen with 1-3 videos to choose from. The variety of voices and the accompanying musical score really  do a good job of bringing user into the museum grounds. Strawbery Banke comes alive as historical pictures and illustrations are interspersed with pictures of the contemporary space.

After spending time with this app the user really feels like you’ve visited someplace. And someplace you want to return to again and again to discover the little gems provided in each stop. Tapping “Visitor Info” on the “Home” screen takes the user to a screen with links for “Events”, “Hours & Admission”, “Directions” and “About this Application”.  Overall an uncluttered navigation design. The only thing missing is any integration with social networks or the possibility to email links to the video clips to friends which I was tempted to do on the one on “Victorian Children’s Garden” in which the listener is encourage to think of encouraging the children you know to have their own garden to tend.

The Strawbery Banke Museum app is available for free from Apple’s App Store and well worth checking out. It is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1 or later.

Chester: Revealing The Rows

App icon for Chester: Revealing the Rows

Rated Two StarsLocated about forty minutes south of Liverpool in the UK is the town of Chester which, in partnership with Imagemakers , has incorporated the children’s game of i-spy into a stroll through historic Chester.  The Rows are a system of covered walkways that run through the fronts of buildings and are found on the four main streets of Chester. This app is a game where participants try to spot one of thirty different objects from the city motto of “Aniqui Colant Aintiquum Dierum” (Let the Ancients Worship the Ancient of Days) to the marking on a building of “1274 AD” for when King Edward I of England used Chester as a base to attack the Welsh.  As the app says, “Not great for the Welsh, but good for business in the Rows!”. Each of the thirty items are assigned a point value from two to ten points each and up to four people can play together.  The thirty objects are divided into three themes: “Ancient shopping mall”, “2000 years of history” and “People and places”. In order to “spot” all thirty objects in the game one must play the game three times, each time choosing a different theme.

Screenshot of The Hand

Screenshot of "The Hand"

A list view displays the ten objects in the theme the players are trying to spot and tapping on each takes the user to a screen such as the one to the right for “The Hand”. Tapping “Look” on this screen results in a full screen view of the object. Tapping “Map” displays a map of the Rows with the location of the object.  ”More” simply means in this case a more complete description of the objects significance to the history of Chester.  Once the object is spotted the user taps “Seen it”.  Modest in its ambitions this app is an interesting example of leveraging the game model to increase one’s knowledge a historical area.

Chester: Revealing the Rows incorporates no multimedia which is a shame. Although playing around with this app does not inspire me to visit historic Chester it does give me a brief appreciation for its place in history. Mostly though I kept wondering what it might be like to merge this app with the next one in today’s post: DigiMacq.

Chester: Revealing the Rows is a free app and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.0 or later.

DigiMacq

App icon for DigiMacq

Rated Three StarsFor our next historical places app we’re going down under to Parramatta in The Heart of Greater Western Sydney (as this video by the Parramatta City Council is entitled).  DigiMacq is the app as history channel focusing on the historic centre of Parramatta.  Six beautifully produced vignettes take the viewer on a journey into the past with oral narratives reflecting historical sources and actors playing the roles of the central characters in the drama of the cities early history.  This app is entertaining but frustrating.  It’s the first app I’ve come across in some time that forces the user to follow the tour lock step from start to finish.  And I do mean in lock step. The user is given no navigation options to move around in any order other than the one designed. This app may or may not be designed primarily for grade school children (I’m waiting on confirmation from the developer) but it has the feel of a DVD being played in a grade school history class.  However, I wonder if it would appeal to today’s children.

As I mentioned in the review on Chester: Revealing the Rows I really kept imagining blending these two apps.  Take the production value of DigiMacq with its beautifully crafted multimedia narratives and combine that with Chester’s three themes and game playing model and I could see a much more engaging app than either of these two individually are.

Screenshot of Parramatta Park

Screenshot of Stop #1Parramatta Park

Don’t link to social media if you don’t have a follow up plan in place.

When you finish the multimedia tour you are invited to take a survey (but the link doesn’t lead to a survey only to SurveyPirate where you can create your own survey).  Additionally the user is provided a link for DigiMacq’s Facebook Page where we read that “the DigiMacq Facebook page has been set up as so users from all around the world can discuss their experience and meet other DigiMacq users!”.  Sounds like a plan however, the two most recent post on the wall are spam and there are no discussions in the discussions tab.  Follow the link to “follow the DigiMacq journey on Twitter” and you find a hand full of tweets from months ago.  It seems like the developers had good intentions for incorporating social media into the experience but it seems to have fallen short. I’ve reached out to the developers to find out what happened here and will update this if I’m successful in reaching them.

DigiMacq is a free app available on Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.

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