Posts tagged Acoustiguide Smartour

10 iPhone Apps for Current Art Exhibitions (Part 2)

17

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)

22

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.)

10 New Culture Apps for the iPhone

5

November saw the release of a number of culture apps on the Apple App Store. Some were as alive as a business card or flyer but others were very creative, fun and inspiring in their approach to engaging users in this space. Here is a review of ten culture apps which give a representative range of the releases from cultural institutions in the month of November.

App icon for Ancient Egyptian Book of the DeadRated Two Stars1. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

Does your heart weigh more than the feather of truth? Answer 7 questions correctly and you will unlock the Book of the Dead of Hunefer, one of the many of the British Museum’s collection of Books of the Dead featured in the the exhibition Journey through the Afterlife: Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Get the answers wrong, and you will be eaten by the Great Devourer.

This app is more of a trailer for the exhibit than an app for engaging in the exhibition. If you are planning to attend the exhibition (which runs through March 6, 2011) and have children then the app journey through the netherworld may be a good teaser to get them intrigued. (Rated for children 9+ for infrequent/mild horror/fear themes).

Given the apps trailer premise my one suggestion would be for the “Events programme” page to be integrated in an easy to read format for the iPhone. Instead one is directed to the exhibition website which while I do appreciate the link it is a bit more difficult to navigate than if this information had been integrated into the app itself.

Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is a free app compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad and requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

App icon for BristolRated Three Stars2. Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost

Bristol was the fifth most heavily bombed British city of World War II. The presence of Bristol Harbour and the Bristol Aeroplane Company made it a target for bombing by the Nazi German Luftwaffe who were able to trace a course up the River Avon from Avonmouth using reflected moonlight on the waters into the heart of the city.[1]
Between 24 November 1940 and 11 April 1941 there were six major bombing raids. In total Bristol received 548 air raid alerts and 77 air raids with:
919 tons of high-explosive bombs and myriad incendiary bombs
1299 people killed, 1303 seriously injured, 697 rescued from debris
89,080 buildings damaged including 81,830 houses destroyed and over 3000 later demolished.(From the Bristol Blizt in Wikipedia).

This app gives you information on what old Bristol was like, and the effect the Blitz had, through an engaging audio commentary, and using archive photos and film provided by Bristol Record Office, and other pictures from Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery.

Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost is a step up from a basic audio tour and something I am seeing pop up on the App Store for many historical areas throughout the world. If you are in Bristol the app uses the phone’s GPS to play the right audio clips, and show the right archive images and films in the right places as you walk around Bristol’s old city. But for the rest of us there is browse option which I enjoyed. Two things are missing from the browse option: a map of Bristol to help locate visually how the different stops relate spatially; and also, there are no present day photographs of the stops given the design for a walking tour. All in all though I found the app an informative and easy to use bit of history.

Bristol: The Blitz and the City We Lost is $2.99 on the App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
App icon for Extraordinary HeroesRated Two Stars3. Extraordinary Heroes

The Imperial War Museum London opened the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, its first major permanent gallery in ten years, on the 12th of November with Extraordinary Heroes.

The new gallery, paid for by a £5million donation from Lord Ashcroft, KCMG, will house the Extraordinary Heroes exhibition containing the world’s largest collection of Victoria Crosses (VCs), which has been established by Lord Ashcroft since 1986. The 162 awards, which range from the Crimean to the Falklands wars, are on public display for the first time alongside 48 VCs and 31 George Crosses (GCs) already held by the Museum. The VC is Britain and the Commonwealth’s premier award for extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy, while the GC is Britain’s most prestigious civil decoration.

The Extraordinary Heroes app which accompanies the exhibit indicates that one can “explore 29 stories of bravery across 7 different themes” but it does so in the manner of a fancy flyer for the exhibition. One can read the brief descriptions but one doesn’t feel really drawn into the stories. On the “How to Use This App” screen there are icons and instructions for audio and video clips but it appears that this is from Toura’s (the developer) template, rather than specific to Extraordinary Heroes, as there are no audio or video clips available in the app. Which is a shame. After Bristol: The Blitz I was geared up for more history but found Extraordinary Heroes to be less than ordinary as an app. This is a step down from an audio guide.

Extraordinary Heroes is available for $0.99 on the App Store. Save your change unless you want to make a charitable donation to the Imperial War Museum. Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.
App icon for Golden Gate Park Field GuideRated Four Stars4. Golden Gate Park Field Guide

This is a really cool app from the California Academy of Sciences and let me start by noting the coolest feature, “Sightings”. With “Sightings” “citizen scientist” can search for recent sightings of plants and animals in the park. For example, a Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) was spotted on the grassy slope between deYoung and JFK on Thanksgiving day. Users can also upload a spotting with a picture. Unfortunately the picture of the Red-shouldered Hawk wasn’t the best and you can’t zoom yet on the picture but this is still a pretty cool way to explore the park. However, the field guide tells me that this is an uncommon sighting and even provides an audio clip of the Red-shouldered Hawk’s voice. The app also keeps track of your sightings in folder for handy reference.

A field guide highlights more than 170 of the park’s animal and plant species, “including a few surprises like wild coyotes and blackberry bushes“. An “Adventures” section includes two nature walks, two bike tours, and four scavenger hunts. This app is well thought out and easy to navigate.

The Golden Gate Park iPhone app is currently free for a limited time and then will be $2.99. If you are planning to visit the California Academy of Sciences in the coming weeks show the app at the Academy ticket window for $5 off the price of your ticket from 11/29/10-12/24/10. (Valid for up to four guests.) This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

App icon for MasadaRated Two Stars5. Acoustiguide Smartour – Masada

“On the cliff of Masada, at the edge of the Judean Mountains, rising over 400 meters above the western shore of the Dead Sea, unfolded one of the most dramatic events in the history of the people of Israel.

When all hope of halting the advance of the Roman forces was lost, Elazar Ben-Yair gathered the warriors of Masada, with their women, their elderly and their young in the square beyond the wall and addressed them, calling upon them to take their own lives…

“…and die we shall ere we serve our enemies in bondage, and free men we shall remain when we leave the land of the living, we, our wives and our children…’ ” (from the developer’s description)

This app from Acoustiguide is pretty much one would expect from a leading provider of audio guides. There are 41 way points and an introduction. Each is accompanied by a still photograph. I had been hoping that there would be more multi-media available to really bring Masada to the user who may not be able to visit. While this audioguide is informative it seems to fall short of really being an app. I wish this app would take a page or two from the National Constitution Center’s app.

Acoustiguide Smartour – Masada is $1.99 on Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1 or later.
App icon for Mori Art MuseumRated One Star6. Mori Art Museum Official App

The Mori Art Museum “is Tokyo’s highest museum, on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Opened in 2003, it features state-of-the-art galleries with 6m-tall (20-ft.) ceilings, controlled natural lighting, and great views of Tokyo. Innovative exhibitions of emerging and established artists from around the world are shown four times a year, with past shows centering on contemporary Asian, African, and Japanese art.” (from the New York Times).

The Mori Art Museum Official App is the app as business card. There is basic information about the current exhibit, “Odani Motohiko: Phantom Limb” including biographical information about the artist and pictures of six pieces in the exhibition. There is no additional audio or video included. I’m not sure I understand the point of creating this app other than, as I said, as a business card. Odani Motohiko’s art looks intriguing but this app isn’t going to help the user gain a better appreciation of his work.

Mori Art Museum Official App is available on Apple’s App Store at no charge and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.2 or later.

App icon for National Constitution CenterRated Four Stars7. National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center worked with Drexel University’s School of Education to create this excellent app. There are five navigation icons across the bottom of the app. The first icon, “Home”, provides the visitor with basic logistical information including directions via public transportation and parking rates. Let’s skip the second icon for a second. The central icon appropriately enough is of the “Constitution” and provides a full text of this historic document. The fourth icon is “Newswire” provided by YellowBrix, Inc. a service of BusinessWire. The newsire highlights articles in the news which affect constitutional issues, although not all articles seem to meet this criteria. And the fifth navigation icon is “More” which allows the user to send an email about the app, provide feedback to the NCC or take a survey.

Now back to the second icon, “Tours”, which is the heart of this app. Here the NCC introduces an in-app payment system which I applaud. There are four tours, “Art of the American Soldier”, “We the People-Constitution”, “Signer’s Hall Exhibit”, and “Ancient Rome and America”. Each tour has between twenty and forty-five waypoints and includes rich media. For example, a video of George W.H. Bush, Chairman of the NCC, welcomes the user to Signers’ Hall. After a couple of provided preview way points the user can choose to purchase the rest of the tour for $0.99. A very reasonable price considering the content provided here. If the NCC had started with the app being priced at $3.99 on the App Store users might be reluctant to purchase the app. With this model users can download the app and have convenient access to some basic features and then pay-as-you-go with the tours after you’ve previewed the content of several waypoints first.

Overall I think the NCC did a good job of creating an app that is engaging both for the on-site visitor and the at-home app user. I haven’t visited the NCC yet but after viewing this app I’m looking forward to the chance to do so soon.

The NCC app is free to download from Apple’s App Store and then charges $0.99 each for four optional tours. Try one and I think you’ll agree you’re getting your moneys worth here. This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

App icon for The Phillips CollectionRated Four Stars8. The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection has released a very professional app with great features, easy to use navigation and lots of content to explore. The audio guide consist of three tours, “Intersections” with 6 stops, “Permanent Collection” with 9 stops, and “TruthBeauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art 1845-1945” (a current exhibition running through January 9, 2011) with 9 stops. A variety of voices are featured on the audio guide including Museum Director Dorothy Kosinski, artists, curators, and educators. The last time I visited the Phillips Collection the audio guide was available for access via your cell phone, which I find an improvement over many of the audio guide units distributed by museums but still you have to dial the access number repeatedly during a visit which gets old. So having the audio pre-loaded for a visit is certainly an improvement, although some of it seems lifted from a dated audio guide. When I heard curator Vesela Sreteno refer to a work from the “Intersections” series being on view until May 2, 2010 I had to double check to be sure this app had debuted in November.

But the real fun with this app is when you begin exploring the other content available. There’s a veritable treasure trove of videos to get lost exploring with content ranging from behind the scenes views of artists installing their works in the museum to visitors commenting on the recent Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition Abstraction. There really is so many wonderful surprises in exploring the videos included in this app.

A real gem of a surprise in this app is the “Love Stories from the Phillips Collection”. I haven’t seen anything like this on another museum app and found these stories very touching and really enriched the experience of my time exploring The Phillips Collection app. Do yourself a favor, download this app and take a look at these “Love Stories”.

One other feature which I really appreciate on the Phillips Collection app is the donation icon at the bottom of the app. This reminds me of the glass boxes often found in museum lobbies which provide an opportunity to donate what you wish. The Phillips house recently suffered substantial damage from a fire and so they have launched a micro-donation campaign to allow supporters to contribute to make a $5 donation, by texting “phillips5” to 20222 and to make a $10 donation, they can text “phillips10” to this same number. Even if this donation were not for a special cause I do appreciate that the Phillips Collection provided this way to say thanks for a great app experience.

The Phillips Collection app is available for free from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later.

App icon for TakeItArtside!Rated Three Stars9. TakeItArtside!

This wonderful app from Central Kentucky’s Museum Without Walls Project represents a collaborative effort between Christine Huskisson of the University of Kentucky department of art, Lisa Broome-Price of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, Allison Hosale, a recent graduate of UK with an MA in Art History, and the direct involvement of students from the University of Kentucky and Georgetown College. The design of the app really encourages user involvement with the public art in Lexington, Kentucky. A user can browse a map of public artworks in the Lexington, Kentucky, follow directions on a Google map to the artwork and check-in to earn points (naturally, you need to be in the area for this to work). A “My Gallery” folder allows users to keep track of which art works they have visited. As a result of the check-in feature the Museum Without Walls “team will be able to track which pieces of artwork are being viewed the most and at what times and even by certain demographics, because each user will create a small profile that will give a little information about themselves,” according to Brian Raney of Apex Software, who partnered on the app development.

Museum Without Walls has even created a page for lesson plans. The lesson plans were created by Allison Hosale as part of a graduate level assignment and tested in a local elementary school.

The only thing missing currently is audio and I read that there are plans to include audio from “artists and interpretive comments from curators and administrators, as well as those who might simply want to share their experiences”.

TakeItArtside! is a free app available from Apple’s App Store and is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.0 or later.

UPDATE December 6, 2010: The Project Team at Central Kentucky Museum Without Walls informs me that the lessons plans for the current app were designed by Sarah Piester & Jeanette Tesmer, graduate students at the University of Kentucky.

App icon for ZahnerRated Two Stars10. Zahner

Zahner has produced, what in it’s present form is, the app as digital portfolio. This pioneer in the architectural metal industry has collaborated with an impressive list of clients all over the world.

According to their website, “The Zahner iPhone App was designed to give art and architecture lovers a taste of the great works by great artists. Included in the App are many of the best designers, architects, and artists of our day, showing the works they’ve produced in Zahner metal.
The Zahner App is one of the best ways to get a taste for the projects that Zahner has done around the world. The Zahner App includes several mapped locations so that users can visit Zahner projects completed in their own area. There is no better way to understand the quality of Zahner metal-work than by seeing it in person.”

The app as it is now does include hundreds of photos and the resources section contains interesting and useful articles however, the app itself is missing a pulse. There’s no video or audio from the artists and architects. No commentary from Zahner on their processes. Nothing. Just a silent digital portfolio of admittedly impressive work. Check out the video on their website for a demo of the app.

Zahner’s app is available for free from Apple’s App Store. I’d recommend waiting until they add some more engaging content. This app is compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iOS 3.1.3 or later

Thoughts on Apple’s App Store, Cultural Institution Apps, and some Frrrrrictionn

0


Searching the App Store

The Apple App Store is notoriously difficult to search through.  I thought it was bad but after spending a couple of days searching for every cultural institution app I could find I discovered it was even worst than I thought.  And forget about trying to discover an individual contemporary artist app by browsing. If iTunes were a physical store like Wal-mart it would be as if the store had this compulsively organized CD section and then the rest of the store was completely hodgepodge. You’d have TV’s next to the lettuce next to men’s socks next to camping gear and this is just on one shelf. Even Goodwills are much better organized than this.  Once you dig beyond merely browsing the app store sloppiness becomes even more apparent.  Searching for “art museums” yields apps in the entertainment, travel, navigation, lifestyle and education categories.  There’s no way to immediately tell which ones are official cultural institution approved apps and which ones are not.  It would be helpful if there were even a “verified” checkmark which highlighted which ones were affiliated with a cultural institution.  For example searching for “Central Park” returns “Central Park-The Insider’s Guide” for $1.99,  (skipping over the South Park games), Discover Central Park HD for $4.99, Central Park Guide Lite a free app, Central Park – New York for $0.99, and ShowMe: Central Park naked another free app.  Okay, I don’t think the official app would include “naked” in it’s title but what about iParks NY for $2.99.  Experience will teach me that in this case Apple’s category of “Reference” is the bingo button. Could Apple take the organizing just a couple steps further such as Reference>City Parks>Official?

Naming Your App
Cultural Institutions don’t help themselves out either by having the name of the app be the vendor’s name such as this one by Guide by Cell and this one by Acoustiguide Smartour.  The Galleria degli Uffizi helps me out by clearly titling the app “Uffizi. The Official Guide” so that even though Apple categorizes the app as “Travel”, and I might be inclined to think of this as a travel guide along the lines of Lonely Planet, the Uffizi has made it easier to not only find this if I’m browsing before a trip to Italy, but also to discover when, in this case, I’m simply looking for new official museum apps to discover.

App Store Descriptions
The descriptions provided by cultural institutions (or their vendors) on the iTunes App Store range from the succinctly thorough such as the one for the American Museum of Natural History’s Explorer app to the simply succinct two sentences describing this app.  Yes, granted it’s “free” but this description doesn’t really sell me on investing the time involved to discover this app, particularly by comparison to the AMNH Explorer’s description.  Apps have the potential of expanding a cultural institutions audience (and possibly future supporters) and institutions which have invested the resources in creating an app should also invest the effort towards creating a compelling description.  Writing a good description of the app might even be the first step to designing the app.  Taking the time to speak to your intended audience helps to formulate the “why” of the app.  Why are you designing the app? Why should I download the app? Continuing to draft this description during the design process might be beneficial in keeping the app design focused on the user experience.

But who reads the description right?  Well in some cases you can tell that it’s probably not the representatives of the institution or their vendors.

Developer Provided Links on the App Store
When I click on one of the links provided for the Ford House I’m taken to this wonderful splash page which invites me to “Enter the Story”.  I love that initial invitation.  Everyone loves a good story and even though at present it seems unlikely that I’ll be in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan any time soon I’m intrigued enough to read more about this “epic visitor experience”.  Now epic might sound like hype but at 244 MB this app is one of the larger one’s I’ve come across and so I suspect The Ford House is backing this up and I can’t wait for the chance to enter this story.  I wish more institutions approached their apps as storytellers.  But back to the link that took me to this wonderful splash page.  I clicked on “Audissey Guides Web Site” and was taken to the Ford House.  If I click on the other link provided, “Edsel & Eleanor Ford House Support”, I’m taken to Audissey Guides Web Site.  At least in this case it’s a simple mix up in labeling or the links placed in the wrong place by Apple.  But it represents a lack of attention to detail that add friction to the user experience.  Like missing that “s” that should be in “adds friction”.  You can get where you’re going but little trip ups like that don’t add to the pleasure of the journey.

What About That FAQ?
Sometimes though the links provided in the app descriptions don’t quite get you where you intended to go.  The GuidebyCell app (which is really for the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston but that’s in small type as if the ICA were the developer for GuidebyCell) has a link for GuidebyCell support which takes you to a “contact us” page which asks the reader, “Ready to be innovative?” and then provides a place to enter your question and contact information.  A FAQ page would seem to be the minimum that a user should get when clicking on a support link either on the iTunes App Store or within the app itself.  If a link is going to be provided and labeled “support” then it should take the user to a support page for this particular app and not some generic “contact us” page or worse the home page of the vendor who designed the app.  This only leaves the user on their own to navigate through to find the page supporting this app. If it exists. Most users seeking support are already frustrated but at least they are trying to get resolution because they like your app enough to want to get past a sticking point.  Why add to the frustration?  However, it does get worse.

Support Links
When I click on the link for “Love Art: National Gallery, London Support”  I’m taken to  Antenna Audio’s “Pentimento” site. But this web page does have an FAQ tab prominent and so I click on that.  Now the Pentimento FAQ is addressed to prospective institutions considering developing an app and not to customers who have downloaded the app and are seeking support.  You know, if I were an institution exploring vendors with which to partner in developing an app and I were clicking through the support link to see what kind of support the vendor was prepared to offer my users I would be concerned about this lack of attention to detail.  I’m sure Antenna Audio offers good support to consumers who download their apps.  I just can’t find it through the provided support link.  Incidentally, one has the same experience with the Antenna Audio developed app for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibit on Quilts 1700-2010 and the one they developed for the Van Gogh Museum.  So perhaps this is Antenna Audio’s support strategy.

A Good Example
By comparison check out the MoMA’s FAQ.

I didn’t intend to write a blog post about the details of culture apps before you download them from iTunes but that is where the user experience starts in most cases.  Maybe the Apple App Store isn’t the storefront for your institution like the home page of your website but this is certainly a door through which you are inviting the world to visit.  Shouldn’t the experience be less like going through the loading dock and more like the storefront?

What’s Your Friction?
Readers, what are some other examples of friction you have encountered in the App Store when searching for cultural institutions?

Thank you for taking time to read this post and I hope you found it beneficial.  As I develop this blog I most certainly welcome your feedback.  Now excuse me as I have to get back to that story at The Ford House.

Go to Top