Posts tagged museum apps

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.

10 New Culture Apps for the iPhone

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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

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