MW2010: E. Lagoudi and C. Sexton, Old Masters at your fingertips: the journey of creating a museum app for the iPhone & iTouch.


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A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010.

The National Gallery in partnership with Antenna Audio has developed the world’s first museum downloadable application for iPhone and iTouch mobile devices. Designed to appeal to art enthusiasts and fans of the Gallery, LoveArt was the first of its kind to be released by a major gallery. This application enables users to take a mini tour of the Gallery anywhere in the world.

This paper follows the journey of making the application: the lessons learned in the process of developing the application; the links to the Gallery's brand; IPR issues; the process of selecting content to publish according to the medium and the audience; and exploitation of the interface capabilities. We discuss how it forms part of a wider family of interpretative content on offer: podcasts, audio guides and mobile phone tours; and how a “holistic” strategy and a flexible business model made this possible. We also discuss how we approach evaluation and measuring success, and what we know about the audience. Finally, we reflect on what we could do better next time and how creative collaborations support innovation and originality.

Session: Mobiles: A Panel [mobile]


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  • The paper accompanying this presentation is freely available online:

    Lagoudi, E. and C. Sexton, Old Masters at Your Fingertips: the Journey of Creating a Museum App for the iPhone and iTouch. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted June 10, 2010.
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  • CS intro: This presentation really represents a distillation of some of the key themes discussed in our paper. However we are aiming to add further depth and detail to these themes over the next 20 mins. For those of you unfamiliar with the app I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to the initiative. We also wanted to share with you how we see the app fitting into a broader digital landscape at the Gallery Elena will be talking you through the business model we adopted – something we felt was particularly relevant in these money conscious times. And also our approach to producing content for the app – specifically how we ‘up-cycled’ materials from preexisting publications. And then finally we wanted to talk briefly about the future and some of the potential development options we are currently considering.
  • So moving on I wanted to start by giving you a brief introduction to the initiative
  • Love Art was created in partnership with Antenna Audio [our long standing audio provider]. It was very much conceived as a pilot project. Designed to enable both Antenna and the Gallery to better understand the practicalities of this new platform. But also to exploit its ability to reach a wider audience as well as offering us a potential revenue stream. Most importantly it afforded us an opportunity to learn and a chance to test the market. We should acknowledge the appeal of the devices themselves - as the app was designed for use on both iPhones and the iTouch. We felt the quality of the screen could do justice to our high-res digital images of the collection, That the audio and video playback was impressive, And that the overall storage capacity meant that these devices could hold a lot of rich content. Launched May 2009 The app was offered free of charge for an initial 2 month period, then moved to a fee of £1.79 or $2.99 Since it’s launch the app has had approx 350,000 downloads (and to put that into context - Apple thinks any app with more than 10 thousand downloads is successful) When we launched there were 40K apps available in the app store now it’s over 100K – an indication of the speed of growth over the last 10 months. One Key point I really want to make is that the app was NOT designed with the intention that people would use it in the Gallery itself but instead would be used on the move and remotely. This was in part because we felt we had an already robust in-museum audio guide offer and we didn’t want to cannibalize that. Also that the content we were working with was designed for use beyond the walls of the Gallery And lastly because the Gallery currently prohibits the use of mobile phones within Gallery spaces! I think in retrospect part of our confidence in trying this new platform came from our extensive past experience in creating interpretative content for mobile digital applications - something Elena will expand on shortly. Move to next slide…
  • So I’ve given you some background to the project’s genius but from a strategic position why make an app? I think from the Gallery’s perspective we were open to innovation and we had a history of acting as both a test bed and flag ship for new technologies/platforms in partnership with Antenna Audio We were really excited by the device and its potential – as we felt it would showcase our collection and our interpretative content to best advantage. We could see it had a strong audience base and that was growing all the time – and being able to tap into that audience fit our remit for providing broader access and for developing new audiences. And a Big plus was that it would be budget neutral From a personal prospect we were were curious to see if we could make a tech savvy, design conscious audience engage with an old master collection and with a traditional museum via this medium… And from a philosophical point of view we thought of the app store as a ‘new frontier’ and we felt passionately that cultural organizations like the National Gallery should be part of the ‘earlier settlers’.
  • I’ve talked a lot about the app but I think it’s vital to consider how this one product fits within a much wider digital landscape… The Gallery has a rich heritage not only in its collection but also in its approach to digital technologies and in being creative in the way it uses the widest range of channels to engage the public with the paintings. All though the collection itself is relatively small with 2300 paintings – it contains works by the megastars of the art history including Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Leonardo. All major traditions of Western European painting are represented from the artists of late medieval and Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists. [Move to next slide]
  • High-level overview of the types of digital channels the Gallery used to meet out core goal of engaging the public with the collection. And they encompass both remote and in-gallery experiences. Website: most significant channel - updated daily, 3 million unique visitors (increased traffic by approx 8% since re-launch) 3rd party channels linked via website and acting as stand alones: iTunes: our shop front for monthly podcast, downloadable tours. App Store: NG app ‘Love Art’ Mobile: limited use to date, key element for distributing interpretation in the form of audio commentaries for The Grand Tour RSS/Syndication: We provide a number of feeds to which people can subscribe Social media: YouTube channel: Big plans to vastly extend the video content Flickr: Limited use to date, but very effective marketing/participatory element to the Grand Tour Facebook: All about building relationships with a Facebook audience. Managed by the Marketing team. E-Marketing - large mailing list around 85,000, Monthly mailing - managed by Marketing Extensive range of in-gallery audio tours and we have also started to experiment with exhibition focused multimedia tours… Finally we have ArtStart our in –gallery interactive kiosk system designed to support visitors when they visit the Gallery itself So - you can see from this screen what a complex digital landscape the app fits into. And now I’d like to hand over to Elena who will talk a little more about our approach to mobile interpretation
  • ELENA STARTS HERE… We have a decent track record of providing mobile interpretation/experiences both in and outside the gallery Building on a rather huge but slightly old school commentary for each painting of the collection which was done over the past 10 years, we have also more recently developed audio tours that are moving in a direction which is fresher and more relevant. Our audio brand as it developed over the last few years is consistent, and comprises of fresher content, mixing music and interviews, rather than narration, using diverse voices and a rich audio tapestry and recently experimenting with alternative interpretation like soundscapes and animation (on the website). The in gallery audio guides cater for the SKIM-SWIM-DIVE approach to content, and cater well for families. We also have a very robust foreign language offer We have done extensive research with in gallery audio guide users (both english and foreign) and we know quite a lot about their expectations and preferences. We also have experience in podcasting, and mobile phone tours outside the gallery. [Move to next slide]
  • PODCAST In 2006 we launched our Monthly podcast – a 15 enhanced audio magazine format comprising of 3 articles. Content is Light, style and tone is informal and conversational, segments are short snappy, mainly interviews and conversations between artists and educators, curators and even gallery assistants view points and users. Podcasting allowed us to stretch the audio brand beyond the in gallery experience and learn more about the iTunes environment as well as what content is more suitable on the go and appealing to an audience that consume content on the go and do not necessarily live near or are likely to be visitors. GRAND TOUR Later that year we launched our first mobile phone tour – The Grand tour , a communications project where the most well-known paintings of the collection were reproduced in high quality and framed, hanged in the streets of central London and accompanied by labels and audio stops designed to for random access as people encountered the paintings on the streets of London’s Soho and Convent Garden or downloaded on users media players from the project’s website and used as a one long tour or shorter tours grouped thematically or by streets where they hang (ie Covent Garden tour etc). This project was the first out of gallery audio tour we produced, again in collaboration with Antenna Audio and taught us a lot about publishing content for outdoors use. Segments were shorter and more intimate, lighter in terms of didactic content and varied in terms of pace. BE INSPIRED Be Inspired – a sponsored by Expedia one off podcast/download, where contemporary artists and other creatives were talking about how they got inspired by the collection and engaging users to look at the collection from a creative point of view
  • Green approach and budget-neutral were key components in our content strategy for the app: Up-cycling content from other products. Only about 5-10% was new content produced, the rest was re-purposed, sometimes just re-recorded with a new voice, to match the interface and go with the rest in style and tone. Building on podcast experience – learnt what kind of content people found interesting/relevant/engaging Building on mobile tour experience like the Grand Tour Matching the content to the device – form/function/brand – tone and scheme /purpose (on the move)
  • IPR Most of these we owned the rights for or had them cleared for online use or or shared them with Antenna Audio, so IPR was rather uncomplicated RISK MANAGEMENT There could have been challenges in drawing material together from so many different sources – tone/style However our interpretation approach over the last few years had been coherent We were aware of the potential risks of this Frankenstein approach to re-using content. However, since we were rather confident about our thinking and work prior to this, we went ahead with this approach. CHALLENGES Funny enough we had a bigger challenge with writing metadata that were fresh and relevant in tone and style to the interface and playfulness of the experience, without dumbing down and compromising the integrity of the museum brand. AUDIENCE We were clear about audience: interested in art but not necessarily knowledgeable in Art History
  • Intro to the Gallery Selection screen to choose from some of the greatest works we have The intro video works with the universal themes again using zoom and fading for creating a dramatic introduction to the application
  • Zoom – working with high res images NG has digitized all its works to very high resolution – we can then use these images across all our digital and print channels ensuring consistency
  • This screen is for images only and shows an example of where to place one single image.
  • Thematic galleries Grouped thematically, the image galleries were thoughtfully positioned at the bottom of each painting sub-menu, drawing on a key them of the focus painting: ie if the painting was a landscape, the opportunity was to group together various landscapes thematically (European cities, landscapes under different weather phenomena/climates etc) This actually was a direct response to user search fields through the Information service in the gallery (people asking for cityscapes or virgin and child or beautiful women)
  • ROLLODEX Tie in to the Gallery’s branding. Gallery of the mind – universal themes Instead of painters’ names we opted for random access via the brand’s universal themes. The element of surprise that the random access offered makes for content that is not static and boring. Also, it plays with the user’s curiosity and stimulates learning as user compares what he hears to his or her own interpretations of Hope or Truth or Torment. Its about making connections in very interesting and often surprising ways. It plays to people’s different learning styles. COKTAIL MENU & WONDERWALL Were 2 functions we opted out of
  • Relationship: Building on strong creative collaboration based on joined asset management. Skill sets: Building on each others strengths and abilities Capitalizing on expertise and knowledge (NG- we know about the paintings/audience – for Antenna they know about the technology and the market) Financial: Budget neutral for NG (excluding staff time) Pilot imitative for Antenna prepared to underwrite the initial development Shared profit after costs recouped (check the paper) Positioning: Timing was key – we were the first, this enabled us to capitalize on lots of positive press coverage (usually very difficult to generate press interest for tech stories) Strategic approach in providing the app for free in the initial launch phase Introducing charge after 2 months – after initial wave of press interest Pricing was pitched just right for scale of content - £1.79 Upgrade in Sept – showing commitment to the product Sustainability point of view: modest model that works within the current climate. Made us think about multi-purposing content, legacy and sustainability of business ventures. It also made us think about balancing free and paid for content, thinking ahead (to potential future uses of everything we produce). Issues like shelf-life, false economies (especially relevant to clearing rights in advance as it is usually cheaper) I wont bore you with stats but you can see charts of the download flow at launch, during the free period and just after the press coverage and charge, even notice the long tail, esp after Christmas where iPhone sales peaked, matching application downloads.
  • CS closes I think that it’s been particularly interesting to be here at the conference this year and to see just how far the landscape has shifted over the past 12 months. Where there was very little cultural content produced by museums and galleries within the app store it’s incredibly exciting to see cultural organizations acting as early settlers in this new-ish frontier. And what is really impressive is the quality and level of effort some organizations are investing in this platform. Now I have to make a confession here in that in our rush of enthusiasm to develop the app, our focus was soundly on it’s preparation and launch – in part because this was very much an experiment and we truthfully had little idea of how it would be received. 10 months later and 1 technical update on we are now I think in a much better position to respond to user feedback and to consider from a strategic point of view what our next move should be. Broadly I think there are three key approaches emerging: Firstly to keep it predominantly as an education tool but to explore ways to potentially add depth to the content – although like the Van Gogh letters app – there is a challenge in seeking to do this in terms of the hit on download times and space on personal devices. User feedback has been hugely positive, but were we have had criticism it’s been focused on their desire to learn more – perhaps traditional art historic information Secondly to seek ways in which we could add or facilitate more interaction – although we are still not sure how Finally we can’t neglect the potential marketing opportunities afforded us by the app –so there is potential to explore types of content which could be “pushed” to devices – which would also provide a sense of the app being live and updated. However we feel strongly that more audience research is required before we could confidently say which of these approaches would be most beneficial…we may find that it needs to be a combination of approaches across a number of apps…
  • So to wrap up we wanted to leave you with three top tips to take a way with you: Recycling existing material can be advantageous especially if it’s of a suitable tone, style and format for the audience and the device Where possible it’s always a good idea to ply to your strengths unless, budget and a strong desire to up skill staff is a factor Don’t follow our rush of enthusiasm – think a little more about what success looks like and how you plan to respond to it – with over 350,000 downloads of the app there is an ongoing need to manage peoples expectations strategically Thanks!
  • MW2010: E. Lagoudi and C. Sexton, Old Masters at your fingertips: the journey of creating a museum app for the iPhone & iTouch.

    1. 1. THE NATIONAL GALLERY The Journey of Creating an Application for the iPhone and iTouch OLD MASTERS AT YOUR FINGER TIPS 17 APRIL 2010
    2. 2. KEY THEMES <ul><li>BUILDING ON OUR PAPER… </li></ul><ul><li>Brief background to the project </li></ul><ul><li>Fitting an app into the Gallery’s digital landscape </li></ul><ul><li>Being creative with the business model </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Up-cycling’ existing content </li></ul><ul><li>Thoughts for future… </li></ul>
    4. 4. LOVE ART
    6. 6. THE DIGITAL LANDSCAPE AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY Brief intro to the Gallery…
    7. 7. CHANNEL OVERVIEW CHANNEL OVERVIEW Engage the public with the collection iTunes Podcast/Tours Website ArtStart Interactive Kiosk Audio & Multimedia Guides Social Media Facebook, Flickr, YouTube E-Marketing Mobile Phone Tour (The Grand Tour) App Store ‘ Love Art’ RSS
    8. 8. MOBILE INTERPRETATION Building on our back catalogue…
    9. 10. CONTENT IS KING Approach to content selection and creation
    10. 11. CONTENT SOURCES New Audio Student Animation (Video) ArtStart Kiosk (Video) New Video The Grand Tour (Audio) Be Inspired Tour (Audio) Love Art App Website Text
    11. 12. Insert image caption here LOVE ART
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    17. 18. BUSINESS MODEL Business Model
    18. 19. WHAT NEXT? Some thoughts on future developments
    19. 20. 3 TOP TIPS TO TAKE HOME <ul><li>Its good to be green </li></ul><ul><li>Play to your strengths, outsource the rest </li></ul><ul><li>Think post-launch </li></ul>