Going mobile: lessons learned
Francesca Ford and Brooke Carson-Ewart, Art Gallery of NSW
Over the past year the Art Gallery of NSW have designed and built new apps to deliver rich content via mobile phone and tablet devices. We now have a mobile website and visitor iOS app; we have also produced the first two in a planned series of iPad apps focussing on different parts of the collection. Responding quickly to internal and external demands to deliver content via new devices and in new ways has been an incredible challenge. Along the way we’ve made plenty of mistakes and continuously revise our way forward, we’d like to demonstrate what we’ve built so far and tell the story of how we got there.
Built new CMS in 2010 and wanted new web presence. Built with only desktop users in mind and only later started thinking about mobile devices. At first hard for staff to imagine that they didn’t represent the wider world.
2010 “The First Emperor” was their first mobile exhibition app – downloaded 13,000 times. Positioned mobile apps as a marketing tool but wanted to created something longer lasting.
“The MOMA Effect” = keeping up with the Joneses. Helps show value of these apps to people unfamiliar with tech. Created a benchmarking document which was powerful in convincing executive and trust to put money into these projects.
“Contemporary” was first iPad app. New gallery construction allowed them to add wifi capability so people could use mobile apps in the gallery. Had iPads with headphones available for users. Decided not to lock them down – “knew we were asking for trouble” but wanted to see what happened. Older users avoided touching iPads or engaged only with default view. Younger users would close down exhibit app and use others eg photo app. Played with settings to change background image, language, generally personalise it. Others tried to download games, apps, music from the iTunes store. Eye-opening and sometimes inspiring – but in the end couldn’t leave them unlocked.
Didn’t want to make iPads into touchscreen kiosks either so worked with people to enable people to pick them up and use them as iPads. Setup isn’t foolproof and apps did crash. Have learned to live with fact that things don’t always work. Gallery service officers have learned to stand back and let people experiment.
The “Mona (sp? Moaner?) Effect” – “I love this but I don’t know why. I want to create something the same but completely different”.
In the space of one month went from having to campaign hard to do anything to having everyone wanting them to do things, so had to come up with a way to manage it sustainably.
“First Emperor” app was expensive and though it’s still on the app store it didn’t really have a lifespan beyond the exhibition. And on the other hand, apps also require ongoing maintenance, they don’t just end when the exhibition does.
Created mobile site – so many opinions that it could have ended up as a replication of the main site, but wanted to break away from this. Had to build fast so no time for community signoff on every decision (“which is a good thing…”)
Thought Android users would be glad for a mobile site but found out they didn’t think this substituted for an app. Initial design was also rejected and had to go back to drawing board rapidly.
Had to get wifi working across whole gallery, not just one space. Challenging but the hardest part was convincing IT it could and should be done and wouldn’t result in users coming in to download Twilight. Currently 80% wifi coverage, aiming at 100%.
Effective usertesting with no resources? Don’t underestimate informal and impromptu testing – got a lot out of watching users use tools. IPads got dirty at end of day. (Note: white backgrounds show fewer fingerprints than black ones.) Users happy to give opinions especially if they don’t like it!
Marketing another challenge especially with budgets shrinking. Often marketing department is genuinely shocked and surprised that media is interested in this news!
Want to do more – geolocation, mobile tours, digitising print catalogues.