Apps for museums: “art in the palm of the hand”

On the 17th, 18th and 19th December, the “Seminar-Workshop of Apps for Museums and Monuments” was held, in which we got to know about the possibilities that the apps in the field of heritage interpretation can offer us.

The course agenda

The seminar analysed everything from the planning of the app to its promotion and commercialisation, including the conceptualisation and production. The most extensive topic of debate led us to a reflection about why apps? and how?

Why apps?
Based on the fact that the public cultural institutions have the duty to provide all the necessary means to promote culture and facilitate everybody’s access to it, the increase in the number of mobile devices offers us an excellent way to advance in this direction.

Evolution chart of the smartphones
Evolution chart of the smartphones

Mobile applications (apps) offer the opportunity for museums to spread their contents and allow access from anywhere in the world, as well as enriching the visit to the museum, interacting with the visitors, fostering the participation of the users and attracting new publics.  Some museums are already taking advantage of this technology to create museographical strategies.

In recent years we have seen the first launches of apps for museums, which are mainly used to widen or complement the information of the visit.  Some of these apps are thought for the museum as a whole and others for specific exhibitions. In this sense it is worth highlighting the app of the MoMA that provides us with immediate access to the works of the collection, the programme of the museum, the biographies of the artists, and the audio-guides, among many other services.

App of the MoMA

These of apps-visit are a clear evolution of the traditional audio-guides (Although each museum must evaluate what best suits your needs).  Here we can point out some of the advantages:

  • It allows the users to enjoy an experience of a more enriching visit, given that you can use the app before, during or after the visit to the museum and wherever you want.
  • It offers a more interactive experience
  • Freedom of use: it lets the users do open itineraries and to avoid all the obstacles related to traditional apparatus: queues, barely comprehensible instructions of use, etc.
  • The systems of geolocalization help the visitors to position themselves better within the museum.
  • They are a great support in terms of accessibility
  • They allow users with some form of disability to easily download the app of the audio-guide in their own mobile device (which is already adapted to their needs)
  • The museum can eliminate all the management related to the traditional apparatus: the installation for the equipment for charging and the function of the device maintenance, updating the software, repairs, etc.

The app of the Museu, presented in the seminar by Anna Guarro, is also aimed at the general public. The app contains basic information for the visit and a description of the notable works of the Collection. Anna explained the experience of the museum in the development of a pioneering app that takes advantage of the already existing resources of contents, and makes them available to the public by means of mobile devices (iPad, iPhone and iPod touch).

Application of the Museu Picasso

After the first apps, new apps have emerged that are more and more specific, aimed at more specific publics, that allow a more personal interaction, and that go beyond the physical limits of the museum.

An example of this fact is the app “Barcelona Visual”, developed by the Photographic Archive of Barcelona, and that, by means of the use of AR, lets you superimpose the current viewpoint with that of an old photograph. Moreover, the photos can be bought directly from the app, can be shared by email, and marked as favourites, etc.

App of the Photographic Archive of Barcelona

Another app related to this theme is “Dark London” that arose in a parallel way to the temporary exhibition “London and Charles Dickens” of the Museum of London.

Dark London App

“Dark London” is a different app and very original that offers us the opportunity to become immersed in the imaginary world of Dickens in two different ways: leaving the streets of London and letting ourselves be taken on a trip into the darkest side of the city of Charles Dickens, or to download a facsimile and to read it sitting on the sofa at home.

These two apps are two very effective ways of promoting the institution or a specific exhibition and to attract new public.

Another type of apps are those that help us to learn in an enjoyable way, and that are aimed at both adults and children. The Tate Gallery of London is notable in this field with apps such as “Tate Trump”, by which you can play with the works of the collection by means of a card game. You can see how it works in this video.

App of the Tate Gallery

Apps yes, but how?
In spite of the major boom of cultural apps for mobiles, it is necessary not to be taken away by this trend and just to make an app for the sake of it.  We cannot make an app in a precipitated way without planning.  Therefore, prior to setting out on the development of the apps it is necessary to design a strategic plan and see what the real needs of the museum are.  One of the most important points in this strategic plan is to carry out an analysis of the profile of the target public of the app (students, researchers, general public, etc.) and check if they fit with those of the museum.

The apps are more useful when the public they are aimed at is more specific. We find ourselves with the fact that there are so many apps (the latest figures show that there are more than a million just in the iOS market, that is to say, in the App Store) that the users are more and more selective and search for apps that adapt better to their needs. Originality and experimentation also help us to create more effective apps which match the interests of the users.

Moreover, we need to bear in mind that the function of the app is always the joining of the contents with the physical heritage resource. The content is an essential foundation of the app, and that’s why it’s advisable to create contents specifically for the app itself.

When planning the app you should also take into account the updating of the contents. The best alternative is to be able to update it from the museum by means of a contents manager, given the fact that if we depend on an external company, expenses are generated and the changes are not immediate.

All these points, and many others, are essential in the strategic plan for an app. Furthermore, we shouldn’t forget that in the majority of museums the use of mobiles is not allowed, and this impedes the in situ use of the apps in a visit.  Therefore, another important point is the need to change the policy for the use of mobiles in the museum.

And to sum up, although we know that the direct experience with a work of art cannot be substituted and that no technology can change this fact, the use of apps is a great opportunity for getting the cultural heritage closer to the citizens. So let’s get the most out of them!

Mireia Llorella
Digital content

Other articles about the conference
Apps sí, pero ¿cómo? y ¿por qué?

  • João
    January 23, 2013

    Creo que las apps tiene un gran potencial en el ámbito educativo especialmente por la motivación que puede generar en los estudiantes y porque no hay nada mejor que aprender de una forma divertida.
    Gracias por descubrirme Dark London y por el post.

  • Marta
    January 24, 2013

    Llavors… us plantegeu fer la vostra app per Android? Fa temps que l’espero!

  • josu
    January 24, 2013

    Mirant el gràfic és ben cert que s’ha de fer apps per android.
    Comparteixo l’app del Guggenheim de Bilbao que he descarregat recentment i la recomano!

  • Mireia Ll.
    January 24, 2013

    Gràcies João i Marta pels vostres comentaris. Estem pensant en realitzar alguna app educativa i també ens proposem desenvolupar les apps tant per iPhone com per Android si el pressupost ens ho permet.

  • Manel Miró Alaix
    January 24, 2013

    Com us podeu imaginar subscric les vostres reflexions. Les apps, malgrat els recels que desperten, són (i encara ho seran més en el futur) una eina de comunicació i d’interpretació per a les institucions patrimonials. Felicitats pel post que, si em doneu permís, traduiré al castellà per a fer-ne més difusió.

  • Maite Nekane
    January 27, 2013

    Mi reflexión: Con las apps el museo puede tener visitantes virtuales que acceden a sus exposiciones, audioguías, catálogos, contenidos, etc. No se cobra entrada, pero puede cobrarse un mínimo por bajarse la aplicación y así obtener unos beneficios. Genial, ¿no?

  • Mireia Ll.
    January 29, 2013

    Hola Maite! La qüestió de si apps gratuïtes o de pagament també va ser tema de debat en el seminari. Molt bona reflexió.

  • Fernando
    September 3, 2013

    Hola! ¿Sabéis si la gestión de las audioguías la efectúa el propio Museo Picasso o si la tienen contratada con alguna empresa?
    Lo perfecto sería integrar ambos modelos: App y Audioguía.
    Un saludo

  • Museu Picasso
    September 3, 2013

    Hola Fernando! La gestión de las audioguías la realiza una empresa externa. En referencia a la audioguía en versión app es algo que tenemos en cuenta para llevar a cabo durante el próximo año. Un saludo

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