Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

Should creating a mobile app be this challenging?

Communication Equipment, S-Phone Type WS 13/Mark 1V, British

Do you know what? Museum mobile app development is hard sometimes.  That is what today has taught me.  Quite a lot of today was taken up with draining discussions about what the primary aim of the Social Interpretation mobile app should be.  Is it a closed in gallery app for commenting?  Should it highlight sharing? Should it focus on collected objects? How/should the app interface with Online?  Just because it has the technical functionality does that mean we should actually implement it? How do you design for all eventualities?

I understanding the aim and the intended visitor experience for the in gallery kiosk.  I understand the aim and the intended visitor experience for the online elements.   I know the mobile app is going to be a brilliant experience and a much needed one. You need to cater for what visitors already use in the space.  and what do visitors use in the museum? their phones!  But for some reason I really cant grasp the mobile aspect.So much so that today I found myself arguing for a clean and simple contained visitor experience, but with hindsight I’m beginning to wonder that I might be argueing for something which isn’t actually enough of a viable experience.   I just don’t know.

The original plan for the mobile app was to scan, comment, collect and share on objects in IWM’s collections. But from the initial feedback of the mobile functionality wireframes, potential users felt the app was too busy, and confused.  It was felt that it was unclear what it is intended to do.  Potential users asked if it was to convey information about the object, or to facilitate discussion around objects?

This was fed back to the team, and we tried to focus on some key elements in the design, curating the museum object content, and really focusing on the calls to action and the interactive elements encouraging users to comment.  Today we have been looking at some brilliant designs of a commenting app. And it does look really good.

But still arguments ensued. Had we lost sight of the original aim of the project? Providing the ability to Collect objects was an important aspect, and should it be neglected?  It shows that we really want this to be the best experience it can be. But we’re just not agreed on what that experience is yet.

For me, personally, I want the app to focus on commenting and sharing.  Which hits the key aims of SI, using digital technology to encourage engagement and spread of the museum’s collections. This is what I argued for quite sternly and also somewhat in a Bill and Ted stylie today.  I lost count of the number of times I said “totally”, and “cool”.

But what if I’m wrong? I still believe comment and share is the most engaging call to action for a visitor. And its a really nice compact in gallery experience. But can collect fit in there too?

Its over to the visitor testing in order to find out.


Signing off from a very physically drained Claire (UCLDH)

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1 comment
  1. Joe Cutting says: March 30, 20123:06 pm

    Don’t be downhearted Claire, this sounds very much par for the course for museum interactives. The usual thing when is to specify too many features. It’s easy to add extra features to a spec sheet, particularly if there’s a group of you, everyone is likely to have their own “pet” feature. It’s also usual to prune them during development. There’s also a tendency for museum staff to be very keen on “collecting” activities – as curators this what what they like to do.
    But don’t feel you should have know this in advance, this is what your user testing is for and it seems to be working. The good news is that you’re likely to end up with a polished, easy to use exhibit with fewer features. People are much more likely to view this as a success which can then be extended. A less polished product with more features is much less likely to be seen as a sucess. This is what Apple have been doing for years and its worked well for them.

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