LoveArt (iTunes: http://www.tinyurls.co.uk/S404) features 250 paintings from the collection along with around 200 minutes of audio and video content. It provides an eclectic mix of newly recorded interviews and specially selected clips from the Gallery's rich archive of interpretative materials. Making use of special iPhone features such as its large touch-screen, zoom facility, rolodex and scrollable menus, LoveArt offers a playful exploration of the collection, together with informative commentaries. The paintings are showcased to best advantage using high-resolution images on the iPhone's excellent-quality screen. With its tactile interface, this application not only is high fun-value, but also allows you zoom in to see details that are often missed.
Building on the collection's "universal themes" such as love, passion, death and beauty, the rolodex feature allows the random selection of content by theme and provides access to stories about the paintings, told via video and audio commentary. LoveArt also boasts twelve thematic galleries, in which users can explore a greater selection of paintings grouped by popular themes or by types such as portraits, cityscapes and religious paintings.
The application is intended to appeal to a generation of people who are demanding users of new mobile technologies, and who appreciate the ability to explore content at their leisure, whilst on the move. The key objective was to facilitate access to the collection for a generation of Internet natives for whom an Old Masters collection may appear outdated and irrelevant. By using these new devices and channels such as iTunes, with its downloadable applications, we aim to challenge those beliefs and engage users with the paintings in a way that suits their cultural preferences and lifestyle.
How Can New Technology Help Engage Audiences with an Old Master Collection?
This question has been a major consideration at the National Gallery over the past ten years as it has sought to embrace innovation and emerging technologies to facilitate greater access to its collection and to reach out to new audiences. So when in the summer of 2008 Antenna Audio – a long standing creative partner to the Gallery – mooted the idea of creating a dedicated National Gallery application for Apple's iPhone and iTouch devices, the Gallery embraced this opportunity as it felt it would showcase the collection in an exciting new way, whilst also ensuring broader organizational objectives were being met.
The Gallery found itself designing a museum app – the first of its kind – with no precedent to refer to and limited experience of how best to do this. Fortunately, the partnership enabled the Gallery to play to its strengths by focusing the internal team on ensuring that the overall selection of content is engaging and relevant, whist Antenna directed their energies to the application's technical development. Working in this way enabled us to maximize the iPhone's features and play to its strengths.
Of course there were challenges, not least in determining how to marry a "traditional" museum with a contemporary, design-conscious new platform – whilst respecting our brand values and meeting expectations of academic excellence. For example, what do you do when long painting titles and attributions don't fit into the limited character space available? Despite these challenges, overall we think that the marriage was a successful one and judging by the positive user feedback, so does the audience.
The Business Model
Building on a pre-existing relationship
The National Gallery has had a long standing strategic and creative partnership with Antenna Audio, which has been integral to the development of the LoveArt/Pentimento application. It was conceived as a pilot project for Antenna Audio, whose intent was to build on a solid track record of producing robust and targeted mobile interpretation. It was also part of a wider strategic vision to capitalise on the iPhone's market penetration which was on the increase in the UK and Europe, mirroring its success in the US. Strategic collaborations with Apple and Tate brought multimedia tours on iPhones to the two London Tate sites. So the potential of the new platform was already being tested in gallery tours and mobile use.
Antenna approached the gallery with the initial idea, as the Gallery is considered their flagship site and it has the added benefit of having an Old Master collection which is almost entirely copyright-free. Therefore costs would be almost exclusively allocated to the technical development of the application, the creative team's man-hours, and some IPR management of music used in it.
From the Gallery's perspective, staff costs were the main expenditure, with the project management effort shared among the project team and in parallel with other on-going responsibilities.
Strategic and interpretative approach
This project represents a natural evolution, building on past experiences of developing a broad range of audio guide and multimedia tours and podcasts. Since 2005 we have been developing an audio brand and an integrated, innovative and sustainable business strategy. This strategy's strengths are based on good asset management, multi-purposing content, using resources in a strategic way so that we avoid waste, and self-sustainability of the service. Audience analysis is used to plan further developments, and focus on increasing take-up rates in the gallery ensures that we generate income to re-invest in more content development.
We have also reviewed the way we approach audio interpretation. We research information and interpretation trends and constantly re-evaluate and adapt our content to match ever-changing needs for information. In the past few years, we have been developing fresh, innovative and stimulating content with a richer sound texture; intimate interviews with sometimes surprising guests; shorter in length, snappier and more informal content; and a less didactic tone and feel. This type of content is also easier to re-purpose and more flexible platform-wise.
Building on past experiences
Part of our strategy was to capitalise on the popularity of podcasts which afford a way to offer "snippets" of content for free and to cross-promote the broader family of products we had on offer. Podcasting has taught us a lot. We have been producing a monthly, subscription-based "audio-zine" style podcast since September 2006. During that time, we have striven to ensure that content continues to be relevant and interesting to the audience. We have achieved this by responding to audience feedback, analyzing download stats of the most popular content, and doing some small-scale research (conducted in 2008).
The Grand Tour and Be Inspired tours (as well as some other children's tours that were not included in the application) all adopted a similar tone and feel to the podcast.
We also thought a lot about how interlinked this family was and how much the Gallery's brand manifested itself throughout. We endeavoured to stay close to the brand concept of the ‘Gallery of the Mind’ ; this guided us creatively. We hope that LoveArt, the National Gallery Podcast, other downloadable tours, and the various tours one can take in front of the paintings are all speaking the same language and are developing in the same interpretative direction.
One of the main strengths of the partnership was the ability to share editorial control with a long-standing creative partner co-managing our assets. This collaborative approach ensured that the responsibility for quality and innovation was shared and strengthened the creative outcome. Especially when it came to talking about the collection (rather than writing about it, which is totally different), we found that external eyes and voices are useful as they interpret the collection quite differently from how internal voices tend to speak about it. Users enjoy the variety and the diversity of viewpoints.
Copyright and IPR issues
As almost the entire collection is free of copyright, we had no significant IPR issues. The copyright for the interpretative content is co-owned with Antenna, and for the new content we created (about 5%), there is an existing agreement of shared rights. Pentimento as an application is fully owned by Antenna.
Timing is everything
In the summer of 2008, there were about 40,000 applications in iTunes, and none of them was created by museums. We identified a gap in the market and an opportunity to be the first major museum to launch its own application. Armed with the lessons learned from podcasting and operating in the iTunes environment, we seized on the opportunity. We were interested in the future of applications and wanted to pilot LoveArt and learn about this new environment. The questions that most interested us were:
- What shelf life do museum apps have?
- What is the best kind of content to launch?
- What purpose do they serve?
- How many people do they reach?
- Will they ever replace audio guide tours?
When we met with Apple in December 2009, we were told that only 10% of the 90,000 applications currently in the App Store ever exceed 10,000 downloads. Based on these figures, LoveArt was extremely successful, given that it had reached over a quarter of a million downloads.
The National Gallery LoveArt App was number one in the UK and several other countries for a period after it launched, and was very prominent in the listings; it still held number one in the UK in July, two months after release. When we introduced the fee of £1.79, the number of downloads slowed as expected; however, it is still currently number 33 – 35 in the Education charts for free and paid apps.
Building on a flexible and innovative business model of shared responsibility for income generation and brands that benefit from working together, Antenna absorbed the costs of development. It was considered a pilot initiative for them; copyright costs were minimal; the Gallery incurred no additional staffing costs; these combined factors ensured this was a budget-neutral project for the Gallery, thereby minimising risk. It was decided that, in order to maximise take-up, the application would be offered free for a fixed period of time, after which point a fee of £1.79 would be introduced. The revenue generated will initially go towards covering development costs. Once development costs have been covered, any profit will be shared.
The "Credit Crunch" Creative Process: It's Good to Recycle
One of the main challenges for this project was content production. Normally new initiatives are incorporated into our annual corporate planning process; however, as this idea took form mid-fiscal year, it had no associated internal budget allocated to it. Nevertheless, it was agreed that it was too good an opportunity to pass by, so a more resourceful approach to financing was required. In order to keep costs to the absolute minimum, the project team adopted a "green" policy whereby 90-95% of the content (audio and video) was recycled from pre-existing material and only 5% was created from scratch. Fortunately, we had a rich repository to work with, and so could harvest material from our podcast and video archives, and from our extensive in-gallery audio guides. So, in effect, it was possible to develop a new product by re-purposing at minimum additional cost content that had been created over the past 2/3 years. This sustainable model was felt in the current economic climate to be the only viable way the Gallery could approach this kind of speculative development.
In order to ensure that by choosing to assemble content in this way we didn't end up with a "Frankenstein" assemblage of random material, a brief was agreed to for content selection. The main aims were to ensure material would:
- foster a sense of "playfulness" and encourage exploration;
- inspire creativity;
- avoid offering a rigid didactic experience;
- offer a range of voices from the informal to the authoritative; and
- exploit the tactile nature of the device.
Some of these criteria were extrapolated from insights garnered from a range of sources. These included existing internal research, which examined the use of both in-gallery and on-line audio content. From this was gained an understanding of where existing audiences felt the Gallery's strengths lay – quality of paintings, reputation of the institution, great selection of voices, from curators and educators through to practicing artists etc. – but also where opportunities to improve could be found.
The team also reviewed statistical data from both the Gallery's Web site and from its in-gallery collection audio tour to provide an indication of the relative popularity of paintings within the collection. Armed with this information, it was then possible to draw up a list of featured works to include, and to then identify relevant associated audio and video content from our archives.
Although wherever possible decisions were informed by available research, it would be disingenuous to imply there was an extensive body of material to reference for this kind of product! Therefore it's perhaps not surprising that a few "best guesses" were applied, specifically related to defining the "type" of user attracted to this kind of device. Broadly, our assumptions were that iPhone users liked playfulness and the draw of the tactile interface itself, that they appreciated the opportunity to do fun things with it, and that they enjoyed the "wow factor" and its overall good design.
Functions and content were devised with these things in mind. An example is the decision to include high-resolution images for a selection of featured paintings in order to exploit the touch-zoom function. The enjoyment of getting so close to the detail of a famous image, together with the playfulness of the touch-screen zoom, gave us probably the best reviews from users. The same thinking was also applied when selecting the audio and video content from our archives so that alongside the curatorial point of view, a user could also engage with other commentators for a more personal perspective.
The Content Scavenger Hunt
When looking for suitable (pre-approved) content to re-purpose, the following were important sources for re-use within the iPhone application:
The Grand Tour: mobile phone and downloadable tour (2007)
- Produced in partnership with HP (http://www.hp.com/)
- Concept and design: The Partners (http://www.thepartners.co.uk/)
- Audio tour design and production: Antenna Audio (http://www.antennaaudio.com/)
This was designed to accompany a unique display of life-sized reproductions of the Gallery's best-loved works on the streets of London's Soho and Covent Garden. Each ornately framed work was displayed with a standard Gallery label next to it and a number to call for the accompanying audio stop. Visitors could either choose to take the whole tour – by printing a map from the dedicated mini-site (http://www.thegrandtour.org.uk/) and download the free audio tour- or select an individual commentary as they encountered each work on the street.
The content for our first mobile phone downloadable tour was created with a very quick turn-around. It was intended to be used on the go, in busy streets, and to capitalise on the element of surprise. The intent was for it to be quick and easy to download and to work for a broad audience with no particular profile. Content was intended to be informative and relaxed in tone. Interviews with curators and educators were only lightly scripted and led, so they had the chance to be more personal and intimate with the information they were sharing. The confessional and informal tone and feel of the tour made it very popular and ensured it had a long shelf life.
Be Inspired: in-gallery audio tour (2007)
- Supported by Expedia (http://www.expedia.co.uk/)
- Audio tour design and production: Antenna Audio (http://www.antennaaudio.com/)
This in-gallery and free downloadable audio tour (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/download-this-months-podcast/audio-tours/) was designed to bring together voices from across a range of creative disciplines to talk about the ways the Gallery's collection had personally inspired and affected their work. Chefs, political cartoonists, artists and writers spoke about the pictures that inspired them and explained why. The download was primarily intended to be used in the galleries and offered an approach to interpretation similar in style to the Gallery's podcast feel and tone; this was in part due to the Producer (Cathy Fitzgerald) who had also worked extensively on developing the Gallery's successful podcast series. Using the same Producer helped achieve this texture and continuity.
ArtStart: in-gallery interactive kiosks, (2004)
- Supported by the American Express Foundation
- Development by Nykris (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/visiting/artstart-interactive-guid)
ArtStart is the National Gallery's award-winning interactive multimedia system. ArtStart allows users to explore the collection for information on every painting in the Gallery via high-quality touch-screens in a very intuitive and engaging way.
Transcriptions: student collaborations (Ongoing)
- Animation: Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design (http://www.csm.arts.ac.uk/)
- Video: London Film School (http://www.csm.arts.ac.uk/)
Designed to showcase the work produced by young artists, writers, poets, animators and musicians studying in a range of UK universities (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning /inspired-by-the-collection/). This collaborative initiative was designed to encourage students to use the collection as a source of creative inspiration. This programme provided a contemporary perspective on the paintings, and examples of both video and animation were included in the application.
How the Application Reflects the Gallery's Tonal Values
In 2007 the Gallery undertook a major re-branding exercise from which four key tonal values were defined. Any initiative should be Elegant, Eminent, Inspiring and Inclusive. Each of these terms was designed to be applied (to a greater or lesser extent) to any initiative and could be scaled up or down depending on the target audience and particular communication desired. In the case of the LoveArt application, the project team wanted to ensure that the user experience would be primarily "inspiring" in terms of wanting to engage the audience with the collection, be "elegant" in that its design and function complement the device itself, and finally be "eminent" reflecting the knowledge and expertise of the organization. These terms were also particularly useful when reviewing our content selection to ensure the tone and style were appropriate.
In addition to tonal values, the brand scheme devised a list of "universal themes" which touched on both emotions and key life events and were clearly represented within the collection itself. These themes were intended to help audiences make an emotional connection between the paintings and these overarching life themes. The project team felt that these themes could play a useful role in providing alternative routes into the content. An example of this in practice was the approach taken to the rolodex. As an alternative to simply using painting or artist names as a selection mechanism, instead a range of emotive terms were used; life, death, passion, beauty etc. This approach encouraged users to explore content based on their emotional response or curiosity about the term rather than any pre-knowledge of art.
This approach very much adhered to the concept of the "Gallery of the Mind", whereby it was expected that the audience were capable of drawing their own conclusions rather than having all the answers presented to them on a platter. Posing questions such as why certain paintings had been grouped together, or why particular content had been juxtaposed, ensured that the application provided an element of both surprise and intrigue for users as it wasn't explicit what kind of material you would get when you made the selection, therefore adding to the overall sense of "playfulness" and encouraging a desire to explore further.
The Application: Form, Function and User Experience
LoveArt was always conceived as a content rich experience rather than a "lite" functional application – one that would engage audiences with both the collection and the organization and offer a range of "ways-in" to the content. Although feasible to use at the Gallery, it was never designed to usurp pre-existing in-gallery audio tours as a mechanism for a visitor to navigate around the collection and the building; therefore no attempt was made to indicate the actual location of works, or to include a floor-plan. It was primarily designed to be used remotely from the Gallery, and was pitched at the general art enthusiast and technology lover; hence the selection of the iPhone/iTouch platform.
The goal was to play to the strengths of the device itself and ensure that our selection of content would be shown to best advantage. For a visual arts organization it made perfect sense to take advantage of the touch-zoom function via which high quality / high-resolution digital images of the works could be displayed. Although it was straightforward to gather the scans for this function as the Gallery had already invested in digitizing its collection, the difficultly came when trying to ensure that using the function was as smooth and seamless as possible. Much effort had to be expended by the technical team in order to achieve this.
As the iPhone was particularly effective at organizing images in a visual way, the 250 paintings in the application were organized into twelve image galleries by which sets of paintings were grouped thematically; e.g. portraits, landscapes etc. The image gallery sub-menu shares the same overall layout and functionality as iPhone Photos, with a scrolling preview grid. Pressing Play triggers an automatic slide show of images; alternatively, a user can select a single image and by touching it display it full screen.
The default interface into the application was a listing of ten of the Gallery's most famous paintings, including Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers, Leonardo di Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks, and Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors. These works were arranged into a "shopping list" view and could be selected in any order of preference. Once users chose a work they were interested in, they were presented with the Image Explorer which triggered an introductory piece of audio content and allowed users to select from a range of related material, including extensive audio and video content – there is over 200 minutes of audio and video material available.
A final consideration was to ensure that basic visitor information was included in order to facilitate a visit to the Gallery itself. This information was presented via the "Planner" tab.
Marketing the Application
The LoveArt application benefited hugely from press interest when it was incorporated into the Gallery's annual press conference. Journalists seemed to be particularly intrigued by the juxtaposition of what they perceived to be a "traditional" Old Master collection with such contemporary technology. This fact, coupled with the added bonus of being the first museum in the world to release this type of application, provided enough of a hook for the media to engage with it. In addition to the press coverage (both in the UK and overseas), the Gallery continued its marketing efforts in a number of ways, including a feature about the app in its monthly podcast, inclusion in our e-marketing mailouts (80,000 subscribers), and promotion on the Gallery's Web site.
On the back of such positive press coverage ,we also saw a steady wave of word-of-mouth recommendations via blogs, and comments left on the iTunes product page.
Apple raised awareness of the application in two important ways: first, by promoting it via their listings, and secondly, by included it in an overseas TV ad campaign in 2009.
Finally, Antenna Audio also produced a promotional micro-site to showcase the development.
User Feedback: They Loved It!
It's worthy of note that after having downloaded the application, a surprising number of people felt motivated to return to the store to leave a comment. It was striking (with relatively few exceptions) how overwhelmingly positive the general tone was. The following selection of comments offers a snapshot of the sorts of themes emerging directly from users of the application and was predominantly drawn from the App Store during the last quarter of 2009.
Extending access to the collection:
Simply a wonderful, well thought out app. Once I started browsing, I could not put it down! I really hope that others will follow: Louvre, Mo MA, etc. I cannot afford to see these works in person; however, this app felt like a guided tour!
Edifying, entertaining, always beautiful and sometimes humorous; I love it. I can tour the London museum on my lunch break from here in Indianapolis Indiana! It takes up a lot of room on my 8 gig but it is worth it.
Meeting tonal values:
This is so dense and inspiring, so many ways to look at art, play with artworks, this is really addictive. I wish other museums could have this, will it come soon?
Not only is this one of the most well done apps on the store, but it also doubles as a killer wallpaper app (nice bonus!) I'm really amazed by the art, execution, and performance.
Fostered engagement and encouraged a visit:
I am amazed by how nicely designed this app is and the richness of the information contained. There are videos on the background and story for several painters and their art, including Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Sandro Botticelli, Rembrandt, Jan van Eyck, Velazquez, etc. I shall have to visit the National Gallery when I go to London.
It's great that they offered multiple perspectives. I like hearing from the curators and art historians but it's brilliant to invite artists and authors to share their thoughts. Makes me want to go back to London. I hope they will continue to update the app with more works. Well done!
Example of use in and out of Gallery:
FINALLY, an app for museums – I've been waiting a long time. I love using this both in and out of the gallery. The images are great; love the pinch zoom to see the details of a painting. Most of all I love hearing the audio and learning secrets about all the paintings. Hope more museums catch on and get one of these.
Viability of paid-for content:
Very nicely done. I would happily pay for more content.
User Feedback: They Didn't Love It Quite So Much!
The main criticism leveled at the application (and one that has been noted by the Gallery) was that some felt that the overall 210MB download size was excessively large for an application. However, generally speaking the consensus was that although slow to download, the application was worth the time and disk space based on the overall quality of the content.
Another area of frustration was the relatively limited number of paintings that could be zoomed (25 out of 250) – clearly an ongoing challenge when trying to balance overall file download size.
One recent comment (Jan 2010) was highly critical of the application's approach to content, clearly desiring a deeper, more academic tone.
Some Vital Statistics
The question of shelf life is still being considered as we are still unclear about the potential life span of such an application From download figures we see that, as predicted, the application had its highest downloads in the period it was free, with a small peak at launch and a bigger one after exceptionally good press coverage in July. We moved on to charging for it in August and, indeed, numbers of downloads dropped dramatically. It is continuing to be downloaded in much reduced numbers, and we are curious to see at what point it ceases to be viable.
One interesting thing that we observed was that the app held international appeal. We think this was predominantly because it was very light on text, relying instead on audio and video content to communicate the paintings. It scored highest in download figures in several countries, such as Guatemala. We got many comments in French, Spanish and Italian.
The Louvre, for example, followed a different approach with their content: a more text-based application. We have already seen users commenting on the language barrier, the fact that not all content is translated from French. It does look and feel heavier than ours, more institution-like and academic, but that probably expresses a national appreciation and preference for informational resources in text form rather than audio.
At present the Gallery has yet to make a final decision as to the potential benefits of investing further effort into enhancing the application beyond its current scope, in part as it approached the initial development as something of an experiment allowing the organization to dip its toe into an emerging market. Further analysis is needed to determine whether an enhanced or alternative spin-off product would garner as much interest as the current offer and/or would reach additional target audiences.
Potential areas of development are to
- Extend current content offer – include "push" content such as event information
- Add to or swap out featured paintings for alternative works
- Explore the geo-location potential of the device
- Add features that integrate with 2.0 technologies
It would be relevant to add at this point that there were two more menus that we were planning to include in the application, but in the end decided against as they would have increased the overall download size: Wonderwall (wall of quotes) and Cocktail Party (random "floating" audio snippets).
The recently launched iPad offers some advantages over the iPhone and iTouch; however, it is just too early to tell how successful it will be, and if it will ever have the market penetration that the iPhone currently enjoys.
Success of the application was due to a combination of factors:
- good timing in terms of the iPhone trajectory and market penetration;
- creative experience and good asset management from both Antenna Audio and the Gallery;
- a pre-existing strategic alliance;
- a "green" approach to content re-use;
- a flexible business model
- freedom from copyright limitations.
The fact that the application was free for the first ten weeks was a hugely significant factor in both garnering good press coverage and ensuring a high number of downloads. It is important to recognize that good press coverage is rare for museum technology projects and was partly due to the novelty factor, as the gallery was the first museum in the world to do an application like this.
We are debating what will happen in the longer term to the plethora of applications currently being created for the iPhone and iTouch devices and whether we are approaching saturation point. However, if other manufacturers of mobile devices; such as Sony Ericsson, LG or Nokia, or even Apple's iPad, embrace these products, then the potential market will grow exponentially.
We would like to experiment with GPS and navigation tool applications for in-gallery use, but there are challenges in ensuring they work reliably within our historic building.
We would also like to see how iPhone apps work as exhibition guides, or if the "disposable" nature of them makes them too expensive and labor intensive for such lean times. We are also keeping a close eye on the sector to see how other institutions develop products and services for this platform.
One final consideration is the potential impact of the growth of “content rich” applications on the traditional museum audio guide tour. We believe this depends entirely on the audience; for traditional “tourist attraction” museums such as the Gallery, there is still a need to offer audio guide tours in traditional form. If a large proportion of your audience is made up of overseas tourists or visitors with low-tech lifestyles, the traditional in-gallery audio tour still has an important role to play in engaging the public with the collection.
Melissa, S. (2009). LoveArt: National Gallery, London – iPhone App Review. July 7 2009 http://www.appshouter.com/iphone-app-review-%E2%80%93-love-art-national-gallery-london/
National Gallery (2009). National Gallery paintings in superb detail on your iPhone. Issued June 2009. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/about-us/press-and-media/iphone-application-launch
Patalay, A. (2010). 30 top apps from Shakespeare to South Park. The Observer online. January 3 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/tvandradioblog/2010/jan/03/30-best-culture-apps
Spence, N. (2009). LoveArt: National Gallery, London for iPhone review. July 9 2009 http://www.macworld.co.uk/ipod-itunes/reviews/index.cfm?reviewid=3410&pagtype=allchandate
Telegraph online. Hottest gadgets. Consulted January 29 2010 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/picture-galleries/5797579/Hottest-gadgets.html?image=2