Alex Wright

MoMA Apps

November 4, 2010

MOMAMATE_th.jpgFor my research methods class at SVA this semester, I asked the students to develop a series of prototype smartphone apps for the Museum of Modern Art, based in part on a field study of museum visitors.  The main purpose of this exercise was to explore using research techniques for concept generation, incorporating techniques like interviewing, observation and shadowing, KJ analysis, persona creation, iterative prototyping and usability testing.

Coincidentally, just as the students were entering the design phase, Ed Rothstein of the Times wrote a sharp critique of  museum mobile apps, arguing that many current museum apps demand too much attention of their users, effectively competing against the art on the walls. After evaluating several apps from MoMA and elsewhere, Rothstein wrote that he "felt used along the way, forced into rigid paths, looking at minimalist text bites, glimpsing possibilities while being thwarted by realities."  The critique struck a chord with several of the students, some of whom made it an explicit goal to address Rothstein's critique by developing apps that add value to the museum experience without making excessive claims on users' attention.

Considering that the students had to take these projects from research to prototype in six weeks, I'm impressed with how well they turned out. Even though each team started with essentially the same material - direct observation of museum visitors - they managed to come up with a series of original and well-differentiated concepts that they were able to prototype with reasonable fidelity within a highly compressed design cycle.

For the final class presentation, we assembled a panel of guests from MoMA to review and provide feedback on the projects. The judges seemed genuinely impressed (I'd like to think not just because of the free wine), and we enjoyed a lively discussion afterwards. All in all, a productive few weeks. Congrats again to everyone involved.

> MoMA Smartphone Apps

Previously: Robert McKee

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