iPhone Museum Tour Prototype

I am currently working on a prototype multimedia tour for the San Jose Museum of Art. The tour makes use of the iPhone or iPod Touch and the Safari Mobile Browser that comes standard on it. It is fairly simple to design for because you are simply designing webpages. Because you are designing for one specific browser you are not constrained by the bugs and troubles that other browsers contain.

If you would like to see the iPhone prototype you can see it on an iPhone or an iPod Touch at

Operation is easy. The user is presented with large buttons, each denoting an exhibition. The user selects one of the buttons and is presented another list of button with all the artists in the exhibition. Selecting one of thoses will present the user with additional digital information, i.e. digital images, video, audio, etc.

Here is a video of how the tour operates:

Updated iPhone/iPod Touch Museum tour info:

iPhone Museum Tour Prototype at the San Jose Museum of Art from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Camille Rose Garcia Video Series

Camille Rose Garcia, "Antarctic Suburban Outpost " 2006

Camille Rose Garcia, "Antarctic Suburban Outpost " 2006

Challenge: The Camille Rose Garcia: Live from Tragic Kingdom Video Series project had multiple challenges. The first and foremost, being that it was our first venture into video and we only had a budget of $250. Additionally, the videos created were supposed to both provide a tour and act as a promotional material for the exhibition. We felt at the museum that this series would be the perfect match for the YouTube/iPod demographic. By utilizing these platforms we would be able to spread the word on the exhibition with no budget whatsoever. Videos would be posted to our YouTube Channel, be available for download via RSS, and offered to visitors on iPods in the gallery. To make the videos “sing” we wanted to add cutting edge music to the videos while avoiding any copyright issues.

Action: A budget of $250 is not much, but it was enough for two airline tickets to Los Angeles where Camille’s studio was and a rental car for the day. My colleague Lucy Larson and I made the trip in one day leaving at 6:00 in the morning and arriving back in San Jose at 10:00 at night. We were armed with our camcorder, digital camera for still shots, and audio recording equipment. We shot video with Camille in her studio for about 4 to 5 hours. Most of this was in a sit down interview style format, but we also wandered around the studio filming her talking about her process and technique.

Once the video was shot it was brought back and edited in iMovie on my iBook laptop. Images of artwork were inserted into video of the interview to help support the ideas and discussion. During the editing process we scoured the web in search of indie music labels that made their music available free of copyright. We were able to find a lot of music that complimented the artwork and the artist while also appealing to our target demographic. At the end of each video we credited the band and music label and also offered a link to the website. The completed movies were then uploaded to YouTube, uploaded to our web server for the RSS feed and loaded onto iPods in the gallery.

Camille Rose Garcia on Boing Boing

Camille Rose Garcia on Boing Boing

Since we were new to the YouTube community we wanted to build subscribers. To accomplish this we initially offered 10 videos with the promise for more to come. By subscribing to the channel on YouTube or to the RSS feed our viewers were apprised of any additional videos when posted.

Results: The Camille Rose Garcia video project was a success. To date we have had 45,955 views across 15 videos with the most views (12,675) on the promo video. The return on investment for that many views is staggering. Our salaries aside, the cost for each view was .005¢. The videos were embedded on blogs and websites such as Boing Boing, Drawn, and Last Gasp Comics. Looking at our subscriber profiles we were able to accertain that our target demographic had been hit.

San Jose Museum of Art iPod Tour

Chester Arnold, Tailings, 1996. Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art.

Chester Arnold, Tailings, 1996. Oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches. Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art.

Challenge: In 2005 the Executive Director at the San Jose Museum of Art, Daniel Keegan, tasked the Museum Experience and Education Department to create an iPod tour for the museum. The museum up until that point had no experience in the area and the department was at a loss as to how to create one. It was decided that the exhibition to focus on would be the politically charged exhibition Visual Politics: the Art of Engagement. Additionally, the museum had committed to be the trial museum for a new company called Guide by Cell, which offers audio tours via visitor cell phones.

Action: At the time Dan Keegan put forward the challenge to the Museum Experience and Education Department I was currently employed as the Assistant Registrar. I had been reading a lot about podcasting and about a mode on the iPod called Notes-Only, or “Museum Mode” and was eager to become involved with the project. After some negotiations between departments I received the green light.

Using my iBook and the iLife suite of applications on it I was able to create 12 tour stops for 12 works of art in the exhibition and an introduction by the museum director. The scripted stops were recorded by two vocal talents associated with the museum. The scripts written by the Director of Education and the Manager of Visitor Services tied the subjects in the selected paintings with current California events. Using the recorded vocal tracks I spliced in popular music at the beginning and ending which related to the themes and subjects in each featured artwork. The combination of music and vocals created a rich audio experience used to enhance the visitors understanding of the artwork. Here is an example of one for artist Dihn Q. Le:

Ten video iPods were purchased by the museum which were offered to visitors who did not have their own. With the audio loaded on each device I was able to lock each one into Notes-Only mode. In this mode when the iPod is launched the typical iPod menu structure is non-existent. Instead the user is presented an iPod “note” which is basically formated like a small webpage. The note can contain links to other notes, audio, video or images. Here is an example of how it works (on a different exhibition):

Additionally, as mentioned above, we offered the content via cell phone as Guide by Cell’s first prototype. The audio clips that were created were uploaded to the Guide by Cell system and made available via visitor cell phones. The works that were selected to have audio commentary were labeled with special labels directing visitors to either checkout an iPod or take out their cell phones. On the label was a number which visitors would enter on their phone to listen or match up the number to a list presented on the iPod note page.

Results: The tour was well received and eventually led to the creation of my position as Manager of Interactive Technology. The director Dan Keegan, who has since moved on to the Milwaukee Museum of Art, saw the need for an additional layer of technology in the galleries because of our location in Silicon Valley and the movement of museums towards a participatory culture. Since this first introduction of iPod use in the gallery we have consistently offered some form of iPod component with at our museum in selected exhibitions.

Our exhibition, Visual Politics: the Art of Engagement, traveled to the Katzen Arts Center at American University, and when they heard we had the audio component to the exhibition they insisted on offering it to their visitors.

The cell phone component garnered the museum the most press coverage because it was one of the first implementations of its kind in a museum setting. The museums phone was ringing off the hook because an article about it was picked up by Associated Press. Guide by Cell has become a successful company and currently lists over 200 museums, galleries and other institutions who are using their service. I still work closely in my position at the museum with Guide by Cell and offer thoughts toward improving the service and adding new features.