Hammer App: Pretty but Shallow

The Hammer recently released its iPhone App.  When I went to the museum last, I think it must have come out that morning because the girl behind the counter was very excited that I try it.

The app looks beautiful.  It’s exactly what you’d expect from a hip art institute.  The graphics look great and even the navigation is very smooth, though it did take me a long time to click those three button in the corner.

Each exhibit has a section where you can swipe through the images.  It’s seamless and informative, like having a little magnifying glass for each wall text.  I loved swiping through the images, especially after having left the museum.  What I really wanted, though, were some sharing options and when I finally got around to clicking the three buttons, I was presented with some familiar icons:

The star is a great idea.  As I go through the exhibit, or afterwards, revisiting the exhibit on my phone, I can easily star images I particularly liked or wanted to know more about.  Creating my own collection is the kind of opportunity for visitor-curation that can work really well for a lot of visitors.  Unfortunately, the collection of my starred images, available from the homepage navigation, seems a little broke:

I think certain information about each piece needs to be available from this page: the name of the work, an image, and the name of the artist at least.  Once you click on an image, the detailed information from the wall text, which shows up now, is great.  I can imagine after going to many exhibits, I’d want these images to be sortable and searchable, too.  Sortable by created date, visited date, and alphabetical by artist would be good for starters.

The Facebook and Twitter shares were also a let down.  I’d wanted to tweet out a piece I liked or post a particular piece on a friend’s wall.  I don’t know what kind of restrictions are on the images, but if the museum has enough authority to put them in an app, I’d think they could at least link to them as well.  Instead, the tweets and shares seemed to be about the app itself — “download it now!” kind of phrasing.  Neither the post nor the tweet actually worked for me anyway.

These kinds of shares — pieces of the exhibit that I’m really excited about and want to share with my friends — create the kinds of viral loops I’ve spoken to before.  If museums want to create social buzz, they can draw directly from this strategies of startups.

One exhibit, the really nice Paul Thek “Diver” retrospective, included an audio tour and additional videos to watch.

I was horrified to realize the Audio Guide did not come out of the phone speakers, but rather the main speakers.  You’re supposed to wear headphones.  I scrambled to turn off the volume as the guide starting playing — loudly — in the quiet hallway.  Does anyone know if it’s possible to play audio through the phone speakers so that you could hold your iPhone to your hear without needing headphones?

While it’s great having the audio guide with me and on my own equipment, and the videos are actually a nice addition — better than huddled around a small screen with other members or waiting around for communal headphones — I was disappointed to find that they were really the only extended information about the exhibit.  What can you do with a phone that you can’t usually do with exhibits?  Where do the Wikipedia links in the exhibit lead?  With the Ed Ruscha show, I immediately wanted to know more about the connection between the paintings and On the Road.  What if each image linked to the part in the book so you could read where in the book the painting “takes place?”  What if they linked to a map of the book so you could see where in America the characters were and how it compares to the setting of the painting?

The themes of Thek are maybe more obtuse, but his use of Catholicism or tar babies could lead to any number of different explanations or images.  The wall text of the exhibit often mentioned the ephemeral nature of his exhibits and how the curators didn’t want to try and recreate something that had been intended for a different time.  Maybe, though, the app could be a good home for images or renderings of the original exhibit.  The Thek show included scenic designs he’d done for Robert Wilson — it would be awesome to have seen stills or scenes from the actual production.

The app also has a map, which is another great idea in theory, but again seems only half finished.

The maps are images which don’t refocus after zooming.  The text is really small at full size and so doesn’t really work as a guide.

Seeing all the galleries is cool, but, again, because they’re just images, there’s no interaction.  When I’m using a map in a museum, it’s usually to find a particular gallery (or a bathroom).  If the numbers of the galleries were links that took me to explanations of what was inside, I could easily navigate the museum and use the map as, well, a map.  The links would be update-able.  I wonder if there’d be any desire to link to past exhibits from here, too (there is a link on the Exhibits screen of recently closed exhibits), for those of us with spatial memory.

All in all, the app looks great and works well.  It could benefit so much, though, from taking an extra step towards interactivity between the artwork and the visitors.


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