Gallery One, The ArtLens App


Initially conceived as an innovative stand-alone destination, Gallery One was transformed beyond this vision when ArtLens enabled the visitor to connect to the Collection Wall and thence carry a personalized experience throughout the museum.

The ArtLens application is a unique personal guide for museum visitors. Loaded with video, audio, text, and still-image content, ArtLens helps visitors explore the artworks on display in the galleries and encourages visitors to create their own customized tours. ArtLens accommodates all types of visitor’s behavior, from the linear path follower, to seeker, to wander, and is designed to easily adapt and change among those behaviors during a single visit.

The conversational tone of the ArtLens videos connects visitors with the personal insights of curators, educators, conservators, and community members. Community voices are especially important—and effectively conveyed—in ArtLens.

Main Features

The ArtLens app has five main features: Near You Now, Tours, Today, Scanning, and Favorites (indicated by a heart icon). The ArtLens iPad experience will sense a visitor’s location in the museum and offer digital stories about the surrounding artworks.

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  • Near You Now: On site, the app integrates the museum’s Navizon service. This service, specifically installed for ArtLens, uses the nearest wireless access points to triangulate the device’s position. Using this indoor wayfinding technology, the visitor is alerted of nearby artworks featured on ArtLens. These “Featured Artworks” have interpretive media (including film, comparative images, text, and audio) and scanning image recognition functionality, and are featured within a tour or have related artworks associated with them for additional guided looking.

  • Tours: Visitors can select from both museum-curated and visitor-created thematic tours, with artwork locations specified on an interactive map that senses a visitor’s current position. Tours provide access to all interpretive media. Because the tours are directly linked to CMA’s Piction collection software, the museum can create new tours and additionally moderate visitor tours.

  • Today: This modular popup displays CMA’s daily schedule of events and exhibitions. The app ingests this content from the museum’s website via a RESTful web service.

  • Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 15.06.34Scanning: The scanning feature incorporates the device’s camera and Qualcomm’s Vuforia image-recognition SDK to provide an augmented reality experience for users on site. When a user scans artwork marked with the ArtLens icon, the app will recognize the object and provide context-sensitive content about the work. This content is anchored within the app screen to the relevant regions of the physical artwork.
  • Favorites: Visitors can favorite their preferred artworks to share via social media and can also create a personalized tour for other visitors to take, which will appear in both the iPad and Collection Wall.


The size of the initial app download is large, and there is an additional download of data and featured image assets to ensure responsiveness/high performance. The size of this initial package is ~400MB and generally takes about 5 minutes on site and 15 to 20 minutes off site, the latter depending on internet connection. Other image assets are downloaded on demand, with video assets being served via progressive download. All image assets are cached by the app, but video is not.

Development of ArtLens for iPhone and Android

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 15.32.08The mobile version of the museum’s award-winning free ArtLens app, ArtLens, has been available for download for iPhone since December 2013. The CMA team wanted the phone to have the same basic functionality as the iPad, with a user interface that was easier to understand They created an app that features a new, mobile-friendly user interface, recommended related objects, and a search function. Users can easily browse the museum’s world-class collections, take a tour or create their own tour. The smartphone app also integrates with the museum’s Collection Wall. The iPhone version includes an easily accessible top 10 visitor and curator favorites list. Favorites can also be shared on social media. The museum launched a corresponding app for Android devices beginning of April 2014.

In designing a phone version, the team included more tech savvy employees across even more departments within CMA.

Changes for the Smartphone

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The development of the smartphone version of ArtLens was a great opportunity to implement slight changes that the project team felt were necessary after observing visitor use in the galleries, as well as looking at the analytics. The smartphone was a new platform that required a graphic re-design but still had to align with the feature set and approach to functionality within the iPad version. It was critical to consider this and to adjust with consideration to observations of visitor use within the museum. It was clear that a greater range of options for sharing was needed, along with a more streamlined ability for the visitors to locate themselves within the museum.

The smartphone interface is much more constrained in terms of visual real-estate and using the maps for wayfinding needed to be subtly adjusted to accommodate this. For example:

  • In the iPad, ‘trays’ that contained artworks nearest to the visitor would automatically open and provide the visitor with visual recommendations during their journey throughout the galleries.
  • In the iPhone version, that functionality had to be re-sized, as the trays would obfuscate the visitors view of the floor plan.

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Additional UX changes also had to be made in order for the viewshed to accommodate both the map view and the suggested artworks nearest to the visitor. Through on-site testing, an optimal size was determined for the trays that was legible and big enough that the touch zones for the trays were accurate to selection.

It was highly beneficial to have developed and launched the iPad version of ArtLens prior to the smartphone versions. It allowed the CMA team to conduct in-depth user observations, evaluate the analytics and prioritize the visual hierarchy of features, as well as streamline the production of the application. The team had already been through the first development process and was now familiar with the inherent demands and nature of testing for mobile applications. Incredible diligence and understanding of the functionality was required to keep the expedited smartphone development timeframe on target. Communication strategies and methodologies for feedback between the CMA team and the development team at Local Projects were already established and allowed for a more productive development phase. Because of this, more time was spent on doing in-depth on-site testing and evaluation during Alpha and Beta releases. This allowed us to release to the App store ahead of schedule and provided additional time for testing of the ‘live’ version before our scheduled public launch. This also allowed for CMA to simultaneously test the upgrades to the Wi-Fi and Navizon systems in parallel.

BYOD with ArtLens

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The Gallery One techs are all Apple device specialists, helping visitors to set up personal iPads and iPhones with RFID tags that are used at the Collection Wall docks and with the CMA ArtLens application.

Currently, over 75% of Gallery One visitors bring and use their own device (iPad/iPhone). A coaster-size card with brief instructions for visitors using their own devices is available at the tech desk, and the tech on duty will guide visitors through the process of ArtLens installation and setup.

Because of the variance in settings and apps on individual visitor iPads/iPhones, installing ArtLens may require additional time and attention; techs may suggest that the visitor take one of the museum’s rental iPads at no charge to continue their experience, while they set up the visitor’s personal device. Similarly, sometimes someone can be on an old operating system or does not have enough space for the App. In those cases, Gallery One tech staff will loan them a rental iPad for free. Detailed information about downloading the ArtLens app and preparing to visit is also available on the museum website.

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Visitor devices require an RFID tag to synch with the Collection Wall. These small, round disks can be obtained for free from the Gallery One Technician on duty. The Technician will enter the tag ID on iPad and confirm that it works with the Wall. In response to visitor demand, our museum store offers red, yellow, and blue versions of the museum’s Gripcase iPad case for purchase by those who want to protect their personal iPads. The museum doesn’t sell black cases so CMA’s iPads are easily identifiable throughout the museum.

Analysis and follow up

From very early analysis of the data, Local Projects and the Information Management and Technology Services staff have found that visitors are generally responding well to the ArtLens app. Many say that the interpretive videos draw their attention to details they would have missed, and one liked that the app felt like “a teacher in your pocket.”

Analytics for ArtLens were implemented in stages, as new platforms were rolled out:

  • January 2013—iPad only
  • December 2013—iPhone added
  • April 2014—Android added

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Devise use as of March 2014 is 71% iPad, 26% iPhone, and 3% iPod Touch. ArtLens users update their iOS quickly (18% adoption within 72 hours of the 7.1 release), which means the museum is supporting a “moving target” as far as supported functionality. This finding prompted plans to develop a formal, device-aware ArtLens testing plan, which can be generalized for use with any app.


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It took a full year to learn the depth and scope of analytics required to have a better understanding of the visitors’ experience. A new budget line has been added additional code to the interactives in order to capture this data. This will allow the evaluation team to expand from basic queries regarding the Collection Wall to deeper ‘big data’ analysis. For example: How many artworks are visitors touching on the Wall before they favorite? How often do they change facets in coverflows? How many artworks do they favorite in a single session?

  • Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 15.41.24The most favorited artworks are: Monet’s Agapanthus (Water Lilies), Chuck Close’s Paul III, Armor for Man and Horse with Völs-Collona Arms, Cox’s Gray and Gold, and Gérôme’s Lion on the Watch.
  • Scans most commonly completed are St. Catherine, The Triumph of the Church, and Paul III (all in Gallery One); Prayer Niche (Mihrab), and Joan Mitchell’s Metro (also in Gallery One).
  • The most popular predefined tours are the rich-media tours (Director’s Tours, superseded by Chef Doug Katz’ Culinary tour), The Color Blue, Heroes and Villains, and Symbolism in Art.

As the museum expands onto new platforms, it will also increase the breadth of analysis, including, for example, information-seeking and – use behavior differences between Android and iPhone users.