Norton Art+ is a new augmented-reality (AR) iPad app developed by the Norton Museum of Art in partnership with exhibition designer Local Projects.
The experience invites visitors to explore creative and educational content around six key contemporary artworks in the museum’s collection through unique AR interactions. It goes beyond simply adding a digital layer of didactic material over the artworks by empowering visitors to create in the style of the artists whose work they’re observing.
Concept development began in 2019, before COVID-19 was of widespread concern, and it was decided early in the process that the experience would be designed exclusively for use at the museum, and would run on iPads provided to guests by the Norton (and would not be available through the App Store).
There are a number of factors that pointed towards this approach. Siting the experience in the museum maximizes engagement with the actual artworks that are the subjects of the app, and allows for interactions that reference the context, composition, and scale of the works specifically and directly — and creates a draw to increase visitorship. Relying on in-museum distribution of iPads spares visitors the trouble of downloading and installing another app, and allows for the use of improved AR techniques that leverage hardware only available on specific device models.
Our solution lets visitors learn through doing, teaching them about the artist’s process and artistic perspective along the way. We created distinct interactions for each of the six artworks featured:
Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X inspired us to play with scale. Visitors can “drive” a virtual mini-eraser around the physical site of a fountain at the museum’s entrance, creating the illusion of the eraser gliding across the surface of the water.
Visitors can recreate the three-dimensional illusion of Pae White’s Eikon, using their finger to crinkle their own foil portrait, then hanging it in virtual space anywhere in the gallery they choose.
Visitors can don a digital version of Nick Cave’s Soundsuit, and move around inside a virtual version of this playful sculpture.
Ugo Rondinone’s Moonrise features abstract faces rendered in ways that are strange yet familiar. Visitors can use facial mapping technology to capture their own expressions, transform them into similar digital sculptures, and place those sculptures alongside the real ones in virtual space.
Visitors can virtually fit the section of the Statue of Liberty featured in Danh Vo’s We The People back into place like a puzzle piece, before exploring an “exploded view of the virtual Statue.
Visitors melt virtual glass and recreate the mirrored bubbles of Rob Wynne’s
I Remember Ceramic Castles.
Normally, a prototyping process would include designers overseeing first-hand how the app is being used, without providing instructions or otherwise interfering with the discovery process. Community and stakeholder input was critical to the development process, and as the realities of the pandemic set in midway through the project timeline, it became clear that initial plans for in-person prototyping and usability testing at the museum would require a rethink.
As the app neared the end of its development process in the midst of a pandemic, Local Projects and the Norton embarked on a remote testing process that could inform future projects of a similar nature. Early prototypes of the app were shared with the Norton’s Teen Advisory Squad (TASQ). Local Projects and the Norton designed and embarked on a remote usability testing program. The Norton sent a number of families a kit with an iPadpre-loaded with the app and a series of questions to facilitate testing at home. We were able to conduct robust user testing that informed improvements to the app, and could act as a template for future remote usability testing efforts.