iAfrica: Connecting with Sub-Saharan Art is an iPhone app developed as part of an eponymous exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), on view through April 4th, 2010.
The application contains images and related information for 28 objects from 14 African countries, as well as an interactive lamellophone. This feature is the most fun, since it turns your iPhone into an instrument you can actually play to make lamellophone sounding music!
The app’s main menu has icons for nine options, and a “Leave Feedback” link that takes users out to a visitor survey on MIA’s website. The obvious nav options are :
- View All (objects)
Then there are five other choices:
After reading the About section, I realized that these choices refer to the exhibition experience in the Museum, where visitors are encouraged to consider each object from five perspectives. The mobile content developers tried to carry the same experience over to the application.
Clicking on one of the five icons brings up an introductory statement that explains why it’s important to know about the objects from this perspective: “ethnographic” answers the question “How was it used? “Aesthetic” answers “What makes it beautiful? Etc.
Within each section there are two navigation options: View Objects and Main Menu. In View Objects mode, you see a full screen image of the object and can tap a little “i” for Info button that raises a transparent screen with label information. Unfortunately you can’t enlarge the images to see details.
The label lists location, object name, medium, size, acquisition details, and object number before getting to the description. The descriptions left me hungry for more information.
From the navigation I expected to learn about the objects in each section from a specific perspective. So I was a little disappointed to see the same label information presented about each object, whether I was in the Aesthetic section or the History section. It’s not clear why certain objects were chosen to appear in particular categories. Several of the objects appear in more than one category.
It seems like the label content came right off the gallery walls. While it’s always a good idea to repurpose content rather than create it for one platform, it’s also important to optimize the presentation of content to take advantage of a platform’s capabilities.
On the iPhone I would have appreciated larger images so I could zoom in to more easily appreciate the details of these unfamiliar objects – see the aesthetic qualities, imagine the tactile surfaces, locate the specific parts that define their use.
Also, the difference between the five perspectives would have been clearer if more detailed information related to the perspective in each section was provided, whether that was text, audio, video or just links to more info on the museum site or elsewhere on the web.
Finally, the survey linked to Leave Feedback is intended for visitors to the gallery, which is a little confusing when you’re coming from your phone. IPhone users could have been offered a link to email their comments directly to the museum.
There is definitely lots of interesting information here, but if MIA had taken advantage of the capabilities of the iPhone, and understood more about users expectations, I think they could have made this a much more engaging experience.
You can download the app here. Please let me know about your experience with it.