Reflections: iPads in the Museum

Push play to watch the latest episode of The NMC Voice, featuring a segment on the 2011 MIDEA workshop!

On May 3-4, the participants of the 2011 MIDEA Workshop: iPads in the Museum challenged each other to explore all the ways in which this blockbuster tablet could transform creative inquiry at museums. Some of the most poignant moments of this face-to-face meeting were the intangibles — the deep discussions at lunch over plates of venison chili, the excitement swept across all the faces peering at the Museum of Modern Art’s Abstract Expressionist New York app, and the energy and empathy of the group as our MIDEA mini-grant panel recounted their experiences with mobiles. Such pervasive collaboration and creativity, along with informative presentations and hands-on time spent with popular museum apps, inspired a robust list of potential best practices and action items.

Presenters included Scott Sayre of Sandbox Studios, Holly Witchey (NMC Scholar), and MIDEA minigrant recipients. View the agenda and presentation overviews here.

iPads in Docent Tours

  • Use the iPad judiciously — not as the focal point of the tour.
  • Test your app or program thoroughly before launching it live.
  • Incorporate hi-res images as often as possible — it works for such visual crowds.
  • Implement the iPad in tours of 10-15 people.
  • Develop transitions to and from the iPad media.
  • Display the iPad chest-high.
  • Keep audio and visual segments on iPad to 30-60 seconds.
  • Store content locally to avoid a lack of WiFi.

Creating and Applying Apps

  • Integrate all forms of media (audio, video, etc.).
  • Allow for both linear and non-linear access.
  • Include a table of content and images and enable searching
  • Pay close attention to the organization tools, hierarchy, and structure — the features that make an app user-friendly or otherwise.
  • If applicable, make the app scalable to a wide variety of ages
  • Utilize the inherent features of the iPad; do not work in your own features that are not explicitly supported.
  • Consider a web app vs. a native app. While native apps do not require network connectivity once downloaded, they are constrained to one device, whereas web apps require network connectivity but are device-independent, making them great candidates for HTML5.

Why HTML5?

  • It is device-independent.
  • You can easily embed audio and video.
  • It stores information locally on your computer so you can easily access it later without the information having to be transmitted back to the web server.

For the list of museum apps explored during “playtime,” visit

Looking to the Future

  • With ePublishing — as with any technology — do what feels right to you and your museum. (What works well in one space may not translate to yours, and that’s OK.)
  • Recognize that digitizing aspects of your exhibits means there may not be closure to them because the online arena allows for edits, updates, comments, and more.
  • And finally, embrace your frabjous!

So, What Next?

There was a shared understanding amongst the workshop participants that the future of iPads in this space is partly organic. That is to say, as different needs arise in museums and new tablet features become available, thought leaders will constantly invent new ways to create and apply content. Paying attention to the most naturally engaging components of your exhibits and discovering new avenues to highlight and enhance them, you will make strong statements about the importance of the relationship between technology and the arts to advance each other.

In addition to making videos available that further highlight the workshop presentations, the NMC will be providing you with a digital space to continue the amazing discussions you began, where you can also check in with each other to share your challenges and progress in your own iPad initiatives. Stay tuned…

All photos are by the NMC staff unless otherwise specified.

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