MoMA and Columbia University’s Avery Library recently made an acquisition sure to excite even the most casual architecture fans: the Frank Lloyd Wright Archive. In addition to many thousands of drawings, photographs, and ephemera, this collection includes over 60 models and building fragments. One of the largest and most expansive models is that of Broadacre City—Frank Lloyd Wright’s utopian reimagining of the city as open space and landscape rather than skyscraper and skyline. Read more
Following over a year of research and development by a cross-departmental team, MoMA Audio+ mobile guide debuted in July 2013, replacing the handheld audio guides that the Museum had been distributing for many years. MoMA Audio+ enables visitors not only to listen to audio commentaries and read interpretive texts about works of art, but also offers the ability to take and share photographs, locate works of art and facilities, and e-mail yourself a record of your visit using the My Path feature.
Testing and assessment has been key to the process of developing MoMA Audio+. Built using a method called agile development, in the months leading up to launch, the development team released and tested functional versions of the app as it was being built. Based on testing and feedback, we could iteratively implement improvements to the user interface and features to better enhance visitor experience. After launch, we conducted assessment from a variety of perspectives: visitors returning the mobile guide were interviewed about their experience, Antenna staff distributing the mobile guide were surveyed, and user-testing sessions were conducted.
How Does User Testing Work?
Nine individuals were recruited to participate in user testing. Participants represented a mix of ages and genders, as well as varying interests, work experiences, and technical abilities. User testing took place in December over the course of three mornings in the American Modern exhibition. Three participants were scheduled for each 60- to 90-minute session, and for every participant there was a lead facilitator and a cofaciliator. The lead facilitator guided the participant through the directed-testing instrument, prompted and asked for clarification as needed, and took notes. The cofaciliator also prompted as needed, asked questions, and took notes. For each session, there was also at least one additional staff person floating between groups and observing. Participants were asked to think out loud and voice any questions or concerns as much as much as possible during the testing.
So, what did we learn?
A lot! I’ve been working in museum evaluation for a few years and am constantly amazed by the amount and depth of information that even a small group of user-testing participants can provide. While some of the insights offered confirmed our own thoughts about the mobile guide, there were also plenty of things they pointed out that we did not realize were barriers to a smooth user experience. Along with critical feedback, it was also great to hear what people enjoyed about using MoMA Audio+.
Here are some of the overall findings from the user testing sessions:
What did users really like about MoMA Audio+?
• The amount and variety of content available for them to access
• The high quality images presented on the device
• The camera feature, My Path feature, and other functions that allowed them to personalize and share their experience at MoMA
What aspects of MoMA Audio+ did users find difficult or confusing?
• Locating the How To use MoMA Audio+ instructions
• Understanding and locating all the layers of content and features available
• Locating specific artworks using the map
We really appreciated all the critical feedback these user testing participants offered because it helps us find ways to improve on what we currently offer visitors. Of course, we also loved that 89% (N=9) felt that MoMA Audio+ is something that would enhance their experience in the galleries. A few comments from participants included:
• “I feel that MoMA Audio+ enhances what I came to see here. Thousands of things on view and this helps me to shape my visit.”
• “It added another dimension. Nothing replaces the act of looking, but knowing more about what I’m seeing enriches the experience. This achieves that goal. Devices are not too heavy, not burdensome, not ugly, nice MoMA graphic.”
• “Usually, I just want to be with the art and wander around but I really like the ability this device gives you to document what you see during your visit. Personalizes the experience”
Have you tried MoMA Audio+ on one of your visits to the Museum yet? If you did, we’d love to know what you thought!
MoMA’s Jackson Pollock Conservation Project: Bringing the Project to Conclusion: Restoration of Number 1A, 1948
Readers who have been following the blog will recognize a pattern in our approach to conservation treatment of Number 1A, 1948, the final of three Jackson Pollock paintings that have been the focus of our 18-month project. Read more
As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators and conservation scientists have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more
As indicated in the previous posts in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938. Read more
For most graphic designers, typography is one of the most important, challenging, and seductive parts of graphic design. So when Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, and curatorial assistant Danielle Johnson, who organized the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary,1926–1938, suggested incorporating Magritte’s beautiful lettering style—or a version inspired by it—for the title wall design, I was, of course, very excited. I began my work on the project by researching and gathering samples of where Magritte’s lettering appeared, such as in his paintings La Trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), L’Apparition (The Apparition), and Le Masque vide (The Empty Mask).
There were many variations from one artwork to another: some had greater contrast of thick and thin, others were more condensed, and there were perceptible shifts in stroke weight—largely due to the proportion of sizes between the brush and the letters he was drawing. Yet, it surprised me to see how incredibly consistent his letterforms were. The letter “p,” for example, the most notably unique character in his alphabet, always had an open counter, and looked like an “n” with a prolonged stem. The end of the letter “s” consistently looped inwards into a soft twirl that finished with a small, delicate node.
To say that my first attempts were not quite there is an understatement.
It took dozens of variations, testing, tweaks, and just plain old graphic designer obsession to get it to a point that felt right and captured the elegant, rhythmic, and gestural quality of Magritte’s original lettering. When I got stuck on how to resolve a particular transition between letters—for example, between the “B” and “r” in Brussels—I would go back to my research and sure enough, Magritte was there to give me a helping hand.
My finished lettering is used in five places throughout the exhibition. Taken out of it’s familiar context in Magritte’s paintings, it now functions as signage that both guides visitors through the galleries and draws them in.
As indicated in the previous post in this series, MoMA paintings conservators Cindy Albertson, Anny Aviram, and Michael Duffy have been studying five Magritte paintings for the past two years in preparation for Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926–1938. Read more
In his polemical 1938 speech “La Ligne de vie (Lifeline),” René Magritte spoke of his “objective representation of objects,” claiming that, “In my view, this detached way of representing things is characteristic of a universal style in which the manias and minor preferences of the individual no longer play any part.” Read more
A Bell For Every Minute is a sound installation, originally commissioned by Creative Time, Friends of the High Line and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. It was first installed on the High Line from June 2010 through June 2011. The finished composition consists of 59 bell recordings which ring together at the top of the hour and then individually each minute after that from five speakers. I still regret that I didn’t do more to document the people I met at the sites where I recorded each bell and their stories. When I hear the piece, there are moments of conversation that come back to me—the ladder we were handed in Central Park to climb up to stand next to the monkey statues who ring the bell as the kangaroo, penguin and elephant rotate around; the nun at St. Paul’s Chapel who went out into the rain with me and said very little; the man at the Buddhist temple who suggested that my assistant and I might want to get high and really listen to the vibration of the temple bell sometime.
The first time I visited the High Line was with Meredith Johnson from Creative Time, before it was open to the public in early 2009. There was still graffiti everywhere and the feeling of visiting an industrial ghost town.
When I was up there, besides being freezing cold, I thought of the sounds that might have once been present, the clanging and ringing … and then was brought back to a memory of the very first sound I heard through my window-mounted microphones when I was in residence in the World Trade Center in 1999—church bells from some unseen spot in the city.
I decided to create a piece for the High Line that would allow me to investigate bells all over New York, from religious cultures to maritime bells, sporting arenas, bars, and whatever else might appear.
Once I began, I tried to take a photograph of each site. The photo that most often gets used to represent the project is from Herald Square. The structure that includes the bell is called “Minerva and the Bell Ringers.” I almost passed over that site. I kept thinking it would be too noisy to record in midtown and couldn’t imagine what sort of bell would be there. I came to the park on a freezing cold day. Two men were sleeping on benches. The automated bell ringers struck on the hour. At the end of the recording, just as the bell fades, I can hear someone saying, “Hey, who took all my rubber bands?” Random bits of city sound and city people become part of the memory. An accident of oral history.
Soon after I began the process of recording, there was an article in one of the newspapers that a bell from Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park had turned up. Dreamland had burned down in 1911. In recent years, a diver had been looking for remnants of the amusement park off of the piers of Coney Island and he had come up with the original bell that weighed several hundred pounds. The bell was “on view” under the Cyclone. It was presented in the Coney Island History Project’s small shack for two weeks before going into a private collection. I was given the chance to record it. The guys in charge screamed at visitors and those passing by to quiet down so I could record the bell.
The bell remained in great condition. Only the clapper had rotted. That night, after Coney Island, I visited my friends Saul and Kristen Becker. Kristen was the architect for the project. Saul helped me with some of the site-visits. Their cat, Boots walked by, with his collar jingling and the discovery of my next recording was revealed.
I recorded at more than one temple and honestly can’t remember which one it was that offered the potentially psychedelic experience. This photo below is from the Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Chinatown:
This one was at my sound engineer, Bob Bielecki’s house in upstate NY but never made the cut:
In late September 2009, I was invited to come to St. Paul’s Chapel, to record the Bell of Hope. This bell was a gift to the U.S. by the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is wrung every September 11. I came to the Chapel on a rainy Sunday morning, not sure who I was meeting. Eventually, a young nun came up and introduced herself to me as Sister Precious (at least as I remember). She took me out to the courtyard. She hadn’t said anything to begin and I originally imagined it would be a short ring of the bell and a run for shelter. Instead, she rang the bell for nearly three minutes, smiling kindly the whole time. The longer it went on, the more I could hear the bell as it resounded, filling the courtyard and filling the space beyond the gates of the yard and out to the streets which had politely quieted down just for that moment. In my installation, which is now in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, you hear an edited version. I thought this would be a nice moment to include the original file, just as it was played.
Other locations included the Delacorte Music Clock in Central Park,
the New York Stock Exchange,
and the Goof Stuff Diner in Union Square.