by Katherine Hall, Staff writer

In the last Art of Technology article, we covered the origins of the self-guided tour format and the evolution of its technology, and we took an in-depth look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s app. The Met app is an excellent execution of the standard formula that most institutions follow. Today, however, we are going to round out our coverage by looking at two of the most innovative art museum apps on the market: The Art Institute of Chicago’s Tours app and The Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens.

As the title suggests, The Art Institute of Chicago’s Tours app is devoted exclusively to tours, not hosting all of the information available on every piece in the collection (that experience is available in the separate Explore app). This split allows for more extensive offerings within the Tours app. Visitors can search for tours by “Collection,” “Theme,” “Time or Occasion,” or “Current Exhibitions.” Offerings from the permanent categories include: “American Art before 1910,” “Femme Fatales,” “First Date,” “The One Hour Tour” and different lengths of time all the way up to “The Full Day Tour.” For each stop on a tour there is a short description of the work and an extremely helpful “Directions to Here” button. The directions are one of the best features in the app: rather than simply providing an image of the museum map, it leads users through the galleries with turn-by-turn instructions. By cutting down the focus of the app, Tours can include impressive variety and quantity of tour offerings and still have space for automated directions to guide users smoothly through the museum.

On the other hand, The Cleveland Museum of Art’s ArtLens app has been praised for integrating the museums permanent collection more extensively than other museums’ mobile apps and for allowing users authorship by capability for sharing their curated collections online. ArtLens allows users to access information on the whole collection from home before or after their visits. Features on the app allow home users to view pieces from the collection in a gallery-by-gallery virtual tour. This creates a more vivid experience than viewing pieces one by one and can challenge the user to think about what the art works have in common, how they are different and why museum curators have grouped them together. In addition to being able to explore the collection gallery-by-gallery away from the museum, when users enable Bluetooth on their devices they can explore “Works Near Me” as they move through the museum. This feature streamlines the user experience, so that rather than hunting for an identification number to learn more, information about works within sight of the visitor automatically appears in the app. If a user prefers not to use the Bluetooth functionality, ArtLens also comes with a built-in scan feature to capture codes near artworks.

Perhaps the most exciting feature of the app is that it allows users to create their own collections of artworks and form a customized tour for when they visit. Allowing users this level of creativity and control gives visitors a level of agency that they do not often have in traditional museum settings. Viewers have the option to see professionally curated tours and collections but they are not limited by those choices; if there isn’t something that interests them they can create their own. The “Tours” section of the app also functions differently than most institutions favorite artwork features in that the tours can be published for others users to view in the “Visitor Created” tab of the “Tours” section of the app. These “Visitor Created” tours have been immensely popular at the Cleveland Museum of Art and offerings include creative titles such as “Celestial Weapons” and “Unicorn Land” in addition to more personal descriptors like “Abe’s Art” and “Lauren’s Tour.” Regardless of how they operate the app, ArtLens users have an unusually high level of authorship and authority over their Cleveland Museum of Art experience and they are able to share it with others.