BoW Title: 4 Stories: Issue 1
Institution: Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Designer: Designed and developed in house by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Category: Mobile

4 Stories, a new web-based resource developed collaboratively between the MCA’s Education and Design, Publishing, and New Media Departments, presents a rotating selection of information from each of the museum’s levels: one “story” for each “story” of the building. The site allows us to present a wide range of interpretative information that speaks to visitors of all ages and invites them to experience contemporary art and culture interactively, whether they want to go deeply into a particular topic or skim the surface of the museum’s offerings in fun ways.

We see 4 Stories as a new kind of activity guide, a mobile-web-based, interactive, multimedia publication for all generations. It harnesses the capacities of the digital domain to support the many ways in which people learn. Some people look, some read, some listen. We sought to create a platform for all these entrance points into contemporary art and culture. The site fits with our move to increase opportunities for audiences to learn about art informally, through actively doing as well as passively viewing. The resource also mirrors our broader efforts to create social and participatory programs that provide a wealth of information and interpretation, but are not pedantic, or even traditionally didactic, in nature.

Another major shift in our thinking with 4 Stories was to focus on multiple exhibitions instead of one. We conducted visitor research and found that people often come to the MCA as a destination, not to see a specific exhibition. The more fluid and modular nature of the digital environment enabled us to address a far wider range of what was on view at the museum at one time and to make archival documents from the past more readily available. But we purposely made 4 Stories look and feel like current popular website designs, so that it echoed, in digital form, the feeling of familiarity, ease-of-use, and the other pleasures of our print activity guides. The goal is not to create some disorienting breakthrough in digital design, but rather to use the digital to connect visitors to all that the MCA has to offer.

Design and Technical Information:

4 Stories was developed entirely in house at the MCA as an alternative to the museum’s previous mobile- and audioguide offerings. Our goal was to produce an easily updatable, fully responsive resource that took advantage of the museum’s rich audio and video resources, and that projects a personality that is welcoming, smart, and provocative, through bold design, a rich color palette, and the use of animations, multimedia, and creatively-chosen external links. The resource is available to visitors on their own smartphones and tablets, or via wifi-enabled iPod Touch devices that are available at our Visitor Services desks.

The resource was designed and developed by the staff of MCA’s Design, Publishing, and New Media department, which worked together with the museum’s Education team to conceive and author the content over a 10-week period. The mobile-first interface was built on top of the Bootstrap 3 front-end framework in addition to various custom and open-source jQuery plugins.

The content in 4 Stories is updated as gallery installations change: each story is replaced (and archived online) every 3-4 months. To date, two issues have been released, Issue 1 (Place)  and Issue 2 (Space). Because the resource relies heavily on repurposing content already developed for use online, in classrooms, and in our print publications, the time required to develop new stories is minimal, approximately 50 hours per story.

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