BoW Title: Skin & Bones app for the Bone Hall
Institution: Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History
Designer: Robert Costello, Diana Marques
Category: Digital Exhibition

The Bone Hall is a stark exemplification of a science-only approach to communicating ideas. The exhibition is a taxonomic parade of nearly 300 vertebrate skeletons that lack any grace from artistically interpreted poses or graphic treatments. To complete the scene of this ‘straight-up’ skeleton exhibition, label text is so esoteric that only specialists in the field of comparative vertebrate anatomy can comprehend it. Installed in the 1960s, the exhibition has not been touched since and archival records show that a number of the skeletal displays date to 1881, the year the Smithsonian opened its first museum. Skin & Bones intentionally transforms the visitor experience using concepts from the natural sciences communicated with artistic inspiration. With this technology layer, the historic exhibition remains untouched and visitors can choose between a 21st century experience, a Victorian age experience, or both. They can do this by downloading the free app to their own Apple device using the museum’s public wifi.

Skin & Bones uses the IPOP theoretical framework to develop and organize content to engage different categories of visitors. IPOP refers to the way people differ in their preferences. Some strongly favor Idea experiences, others People experiences, and still others can be considered Object people or Physical people. To these categories we added Animal people. These play out in the app navigation as Animal Life, Meet the Scientist, Skeleton Works, Big Idea, and Activity.
Different media formats deliver the experiences, including 3D augmented reality with 3D tracking, video, and interactive activities. The audio mixes transports users from the Bone Hall to the environments of the animals, and back again. All voices were recorded in the Bone Hall to capture and maintain continuity with the ambient physical space. At the core of the app is the representation of collections in 3D. The enhanced static or animated objects – created from scratch or by scanning specimens with CT, micro CT, laser and optical 3D scanners – are superimposed onto the actual skeletons on display. This provides an entirely new and surprising experience.

Skin & Bones brings more 3D augmented reality to an exhibit than any mobile app has achieved previously and it is loaded with enough video (32 captioned videos) and activities for visitors to take home and continue the experience.

Skin & Bones is a cost effective solution that adds value to an aged exhibition by repairing the visitor experience without touching the historic and iconic displays. The augmented reality is used in a way that the interpretation of skeletons is integrated with the experience of viewing the skeleton. Users do not have to look away from the object to read a label for the meaning of the object; it all happens at the same time and without labels. A once limited experience of gazing at the skeletons has been transformed by unlocking their stories in graphically interesting ways to create a more engaging, enjoyable and memorable experience.