The 4 S’s of Augmented Reality UX in Museums

On October 2016 Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center wrapped up Art++, ending its first museum exhibition that utilized augmented reality (AR) technology.

Thousands of visitors were able to explore and study the artwork using tablets provided by the museum. As one museum goer summarized the experience: “It’s like having an art history PhD walk around with you”

I was the user experience and interface designer for the exhibition’s android application and based on our team’s research, observations and testing, we concluded that there is a particular flow in which visitors experience AR in museums.

Art++ pointing out the paintings within the painting in “See” mode

I distilled our research to a process with 4 primary steps: stroll, scan, see & study. These steps can apply both to experiences where the device is provided by the institution or where the users install their own apps. Below I’ll briefly walk you through the general flow when the device is provided by the Museum for the visitors.

The 4 S’s of Augmented Reality UX in Museums

After a brief on-boarding The 4 S’s of Museum AR starts with visitors strolling around in the room until they’re ready to start exploring the stories behind the artwork.

Once visitors are ready to view these stories the app instructs them to point their devices up at the artwork. About a second after they point, the artwork is scanned and recognized, igniting the AR experience. Visitors can now see the content, reading and viewing curated information and additional images.

Finally, when the visitor wants to pause to take time to study the content, she can lower her gaze and her arms to comfortably read and scroll through. The interface gently changes and adopts to her position.

Transitioning from “Study” mode to “See”

Art++ mimics the flow of traditional museum exhibitions in that there is no particular order for viewing the artwork and visitors can start and end the exhibition as they like.

AR in museums has a bright future ahead, helping museum goers from all different ages and backgrounds engage with artwork in ways previously unimaginable. From the ability to see the back of the canvas to understanding the perspective grid and being able juxtapose reference images, these features mark the beginning of an era where technology greatly aids the experience of learning and teaching for art enthusiasts, students and curators.

Anna Toledano, a Stanford History PhD and the copywriter for Art++, is especially excited about AR’s potential in science museums. “Museums will always rely on the power of their physical collections,” she said, “but AR and other similar technologies can give these collections life, contextualize them, bring them off of bare white walls and out of dusty cabinets and into a context that makes them relatable, memorable, and pretty darn cool.”

Andy Warhol’s Mao and its versions, on “See” mode

Interested in bringing AR into your own organization or museum? 
Let’s chat! Email me at
duygu [at] killerwhal.es