NGA Location Based Music Tours

The eligibility of the NGA to host the mobile web app.

Tim Knott
Tim Knott
Mar 18, 2018 · 8 min read

The National Gallery of Australia (NGA) is the house of artistic Australian culture and history. The physical space of the National Gallery of Australia is very much focused on the art. It’s tall and open rooms allow for the visitors eyes to be on the art more than anything else. The lobby includes an information desk and digital signage. The gallery itself is divided into different sub galleries dependant on era, style, artist or cultural influence. The different sections of the NGA include South East Asian Art, Australian Art, Polynesian and Melanesian Art, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art, Impressionism to Pop and various exhibition galleries.

Image: ArchitectureAU

The NGA has outlined key goals for a bright future from 2016–2020. One of the key goals is to ‘Educate and inspire audiences through exceptional experiences’ (NGA Annual Report 16–17, 2017). An instance of this was during the 2016–17 major Versailles exhibition which drew a crowd of 190,128 visitors (Connery, 2017). The NGA engaged with customers via an audiovisual experience during the Versailles exhibition, including commentary tours in English or French and a music tour made collaboratively with ABC classics (NGA Annual Report 16–17, 2017). The NGA has reported that out of the 32,235 visitors who used audio-visual tours, only 6% downloaded the tours onto there own devices. This could be an issue that needs to be addressed should the project go ahead.

The NGA released an app in 2015 with the ability to provide users directions to exhibits and galleries based on the location of the user (App Store, n.d.). But reviews on iTunes seem to suggest that it’s not very good with an average rating of 2.9 after 10 ratings, many of the reviews claiming that the location-based features do not work. This is an opportunity to design and build a more reliable application (web or otherwise) on the back of successful mobile-based audio use inside the NGA as demonstrated during the ‘Versailles’ exhibition.


A location-based mobile web app where gallery visitors can play music relevant to the section of the gallery they are located to enhance the experience of different cultures at the NGA.

From what was learned about the NGA and their ambitions, it seems like they are wanting innovative ways to bring greater experiences to those who visit their gallery. By building and using this web app in the gallery, visitors will experience the gallery in a new way which will build a more intimate connection between the visitor and the art.

Image: Guggenheim

The prospects for the web app to be apart of the NGA experience is looking good after the success of their experiment with the Versailles exhibition. However, it will be a good idea to allow visitors to rent a device seeing as during the Versailles exhibition only 6% of visitors used their own devices. The design and accessibility of the web app should encourage the use of personal devices. Perhaps using NGA’s free wifi and supplying headphones would encourage the use of personal devices.

Possible downsides to this mobile web app could be that visitors are distracted by the digital presence, the music may not suit everyone’s taste and the audio experience would not be able to accommodate for people with hearing impairments. The design of the web app should encourage visitors to keep their devices in their pockets and enjoy the experience. Nevertheless, the whole purpose of the app is to help understand and immerse visitors in other cultures from other times, the design of the app should help visitors understand this. The web app will not replace what is in the gallery, it should integrate well with what is on display at the gallery and blend with the plaques of information with each piece of art.

Image: Indoor Atlas

Accurate indoor geolocation seems to be difficult to achieve based purely on web technologies without geo-fencing beacons installed around the indoor area. The use of wi-fi could be promising, claiming to get to within 3 metres of a target (Ayres, 2015). However, an organisation named Indoor Atlas has developed accurate indoor geolocation based on magnetic fields combined with smartphone geolocation services (Indoor Atlas, 2018). By using the free SDK provided Indoor Atlas, combining it with JavaScript, and of course HTML and CSS, a successful indoor geolocation mobile web app can be created.

What’s Already Out There?

In relation to indoor geolocation and its use in museums, the following examples are at the top of the list for the most successful and the most innovative solutions out there. All these apps encourage the user to keep their devices in their pockets and experience the museum or gallery with audio that enhances and supports the visual stimulation that comes with seeing the art.


SFMOMA — SFMOMA created an app to experience location-based audio tours using indoor positioning technology (SFMOMA, 2018). More specifically it “uses your phone’s location-sensing tech to precisely triangulate your position in the museum based on a hi-res virtual map created for the museum by Apple” (Chun, 2016). The audio tours cover a range of different voices, for different tastes, including famous figures, podcasting veterans, comedians and members of the SF Giants (SFMOMA, 2018). Available IOS only.

Image: Freer | Sackler

Freer Thinking Audio App — Freer & Sackler museum released an app for location-based audio tours and podcast like tours with contextual music. Freer have the ambition of regularly updating their content to keep visitors returning and creating new content for the podcast listeners at home. The developers and designers of the app designed to IOS specifically with accessibility in mind, with the audio transcripts of the tour available on the app for the hearing impaired visitors (Freer Sackler, 2018). They are developing an android friendly version.

Image: Overseas Attractions

‘The O’ — ‘The O’ replaces the wall mounted information plaques inside of MONA. Through audio, it delivers information about the artwork that the visitors are viewing using indoor positioning technology developed by Art Processors (Art Processors, 2017). This technology requires physical instalments of iBeacons that map out the physical landscape of the museum and track the location of The O. A particularly great feature of The O is that visitors may not receive the same pieces of information for the particular artworks displayed in the museum, this creates unique experiences for people visiting the museum together. The O is usable on IOS and Android devices.

Design Direction

The goal of the mobile web app is to create an atmosphere for visitors where they feel immersed in a culture. One major challenge to keep people immersed in that culture is to try and take away the temptation of digital devices and design the visual interface of the app to keep the visitor’s devices in their pockets and their eyes on the art. In order to achieve this, the interface will be simple and with only necessary function.

In an effort to integrate this web app with the current National Gallery of Australia brand, the colours of each section of the gallery on the official NGA map will correspond to the web app. As a guide for visitors to know where to go and what to see, the NGA map will feature on the web app.


App Store. (2015). National Gallery of Australia on the App Store. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Art Processors. (2017). The O — Art Processors. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Ayres, G. (2015). Is indoor geolocation or Wi-Fi positioning possible with a browser? — Quora. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Chun, R., Stinson, E., Calore, M., Pardes, A. and Pierce, D. (2016). The SFMOMA’s New App Will Forever Change How You Enjoy Museums. [online] WIRED. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Connery, G. (2017). ‘Versailles: Treasures from the Palace’: most popular NGA show in five years. [online] Canberra Times. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018]. (2018). Smithsonian’s Freer|Sackler Launches New Location-aware Audio Tour App — Freer|Sackler. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018]. (2018). How it works — IndoorAtlas. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Kotaru, M., Joshi, K., Bharadia, D. and Katti, S. (2015). SpotFi. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, 45(5), pp.269–282.

MDN Web Docs. (2017). Using geolocation. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

NGA Annual Report 16–17. (2017). [ebook] Canberra: NGA, p.53. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018]. (2018). [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

SFMOMA. (2018). The SFMOMA App. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Sydow, H., Bridges, M. and Griffiths (2018). Home — Echoes. [online] Echoes. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Taylor, A. (2018). National Gallery of Australia brings the bedroom exploits of Versailles to Canberra. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

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