Let’s set the stage. You’ve just moved into a new apartment, it’s a step up from your last one. Maybe it’s your first “real” home or maybe it’s a home that feels like a new start. Either way, the important boxes are unpacked, the furniture is arranged and it’s starting to actually feel like home. But it’s missing something. The walls may have been painted your favourite colour, but they’re still empty and this time you want something new than the IKEA posters you hung in your last home.
Unless you’re already an experienced art collector this sounds like the beginning of something daunting. Collecting art can feel like learning to speak wine labels to someone who just got a handle on Ontario wines versus French vintages. There’s an entire vocabulary that the art world speaks and sometimes it can sound like Dutch. Unless you speak Dutch, then it can sound like Finnish.
Artichoke is a platform that aims to fix that by creating custom curated local art selections to hang in your new home. Using a survey that covers things from personality to favourite types of art, Artichoke aims to set the user up with the ideal artworks for their space. Which brings us to the:
Currently Artichoke exists in the form of a website, but they wanted us to design a mobile app that helped users to connect with potential artwork they might be interested in, engage with the local art community, and be able to visualize the artwork in their space through the use of augmented reality. They also wanted us to update the branding and logo if we felt that this would be beneficial to the mobile app.
To accomplish this we used: Figma, Illustrator, and InVision.
The first thing we needed to establish was how our users wanted to interact with the app. The major findings from this portion of the process was that users were concerned about budget and affording the art, they were concerned about being able to visualize the art in their space, and they wanted to be able to engage with the art community and learn the backstory to the artist and the specific pieces they were interested in.
This meant that we needed to find a way to build out not only the survey and the process of purchasing art, but the information around the art that was being purchased. Users wanted a chance to feel like they were part of the bigger story around why these pieces were created and to understand where they came from and how they came to be.
Something else that came up was that one of the most daunting aspects of purchasing art is the price. An original work of art can cost hundred to thousands of dollars, and while this is fair to the artist given how much time and how many materials can go into the creation of a new piece, it was a barrier to entry for first time buyers. The solution to this was to create the option to rent art in three month or six month contracts with the price of the rental going towards the purchase of the piece if the client ended up wanting to keep it. By breaking the cost down into monthly portions this allowed people who were unsure, or who just simply cannot afford a lump sum purchase to access local, original art.
The design elements
Often the visual design of an app or a website ends up being one of the main visual features. However, with something like Artichoke this couldn’t be the case because the artwork needed to be featured. So the question becomes how do you design for something where the design needs to be supportive and many different visual styles need to exist within the space? When scaling back on design how do you maintain a visual language without becoming too scaled back?
For me the answer was to make sure to respect the white space and to try to balance visual elements like a well hung gallery wall. Each piece could exist in harmony with its neighbours and with plenty of breathing room in between. To accomplish this I focused predominantly on adding visual interest through the use of line instead of colour and texture and made sure to keep non-accent colours as neutral as possible. Meanwhile, for the accent colours I decided on a cool purple and a pale blue to help add emphasis where it was needed and denote between primary and secondary UI elements. The purple was chosen after looking at the way the tips of artichoke leaves will sometimes become pink/purple before slowly shifting to green and it add a nice vibrancy to the white and grey elements. The blue came from the desire to maintain a feel of calm, trustworthiness when engaging with the app itself and played with the purple nicely.
The font was somewhere that I could add a bit of visual interest so I wanted to pick something that was easy to read, looked interesting, and felt like it belonged next to works of art. This was accomplished by choosing the font Verlag as the body copy. Originally designed for the Guggenheim, it uses sharp apexes and beautiful diagonals to create a font that is classic, edgy, and wonderfully direct but still with a hint of whimsy. Its origin story also made it feel like the right choice. This was supported by using Gilroy Extrabold for title cases, which ended up being useful as Gilroy played nicely with our image screens.
The screens themselves used thumbnails of the artwork uniformly displayed regardless of the shape of the actual piece with a text overlay describing what the user was seeing. Each thumbnail could be clicked on to either go to a more in depth explanation of what they were seeing or an enlarged version of the art with its appropriate shape. This was necessary in the event that the piece was on a circular canvas or what something three dimensional such as a sculpture.
The final element was pictograms. These were used to help add an element of delight to the design and to help create a narrative of the purchase and/or rental of a particular series of paintings. I used an old Microsoft paint icon as the inspiration because it’s a relatively simple image and I wanted to reinforce the idea that art buying doesn’t have to be an intimidating, inaccessible thing.
Our research found that it will take the average art buyer approximately three encounters with an art piece before they commit to buying it. In the tangible world this means visiting a gallery three times. But what happens when the art is being viewed digitally? Augmented Reality or AR is still a very new technology, yet it is a wonderful way to bypass this potential pain point. Until very recently it was not possible to easily display things on a Y axis, so there was some discussion around whether this was a viable option. However, as we were doing our research Apple released a new AR kit that allowed us to accomplish what we had hoped to do. We designed a feature that allowed the user to “hang” their prospective art in their room and save a photograph in their phone. This could be done several times throughout the day and shared with friends and family for second opinions. We also designed an onboarding screen to provide helpful instructions about how to use this feature.
The client was happy with the new brand direction we went in. They felt that it provided a fresh, modern feel to their website that their competitors didn’t have and that it supported the art without dominating the app. One thing that I hope to continue to iterate on is the best way to display information along with thumbnails of artwork, but for the time being Artichoke is a clean, friendly, easy to use app that will hopefully open the artworld to new, hopeful buyers.